James C. McKay Drove a Cadillac
- Created: July 10, 2016
- Written by: Kim Henrick
Like many researchers, I suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome. This is the compulsion to follow any bright, shiny object (BSO) that comes into view, instead of finishing the project you should be working on. I first heard about BSOs from my friend Rosie Cevasco earlier this year (who read about it online on the GeneaBloggers website). A lot has been written about this syndrome, usually within the context of business owners and entrepreneurs and tech lovers chasing after each new BSO that pops up.
For me, the syndrome recently manifested itself like this: I was researching the Lowary Building on the southeast corner of Mt. Rose and Lander streets when Karalea Clough (masterful Nevada Historical Society library hostess) handed me a copy of a quaint, hand-drawn map showing many of the early Reno tracts south of California Avenue, between "Virginia Road" and the Arlington Avenue area. The map was donated to the NHS in 1922 by an "O'Brien" and someone at the NHS wrote "1900 ca" in the lower right corner, which is too early of a guess since most of these additions and tracts were surveyed in the 1907/1908 time frame. The "O'Brien's Southbrae Addition," located in the center of the map was surveyed and recorded with the Washoe County Recorder's Office in May 1908. Just south of the O'Brien Southbrae Addition is another chunk of land titled "J. F. O'Brien" right above the words "beautiful knoll."
This tract area appeared to include the Lowary Building block which I was already researching. Hmmm, a bright, shiny object. I'll check out this O'Brien guy. Off I went. I quickly found that J. F. O'Brien was not the J. P. O'Brien of the funeral home folks who had an undertaking business at 220 W. 2nd Street for some time. So J. P O'Brien wasn't a BSO, but the history of that business at 220 W. 2nd Street fit into the research I had done on the history of Roff Way. But, let's get back to James F. O'Brien of the quaint-neighborhood-map fame. Some more research revealed my J. F. O'Brien (we get possessive with our research subjects) had been an owner of the Goldfield News before moving to Reno. My grandparents and great-grandparents spent time in Goldfield during its heyday. Hmmm, this is a bright, shiny object. Did my family know this O'Brien guy during this interesting period? You see how this works.
But, I really was interested in this little map, so I studied it further. I noticed it showed the lots along Arlington Avenue developed by "Senator Newlands." Although not well defined on this map, this tract would someday include a house on Gordon Avenue which notorious sportsman Henry Orlando (Tex) Hall lived in from 1929 until his death in 1936 (minus the six months he spent behind bars after being convicted of harboring Baby Face Nelson). Hmmm. But, back to the map, I realized within the Newlands kingdom, there would also be built the handsome house on the southeast corner of Gordon and California avenues, where Tex's boss, the really-notorious gangster William Graham lived for decades. Tex and Bill lived on the same street. Hmmm. This is a bright, shiny object. I wonder if Tex and Bill ever carpooled to the Bank Club downtown in the '30s? Now I'm realizing that where you find William Graham, you're bound to find James McKay, so one day I Googled McKay and came across a wonderful document that listed all the registered cars in Nevada in 1919. How fun is that? This bright, shiny object has nothing to do with any of my research, but I'm intrigued. How about a quick look-see. The document was a Google-scanned "Appendix to Journals of the Senate and Assembly of the Thirtieth Session of the Legislature of the State of Nevada, 1921, Volume II." George Brodigan, who was the Secretary of State at the time, compiled these quarterly lists of registered automobiles in the state. According to Brodigan, "There were registered and licenses issued for 9,304 automobiles and trucks, 124 motorcycles, and 65 dealers for 1919; and 10,464 automobiles and trucks, 140 motorcycles, and 75 dealers for 1920."
Now I'm not a car person, but I was totally amazed at the number of different car brands on the roads of Nevada in 1919. I looked at the 10-page list for registered automobiles from April 1 to June 30, 1919, and did a quick tally of page one to see what folks back then liked to drive (or could afford to drive). (This is how the automobile brand names are listed, so if some are inaccurate, that's how it is.) Out of the 154 cars listed, Ford was listed most often with 69 entries, followed by Chevrolet (11), Dodge (11), Studebaker (9), Buick (9), Oldsmobile (6), Overland (6), Maxwell (5), Mitchell (3), Oakland (3), Reo (3), Hudson (2), Hupmobile (2), Grant (2), Briscoe (1), Nash (1), Willys-Knight (1), Duplex (1), Chalmers (1), International (1), Kissel (1), Vic (1), Federal (1), Case (1), Chandler (1), Essex (1), and Saxon (1). There's no telling how old any of these cars were when they were registered, or if some of them were on their last leg, or maybe not even being manufactured any longer, but the variety was wonderful. The other nine pages of this report listed some other automobile brands too: Cadillac, G.M.C., Peerless, Desmond, Republic, Pan Motor Co., Haynes, Regal, Cole 8, White, Jeffrey, Parry, Paige, Indian, Nelson, King, Metz, Cunningham, Packard, Mack, Pullman, Dorris, Duryea, Riker, Flanders, Stearns-Knight, Apperson, Lozier and Regal. There may be more on other pages.
Remember, these cars were registered all over the state. Mrs. George Townsend of Goldfield drove a Cadillac, license plate number 38235; F. J. DeLongchamps of Reno drove a Chevrolet, license plate number 37029; and what of the "bright, shiny object" which drew me to this obscure bit of automobile history? Well, in 1919 James C. McKay registered his Cadillac in Tonopah and received license plate number 43570.
So from researching the Lowary Building, to studying O'Brien's quaint map of south Reno, to wondering if my family schmoozed with Goldfield News owner J. F. O'Brien, to speculating on the commuting arrangement between two gangsters who lived on Gordon Avenue, to studying the many car brands one could find on our state roads in 1919, it's clear that following bright, shiny objects, can be detrimental to "critical-project" completion.
[I would like to thank Google for scanning so many historically-important public domain documents, and thank you Karalea for sharing the O'Brien map with me. You know what they say about paybacks. Now I must get back to the Lowary Building research I started long, long ago.]