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Frieda’s Files ‘Pop’s Place’ was a little different

by Frieda Cordes Godecke

Just to remember Papa Starke and, more so, to have had the privilege of knowing him when one was a child, bring back pleasant memories to all who lived during that period of his life which he spent in Carson Valley.

H. William Starke came to Nevada from Westphalia, Germany, during the 1890s. He was married to Mary Bobbysud (Mama), a little lady from Bohemia. Papa and Mama had no children but Papa had one son from a former marriage in Germany.

Papa was a baker by trade, and soon after his arrival in Nevada he was in the bakery business in Carson City. It wasn’t long, however, before he bought property on the south end of Main Street in Gardnerville and established his business there. With the capable help of Mama, he supplied the community with bread, cakes, pies, and other delectable items, all baked in large brick ovens and sold in the little shop nearby.

Papa, however, was not content with the profits of the bakery enterprise alone. Being a very versatile person, he swelled his bank account in various ways.

He was an excellent caterer and was much in demand at weddings and parties of all sorts throughout the Valley. During the winter months he went from farm to farm to help with butchering and sausage making.

It wasn’t long before he was financially able to realize his dream-to own and operate a saloon of his own.

He built that saloon next to his bakery and called it “Pop’s Place.” It is the brick building now occupied by V & T Discount Liquors.

“Pop’s Place” was something apart from all other saloons of the day.

The friendly atmosphere, the welcome grin of Papa, and the free pretzels, pumpernickel, and Liverwurst at one end of the long, highly polished old bar, made it a happy meeting place for his Gardnerville friends. Farmers who came into town for supplies never failed to stop at “Pop’s Place” for a schooner of tap beer from the big barrel which stood among the jugs and bottles behind the bar.

A bright colored parrot in a brass cage hung from the ceiling and greeted everyone with a squawky, “Hello, Hello, Polly wants a cracker,” as they helped themselves to the free eats near the cage. Mama Starke was completely responsible for the welfare of Polly.

In those days, the police department consisted solely of two men-the sheriff and the constable-so to a great extent, it was up to the saloon keeper to keep law and order in his own establishment.

When a patron became too obnoxious and boisterous, Papa locked him in a closet under the stairs which he called his “Hell.” There the culprit was forced to remain and sleep it off until he was fit to join the other company.

Papa was by no means what you would call a handsome man. His short legs supported an oversized round body, giving one the impression that he was almost as wide as he was tall. His face was covered with deep pockmarks left there from a siege with small pox when he was a child.

In spite of all this, children flocked around him as they do around Santa Claus. There was always an expectation that some queer mechanical toy might pop out from one of his many pockets or that he might pull a real live rabbit from his sleeve. He loved each and every child.

Often at large farm parties, he came prepared with a small hand organ strapped around his shoulders. As he turned the crank, a stuffed monkey popped out of the organ and danced about to the most fantastic music imaginable. Papa led the way much like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, and, followed by dozens of children, he led the march around the house and every building on the farm, all singing as they marched. What matter if the song did not match the music that came from the box? The children joined in as best they could when Papa led with such German ditties as “In Lauderburg habe ich mein Strumpf verloren” or “Jetz gehts nach Lindenau.”

Papa owned one of the first automobiles in the Valley, a bright red Buick trimmed lavishly with shiny brass.

The mechanism of this auto was a bit too much for Papa, so he hired a chauffeur to drive him about. He derived great pleasure in driving from farm to farm taking children for short rides, most of whom had never seen an automobile until then.

He did learn to drive after a fashion later on, but it was well to drive off the road as far as possible when one saw him coming in the distance. Once on his way to Waterloo he missed a bridge completely and came to a halt in a muddy slough. Neither he nor the car were damaged to any great extent. The bridge was known as the “Starke” bridge thereafter.

One year Papa was persuaded to run for county commissioner. In those days, being a commissioner was not the headache it seems to be today. There were no sewer and zoning problems to worry about, nor was there a million-dollar school setup to supervise. About the chief concern of the three-member group was to see to it that a few loads of gravel were dumped now and then on some stretch of muddy road and to see that the one-way county bridges were strong enough to support the loads of grain taken to the mill and to bear the weight of the wagons loaded with cans of milk headed for the creamery in Waterloo.

Campaigning, too, was very simple. Mail boxes were not crammed with letters containing election promises, nor were fences and buildings decorated with billboards and pleas for votes. True, when the occasion arose, a baby was admired now and then to please some doting parents, or a cigar was handed out to make a good impression.

One thing was a necessity, however. A few days before the general election, all candidates, Republican and Democrat alike, were obliged to sit on the stage of the Valhalla Hall and address the townspeople and farmers who had gathered to hear what they had to say.

On this particular evening, Papa sat on the stage with the other candidates. After listening to lengthy speeches, some of which were very boring, it was Papa’s turn to address the assemblage. He arose with all the dignity he could muster and summed it up in two short sentences. “When I get into my office, I will do my duty. I am Papa and over there sits Mama.”

Perhaps this classic bit of oratory swung the election for him. He won by just a few votes.

Frieda’s Files column was originally published in The Record-Courier on Nov. 11, 1976.