Minden: Bring back siren

The Minden Town Board voted unanimously Wednesday to reactivate the community siren after hearing from residents nostalgic for the noise that signaled noon and 6 p.m. for generations.

The siren, located at the Douglas County Engine Co., was silenced at the end of August by County Manger Dan Holler.

Holler said he acted at the request of members of the Washoe Tribe who complained the siren was a lingering reminder of discrimination against American Indians.

Until it was repealed in the 1970s, county ordinance ordered tribal members out of town by 6:30 p.m.

Silencing the siren set off a community debate among Carson Valley residents who claimed the signal was a bit of Americana they didn't want to lose and wasn't associated with racism.

The ordinance passed Wednesday calls for the town to acquire and operate the noon and 6 p.m. siren "to honor the volunteer firefighters/paramedics who, for over a century, have 'left their plows sitting idle in the fields' to run to help those in need."

Town Board Chair Ross Chichester, acknowledging the Washoe Tribe position, said the siren performed other functions including fire and emergency calls and civil defense.

"Daily operation made sure the signal was still functioning. There were a whole bunch of reasons other than the one that caused so much controversy," Chichester said.

County commissioner Dave Brady, also a Minden resident, said he regretted the way the situation was handled.

"I would have appreciated having the opportunity to have made that decision at the board level. I think there was an error in judgment in the way that whole thing unfolded," he said.

Brady suggested the town set off the siren at 5 p.m. as a concession to the tribe.

"I have heard that siren all my life," said lifelong resident Henry Dreyer. "There's an empty spot right now because that tradition is missing."

Town board member Dave Sheets said he felt disconnecting the siren backfired.

"I think what's been done is more detrimental to relations with other groups than to help," Sheets said.

"Had we been given some prior knowledge, it would have been extremely helpful. The phones just rang off the hook."

Town board member Bruce Jacobsen, like many of the residents, grew up and continues to reside just blocks away from the fire department.

"There's no reason that's not on," Jacobsen said. "Henry (Dreyer) said one night it was off he was going to go down and blow it off himself."

Resident Marlena Hellwinkel got a laugh when she said the 6 p.m. siren meant Jacobsen had to go home when he was a little boy playing with her children.

She said the siren heralded the New Year and other special occasions.

"I was at a 4-H Club meeting when I was a girl and the siren just blew and blew," she said. "It signified the end of World War II."

Town board member Bob Hadfield said the board should tell the county that Minden is planning to accept the responsibility for operating the siren.

"If there is a problem, let them come here and tell us," Hadfield said.

After the meeting, Chichester said there was no timetable for reactivating the siren. He said the town had received several offers of financial assistance.

He also said he didn't think the county could prevent the reactivation.

"I don't remember a noise ordinance for between noon and 6 p.m.," he said.

Roger Harker, retired president of Bently Nevada Corp. and a Minden resident, submitted a design to town officials for a new mechanism that would sound the siren precisely at noon and 6 p.m.

"If all works the way the way we envision, you will be able to set your watch by it," Harker said Thursday.

"Having grown up here, the siren was very much a part of daily life. At noon it was lunch time and at 6 p.m., it was time to go home for dinner."

Harker engineered the operating mechanism to be synchronized to the global positioning system.

"It will automatically change to Daylight Savings Time and Leap Year," Harker said.

He said the siren will still sound the same.

"The only change will be the mechanism by which it blows," he said.


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