Dennis Cassinelli: Building the fence over Spooner Summit

Jack Ass.

Jack Ass.

For more than 18 years, I worked in various capacities for the Nevada State Highway Department, later to become the Nevada Department of Transportation. I knew many of the subcontractors on the interstate projects and many on the secondary projects. One of the subcontractors who worked on these projects was Johnny Warren, owner of Reliable Fence Co. in Sparks. He was the fence contractor on my first job with the Highway Department in 1961 at Verdi. I had known his foreman, Jerry Nelms, when we were in high school.

After the Verdi project was completed, Reliable Fence went to work on the project to make U.S. 50 over Spooner Summit a four-lane highway. I did not work on the Spooner Summit project, but the following story was told to me by Johnny Warren after the project was completed:

On the Spooner Summit project, federal funds were involved and federal aid requirements had to be followed by the State Highway Department during construction. One of the requirements was that the general contractor and all the subcontractors had to submit certified payrolls every week to show that the contractors were paying the prevailing wage rates specified for each classification. This was a requirement of the federal Davis-Bacon Act.

When Reliable Fence Co. started work on the right of- way fence along the sides of the highway, they soon discovered that the slopes were very steep and the terrain was incredibly rough. Even military Jeeps or other four-wheel drive vehicles could not safely haul rolls of barbed wire, bags of concrete and fence posts to the job site.

Warren then decided to approach the State Highway Department to issue him a change order to use mules to haul the fence materials up the steep slopes. The bureaucrats in the construction office at the Highway Department at first told Warren that this could not be done since there was not an equipment rental rate in the contract for a mule. Warren then replied with a proposal to have the mule or donkeys put on his payroll so the animals could be paid at the prevailing wage rate for laborers. This would cover the cost of buying the mules and the hay they ate.

After considerable negotiating, the state finally agreed to the proposal, but they cautioned him that as laborers, the mules or donkeys must be shown by name and should have a Social Security number. They later dropped the Social Security number requirement but insisted the “laborers” should be given a name.

When the change order was finally approved and Reliable Fence Co. started work using a mule, the first certified payroll was submitted to the construction office. Along with all the other equipment operators and laborers, there was one laborer listed with the name “Jack Ass.” Later, other mules and some donkeys were used on the project, but Jerry Nelms could not remember their names. This information was confirmed recently by a telephone call to Jerry Nelms, foreman for Artistic Fence Co. He also told me that Harker and Harker Electrical Co. had used a helicopter to put in the power lines on this same project due to the steep slopes.

This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at All Cassinelli’s books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.


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