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  • Sparks Correspondence – August 2015
  • Last Chance Joe's Last Chance


    Last Chance Joe’s Last Chance is Now

    Last Chance Joe towered above the main entrance to the new Sparks Nugget in 1958

    The Sparks Heritage Museum, dba Sparks Museum and Cultural Center, working with Sparks Councilwoman Julia Ratti, was recently able to save from destruction the iconic figure of Last Chance Joe, a massive 36-foot-high statue based on a cartoonist’s caricature of an old-time gold prospector and originally installed in front of the Sparks Nugget in 1958. In 2014, the new owners of the Sparks Nugget planned to remodel the facade of the Nugget, but Joe didn’t fit their plans, so Joe had to go.

    Since the Museum site was not then ready, Joe was removed from the Nugget, placed on his back on a flatbed trailer and put in a parking lot while the design and construction of a suitable site was completed. Joe was eventually moved to his new home in front of one of the Museum buildings near the corner of Pyramid Way and Victorian Avenue. The new location, however, created problems with the figure that had not been anticipated. When originally placed in front of the Nugget in 1958, Joe was facing north and had a wall at his back, so he was fairly well protected from the sun. The new location has him facing south with a wall behind him, subjecting the front of him to full sun all day. Moreover, the figure was never designed to go through the rigors of being moved. As a result, it is displaying many cracks and breaks caused by the move, lying on his back for a couple of months, being re-erected, and the subsequent settling onto his new mounting.
    To compound the problems, not all of the pledged money for the move and restoration was received. The Museum finds itself approximately $25,000 short of the amount required to completely pay for the move and the restoration, which is going to cost almost twice as much as originally suggested. There is no money available to provide for Last Chance Joe, and it would be a shame if this historic relic is lost due to a shortage of money to preserve him. A plea is being made for all to make donations of any size to www.nevdafund,org/Last-Chance-Joe-Fund. Donations can also be made in cash or check to the Sparks Museum & Cultural Center, 814 Victorian Avenue, Sparks, NV 89431. All donations will be acknowledged with a signed letter that may be used for tax purposes.
    Dick Dreilling


    Further Notes on Last Chance Joe

    Last Chance Joe was born in 1952 as a drawing by Boise, Idaho commercial artist and ad man Roscoe “Duke” Reading. The creation of the comical white-bearded, one-toothed gold prospector had been commissioned by Idaho gambler Dick Graves for a combination restaurant and slot machine parlor he owned in nearby Garden City, Idaho the Last Chance Cafe. When slot machines were outlawed in Idaho in 1953, Graves closed down his chain of Idaho gaming “cafes,” pulled up stakes and moved to Nevada and he brought his sidekick Last Chance Joe along with him. In Nevada Graves rapidly opened three new “Nugget” casinos in Yerington, Carson City and Reno all in the spring of 1954 and all prominently featuring Last Chance Joe, in painted sheet metal and multi-colored neon tubes, above their marquees.

    Last Chance Joe, in three pieces, arrives in Sparks

    The towering statue of Last Chance Joe that stood for 56 years in front of the Sparks Nugget was designed and built by R. H. Grosh Scenic Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. Since the early 1930s, Grosh had been making props of all kinds for theatrical companies and the nearby movie studios, as well as for Disneyland, using a highly malleable and moldable plastic-impregnated fabric called Celastic.

    The molded Celastic, when dried, formed a durable, thin-but-strong high-impact plastic. Beneath his Celastic outer shell, Joe’s builders used a steel framework over which chicken wire and multiple layers of papier-mache were laid. The statue was built in three sections made to be bolted together to enable it to be shipped to Sparks on a railroad flatcar with the head, including Joe’s hat and full white beard, being easily the tallest section.

    Last Chance Joe’s Eureka Moment. On the 1954 Carson Nugget sign Joe had a miner’s gold pan in one hand and a gold nugget held aloft in the other.

    R. H. Grosh Scenic Studio’s rendering of Last Chance Joe, maybe not coincidentally, resembled a Disney cartoon character more than any previous depictions of him on Nugget casino signs, matchbooks, coasters, brochures, and all manner of Nugget printed matter ever had. Their statue of Last Chance Joe, also commissioned by Dick Graves, was unique in yet another respect, as well: it displayed none of the earlier Joes’ usual prospector’s accessories a gold-washing pan in one hand and a gold nugget in the other, or a big heap of gleaming gold nuggets laying nearby. Instead, the lofty new statue of Last Chance Joe stood alone with nary a gold nugget in sight and with his hands now, for the first time, resting on the handles of his matched pair of six-guns. It was as though this latest version of Last Chance Joe, now legally divorced from his earlier gold-prospecting incarnations at the Carson and Reno Nuggets (Graves had sold them to others), had switched careers and become a comic gunslinger along the lines of the Warner Brothers’ cartoon character Yosemite Sam.

    But then, Dick Graves’ sprawling (for it’s era) new 1958 Nugget on the south side of B Street in Sparks was a very different Nugget from its predecessors, exceeding all his previous Nugget casinos not only in size and splendor but also in the number of clever innovations that had made the Nugget name so outstandingly successful in Nevada. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that it would also have to have had a very different and new Last Chance Joe out front to greet the customers, too.

    Dud Dillingham

    The post Sparks Correspondence – August 2015 appeared first on NevadaGram from the Nevada Travel Network - Telling Nevada's story 365, 24/7.

    More from Sparks

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    Sparks was an afterthought of the railroad's, created in 1904 to replace Wadsworth as the big switching yard on this section of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Most of the town of Wadsworth was simply uprooted — yes, trees, buildings and all — and hauled by rail to the brushy open ground far beyond Reno's eastern edge.

    Originally named Harriman after the railroad tycoon, Sparks was rechristened to honor Governor John T. Sparks, whose ranch was nearby. This gesture of respect and admiration was made just as an anti-railroad rebellion boiled up in the legislature, eventually resulting in the creation of the Public Service Commission to regulate tariffs.

    Family oriented and hard-working, Sparks was so solid and dull that it sometimes became the butt of local jokes. Early example: "Reno is so close to Hell you can see Sparks."

    In 1907 a reform-minded city council outlawed the popular local pastime of driving up to a saloon in a buggy and having drinks at the curb. Other than the endless banging of the boxcars in the switching yard and the clanging and hissing and whistling and squealing of the through trains in and out of the station, everything was quiet in Sparks for nearly 50 years as the little city grew slowly with the railroad. Sparks eventually achieved a place in history by having the longest single-sided street (B Street, now Victorian Avenue) in America.
    from The Complete Nevada Traveler, by David W. Toll

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