On Jan. 15, 2006, Don Hellwinkel passed away at the age of 83. Don is remembered as a key figure in Carson Valley. The C.O.D. Garage that he and his brother, Dan, owned and managed for nearly 40 years was a Carson Valley landmark.
Don and Dan were supporters of, and made many contributions to the local community, but the full story of the Hellwinkel brothers ” and the Hellwinkel family ” goes far back into the history of the settlement of the Carson Valley. In a real sense, the Hellwinkel story is a major chapter in this history. The brothers’ sense of community was a continuation of the community orientation of their father and of the early pioneers. To understand why this is so, we really have to tell the story of the Hellwinkel family history, and that story begins with the arrival of the Raycraft family in the 1860s.
Joseph and Ellen Raycraft were born in Ireland. Census records from 1870 suggest that they married in 1845 and lived in Illinois for many years before emigrating to the Carson Valley in 1863 with 10 children in tow. In 1863, Joseph would have been about 49 and Ellen about 39. When they arrived, their children ranged in age from about 17 down to age 1. One can only imagine what it must have been like to travel in 1863 from Illinois to the Carson Valley with 10 children, including a babe in arms. These people were very tough indeed. Two years after their arrival, in 1865, another child, Arthur, was born, bringing the total to 11. Of these children, several would be active enough during their lives to gain attention in the local paper. One of these, Richard, was about 4 at the time of the family’s arrival in the Valley. Richard would become Don and Dan Hellwinkel’s grandfather.
There was no social safety net in those days, and the Raycrafts hit the ground running. Records show that in 1866, the Raycrafts started managing a hotel and livery stable in Genoa that was owned by D. W. Virgin. A later historical event ” we will see this later ” suggests that the Raycraft family had a ranch north of Carson City, although it is not clear when this ranch was established. The Raycraft management of the hotel was successful, and they bought it from D. W. Virgin two years later, in 1868. D. W. Virgin was an attorney and would, at various times, be a judge and the district attorney. In his business and personal life, he came to know the Raycraft family very well and was taken with the eldest Raycraft daughter, Mary. They married sometime after the 1870 census (she was 24 in 1870). By marrying into the Raycraft clan, D. W. became even more involved with the Raycraft family affairs, and he would become a business partner with many of his brothers-in-law.
The hotel and livery in Genoa would become known as the Raycraft Exchange, and the family would run it for more than 40 years. It is likely that, as the children grew, they became involved in the operation of the business. By the 1870s and 80s the family had developed a considerable reputation in the area for their hospitality and good cooking. During this period, the Raycraft brothers also began operating stage lines, hauling freight, and operating lodging in other areas of the Valley, an activity that would go on for 25 years.
In 1884, Joseph Raycraft died at age 74. After Joseph’s death Ellen, now 64, continued to manage the Raycraft Exchange with the help of her children. Business must have been good, because two years later, in 1886, the Raycrafts built a large hall across the street from their hotel. This became known as the Raycraft Dance Hall, and it was a famous landmark in the Valley and a center of community activity. Besides being used for dances, it was used for political meetings, conventions, fundraisers and many more activities. The Raycrafts provided refreshments and cooked late night dinners at their hotel across the street (perhaps a good motivation for providing the use of the hall). The Raycraft brothers must have known how to construct a solid building. in 1941 Annie Raycraft, who was the wife of Richard Raycraft, sold the Raycraft Dance Hall to the Town of Genoa. It exists today as the Genoa Town Hall, 119 years old.
In the 1890s, the Raycrafts pursued many lines of work. Joseph Raycraft ” this would be Joseph Jr., now in his 40s ” was busy hauling freight. At this time, the gold mining town of Bodie was close to its peak of activity, and much of the supplies for the town were freighted through the Carson Valley. At about this time, brother Richard, in his 30s, was reported to have built a lodging house near the location of the Monarch Mine in the Pine Nut mountains. Joseph was reported to have also built a barn on the same area for his freight operations. Joseph often held mail contracts between Genoa and Carson City. In 1899, he won a mail contract between Wellington and Bridgeport.
This decade must have been a time of great excitement over the gold discoveries in the region, and the Raycrafts were not going to be left out. Several of the Raycraft brothers tried their hands at gold mining in the Pine Nut mountains. They filed several mining claims, but mining was difficult in the area because of the limited supply of water. Some of these were placer claims, and water was needed for washing and separating the gold. A sufficient supply of water was available only for a few weeks during the spring runoff and made this kind of mining a limited, seasonal occupation. For the rest of the year, the Raycrafts pursued their other money-making activities.
In 1894, an event occurred that is an important part of our story. In Gardnerville, a young German immigrant couple, Fritz Hellwinkel and Anna Winkelman Hellwinkel, had a baby boy, whom they named Frederick. Not much is known about this first generation of Hellwinkels. Records show that they were born in Germany and were married in 1888. They were also early arrivals in the Carson Valley, and it is known that they lived on a ranch that included land where Aspen Park ” the mobile home community on Centerville Lane ” exists today. Their new son Fred would come to be called “Brick,” and he would become the father of Don and Dan Hellwinkel.
Five years later, in 1899, Richard Raycraft, now about 40, married a new Irish immigrant, Anna Hickey. Anna was about 19, and in the same year she gave birth to a daughter, Josephine. Josephine would grow up to marry Fred Hellwinkel and would become the mother of Don and Dan Hellwinkel.
Other Raycrafts were busy as well. John and Richard Raycraft purchased Walley’s Hot Springs in 1897. Sometime later, Jane Raycraft, their sister, and her husband, James R. Campbell, purchased Walley’s from John and Richard. Jane would have been about 45 at this time. Because Walley’s was not far from the Raycraft Exchange, Jane no doubt also helped her mother at the Raycraft Exchange just down the road. In fact, as we will shortly see, Richard Raycraft was also active in helping out at the Raycraft Exchange.
1910 was a big year for Genoa and the Carson Valley. This year the first Carson Valley Day was to be held on June 11. As might be expected, the Raycrafts were heavily involved in the preparations for the coming event. They had agreed to provide food and refreshment for the many people expected to participate in the celebration. An article in the May 27 issue of the Genoa Weekly Courier gives an indication of how well the Raycraft family was known in the Valley:
“Richard Raycraft would not be a Raycraft if he did not know how to cook and with him to manage the big feed for the multitude of people, gives everyone assurance that they will be well feasted. He will be assisted by a little army of helpers.”
And, this, from the Genoa Weekly Courier two weeks later on June 10:
“The barbecue has been the hardest part of the program to arrange and the work preparing this big feast has been no small undertaking. When it is known that 1,600 loaves of bread, 400 cakes, salads by the wash tubs full, chickens, and other things that go to make up a first class feast, are being baked and prepared throughout the Valley today, an undertaking that could only be accomplished through combined work. Three fat steers will be butchered today and under the personal supervision of Richard Raycraft, will be roasted in regular barbecue style. All this big feed is to be absolutely free for everybody.”
Clearly, the name Raycraft was associated with high-quality cooking. At this time, Richard would have been about 51.
For this event, cars were coming to the Carson Valley. The June 10 Genoa Weekly Courier article stated:
“The Reno automobile club will make the run to this Valley and it is estimated that at least fifty machines from the Riverside town will be here tomorrow.”
It is interesting to think about what it meant to drive an early car from Reno to the Carson Valley in 1910. This surely was no small undertaking. But, clearly, automobiles were the coming thing, and they would become the livelihood of three generations of Hellwinkels in future years.
This first Carson Valley Day was a major regional event. State offices and Valley businesses closed for the day, and the Raycrafts were in the middle of the action.
Shortly after Carson Valley Day, on June 23, the first aircraft flight in Nevada took place on what was called “the old Raycraft Ranch,” near what is now Glen Eagles restaurant at the north end of Carson City. While it isn’t clear which Raycraft owned this ranch, it is clear that Raycraft activity extended to well beyond the Carson Valley proper. The Raycrafts were clearly an industrious clan.
A few days later, on June 28, 1910, tragedy struck Genoa. That day was windy. A fire started in the poor house, and, driven by the wind, it spread rapidly through the town, destroying building after building. The Raycraft Exchange was threatened with destruction.
Ellen Raycraft, now 89 and still a devout Catholic, ran outside and sprinkled holy water around the Raycraft properties. She kept this up for as long as she could, and … the Raycraft buildings were spared from the fire. Much of the town of Genoa burned in this fire, and it probably was a miracle that the Raycraft buildings were saved.
Among his other talents, Richard Raycraft must have also been mechanically inclined. In 1916 he was awarded Patent Number 1195855 for a stamp mill. This design ” which is available from the Patent Office on the Internet ” was a hand-cranked assembly of three stamp mills. Richard probably developed it for use on his often waterless mining claims. He probably expected that this invention would be well received in other dry mining areas like Tonopah and Goldfield.
The 1920 Census found Richard Raycraft, listed at age 59, married to Anna (40), with four children living at home. Richard’s brother, Edward (57), was also listed as a member of the household. Richard and Anna’s daughter, Josephine, was listed as 20 and living at home, but her marriage to Fred Hellwinkel was not far away.
We saw that, in 1910, 50 cars were expected to make the trip from Reno to the Carson Valley for the first Carson Valley Day. Times were changing fast, and more and more cars and trucks were coming to the Carson Valley, creating a service and repair business opportunity. In 1912, a 33-year-old named Clarence Oliver Dangberg saw this opportunity and decided to build a new garage. He called it the C.O.D. Garage. Many newcomers to the Carson Valley, seeing these initials for the first time, thought that they stood for Cash On Delivery. While cash was surely a very desirable commodity for Clarence, the fact is that the initials stood for his name.
When Clarence opened the new garage for business, he had an 18-year-old mechanic working for him. That young mechanic was Fred “Brick” Hellwinkel. (The nickname “Brick” reportedly came from a combination of his red, brick-colored hair and a stubborn personality.) Brick grew up on the Hellwinkel ranch, but he was allergic to hay and decided to pursue another line of work. Why not be a mechanic for this new technology?
Whether he was stubborn or not, Brick was a hard worker who saw a future in the automobile repair business. At the same time, Clarence sometimes had a hard time coming up with the cash to pay Brick. So, they worked out a deal: Brick received part of his salary as shares in the company.
Over the next few years, as the garage prospered, Brick’s ownership share of the business grew. Seven years after its founding, in 1919, the C.O.D. Garage was reorganized as a corporation, and Brick Hellwinkel became an equal partner with Clarence Dangberg. Not a bad situation for a 25-year-old.
Sometime around 1920 or 1921, Brick Hellwinkel married Josephine Raycraft. Brick was about 28 and Josephine was about 21. This marriage joined the German Hellwinkel family to the Irish Raycraft family. The Hellwinkels had two sons: Donald Frederick Hellwinkel, born in 1922, and Daniel R. Hellwinkel, born in 1926. At the time of Dan’s birth, the family was living at the corner of 6th and Mono in Minden.
From these early days, Brick Hellwinkel was an active member of the growing Carson Valley community. Brick was especially dedicated to the volunteer fire brigade. He served for many years in various roles as needed: mechanic, driver, firefighter, and even fundraiser. In these early days, Brick would man the fire engine and perform the maintenance that was required to keep it running. He also worked hard to keep the town water pumps running. But he and others recognized that, with the growth of the Valley, better equipment and a more formal firefighting organization was needed.
To get things rolling, in about 1920, Brick ” together with John Ellis ” used the remains of a fireman’s poker game pot as the nucleus of a fund for a new fire department. A fundraising effort followed, and enough money was found to purchase a new fire engine. In1927, the local fire department was reorganized to make it a county-wide service. As we will see, Brick’s dedication to the fire department would be inherited by his sons, Don and Dan.
During the 1920s, the C.O.D. Garage became well known throughout the Valley and beyond. At one time it was the only garage between Sacramento and Bodie. After hours, it was the only tow service in an area extending from Lake Tahoe to Mono Lake. Brick worked days in the garage, and at night he was often seen out rescuing stranded motorists over a wide area. Brick did many favors for people and often refused pay for his help.
In 1931, the C.O.D. Garage acquired the Pioneer Motor Co. This business was located in the large livery barn in Minden, not far down the street from the C.O.D. Garage. This building was a landmark that the Hellwinkels would preserve for many years.
In 1938 Clarence Dangberg, the founder of the C.O.D. Garage, died at age 59, and Brick Hellwinkel became the sole owner of the company. He was 44. Josephine, at 38, became vice president, and she brought the long-established business skills of the Raycrafts.
Brick continued his involvement with the expanding fire department. In 1938, county commissioners ordered a new pumping engine and hose car, and, also in that year, a contract was awarded to enlarge the fire house. In 1941, the C.O.D. Garage was a successful bidder to build a new ambulance that would be operated by Minden volunteers. This ambulance service would remain free to local taxpayers until a formal paramedic unit was formed in the 1970s.
After the war, Brick’s sons, Donald and Daniel, now grown, joined him in operating the C.O.D. Garage. By now, the garage had long been a Chevrolet dealership, and new cars were shipped in boxcars and delivered to Minden by the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. In 1950, as the V&T was about to shut down operations, Brick and Don stood on the Minden V&T platform and received the last rail carload of Chevrolets.
When Brick died in 1964 at the age of 70, the two brothers took over the operation of the garage. At that time, Don was 42 and Dan was 38. The brothers continued to operate the garage for the rest of their lives. Don and Dan followed the pioneering example of Brick Hellwinkel and the Raycraft family, and they worked toward ensuring that the Carson Valley would be a great place to raise a family. They both had inherited the pioneers’ strong, community-oriented work ethic.
Don Hellwinkel put in long hours in the garage, and he worked tirelessly for the community where he was born and reared. He joined the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce soon after leaving military service (he was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis), and he also served on the Minden Town Board, where he eventually worked to establish open space policy for new developments.
Don was also a member of many community organizations. He was a Paul Harris Fellow of the Minden Rotary. (A Paul Harris Fellow is a Rotary member who is recognized for special generosity in support of the Rotary.) He was a member of the Carson Valley Nut Club and the Gardnerville Gun Club.
Don Hellwinkel also had an interest in local history. He was a member of the Douglas County Historical Society, the Alpine County Historical Society, and the National Pony Express Association. As part of his interest in the community’s historical heritage, he preserved the large livery barn that stood near the C.O.D. Garage for many years. Perhaps as part of that historical interest, Don was an experienced horseman who loved to ride. He rode to the summit of Jobs Peak a number of times with his friend, Knox Johnson. Over the years, Don accumulated one of the finest saddle collections in the state of Nevada.
Don Hellwinkel was, like his father and his brother, a volunteer fireman with the Douglas Engine Company. He was instrumental in starting the first ambulance service in the county, and he served as ambulance dispatcher. If the ambulance driver didn’t show up in a timely fashion, Don would get into the ambulance and drive it himself.
About 1955, Don married Marlena Neddenriep, and they had two children, Robert (Robb) and Donna. Marlena and Robb eventually joined Don to make the business a family enterprise.
Daniel Hellwinkel managed the repair department at the C.O.D. Garage and was also quite active in the community. He was on the board of the Minden Gardnerville Sanitation District. He was a member of the Carson Valley 20/30 club, the Carson Valley Lions Club, and the Carson Valley Historical Society (now the Douglas County Historical Society). He was also an honorary member of the Gardnerville Gun Club and the Elk’s Lodge.
But Dan’s special passion was the fire department. He became a volunteer firefighter after his discharge from the Navy in 1946 (he would have been about 20 at that time). Dan was an excellent mechanic, and he donated considerable time to making sure that all the fire equipment was maintained in good condition. Often, on Sundays, he would be busy working at the garage on fire equipment, and his efforts over the years saved the community a lot of money. And, like his father, Dan had a reputation for helping others, including rescuing stranded motorists, no matter what the hour.
Dan spent more than 50 years as a volunteer fireman, and, because he lived at the old house at 6th and Mono, he was usually the first one aboard the fire engine when the call came. He served as assistant chief from 1955 to 1976, and as chief from 1976 to1991 (in 1991 he was 65). Marlena Hellwinkel, Dan’s sister-in-law, was quoted as saying, “His life revolved around the C.O.D. Garage and the fire department.”
In recognition of Dan’s dedication to the fire department, in 1997 Governor Bob Miller presented Dan Hellwinkel with a plaque for 50 years of service as a volunteer fireman.
His brother, Don, and Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, also a fire department volunteer, were also honored at that time. Old age was catching up with the Hellwinkel brothers. Dan passed away on March 17, 2002, at the age of 76. It was getting to be too hard for Don to keep the garage going, and in December 2003, he sold the C.O.D. Garage. At the time of the sale, the garage had been in continuous business for 91 years, and it was the oldest continuously family-owned franchised auto dealer in Nevada.
Don Hellwinkel passed away on January 15, 2006. He was 83. The passing of the Hellwinkel brothers and the closing of the C.O.D. Garage also closed a major chapter in the history of the Carson Valley. The pioneering spirit and community orientation that had started with the Raycrafts and the Hellwinkels had been sustained by Brick and Josephine Hellwinkel and was carried on by Don and Dan Hellwinkel. Don’s death in January 2006 was more than the death of a single man. It was in a real sense the end of an era of family livery businesses going back more than 140 years.