Living the good life |

Living the good life

by Ron Walker

When I was 12, my folks put me on a train in Los Angeles. It took me a week and a half to find my way back(joking). My story isn’t nearly as pitiful as I make it sound. From L.A., the train took us to Fullerton, Calif., a whopping two hours away. Disneyland hadn’t arrived, and the countryside was covered with orange trees. I slept on a screened-in porch with the overpowering fragrance of orange blossoms filling my nostrils. It was a much better adventure than the Pirates of the Caribbean ever was. I gathered eggs, shot my BB gun and dug peanuts. It was a glorious week and a half, for a city-bred kid.

Once, while living in Atlantic City, Orllyene and I took the train to Florida. The accommodations were anything but lavish, but the clickity-clack all day and night, filtered out all our cares and woes.

The “Chihuahua al Pacifico” railroad was our next rail adventure. Friends Tom and Marilyn Shreve joined us. We got on the train in the Mexican, caballero town of El Fuerte (1,500 feet) and got off eight hours later in Creel(8,000 feet). The train had a diesel engine, four passenger cars, a club car, and a dining car. Marilyn and I stood on the platform between two cars. The rush of the wind in our faces made us feel like kids again. At Divisidero, we paused to look into one of the six canyons that comprise The Copper Canyon. Two are deeper than the Grand Canyon of Arizona.

“Ron, we just had the most awesome trip. Marsia (16-year-old daughter), and I went on the Virginia and Truckee UKE TRAIN. There must have been 65 of us. We were in the 55-75 age group. We sang and played all the way from Carson City to Virginia City and back. The car ahead of us was full of college kids. Some got so excited, they came back and joined us. Here we were, rockin’, strummin’ and singing our hearts out,” Melinda Johnson says.

Melinda tells me she, and Marsia stayed at the Silverland Inn in Virginia City.

“First we had a delicious, catered dinner and then saw a fantastic, multimedia show. The group was from Italy. They were called UKULOLLO and had a totally different style. I was so glad Mars could see what happens when you create outside the box,” she says.

Melinda doesn’t just enjoy something, she goes nuclear.

“My passion is to get every senior to go up in the attic, or down in the basement, and find that long forgotten ukulele. All it takes are three chords, and you can play and sing almost anything,” she says.

Melinda slips out of the room. She returns with five different ukuleles. They’re from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. Three are Martins.

“I gave up the uke, when I was 16. Then when Mars came along, I got it out again. I crooned ‘Twinkle Twinkle,’ and ‘I’m a little teapot,” she says, and without missing a beat adds, “Ron, you have absolutely got to talk to Doug Reynolds. He’s the one who mastermind the UKE TRAIN,” she says.

Doug Reynolds turns out to be the Steven Spielberg of the ukulele. He has been producing ukulele festivals here for the last six years. His next is on April 25 and 26 at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks.

“About 400 people show up,” he said. “We have public stages where you can see ukuleles being built, and public stages where lessons are given. We also have performances.”

“Do you have to be a former lifeguard?,” I ask.

“Nope, there are no requirements,” he said.

God gave us this beautiful world. All we have to do is get out there and enjoy it.

Ron Walker lives in Smith Valley. He can be reached at