Cousie Coverston Nelson Oral History

Dublin Core


Cousie Coverston Nelson Oral History


Cousie Coverston Nelson Oral History


Churchill County Museum Association


Churchill County Museum Association


September 10, 1990


Analog Cassette Tape, .docx File, Mp3 Audio



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Marian LaVoy


Cousie Coverston Nelson


420 Pintail Drive. Fallon, Nevada




an interview with


September 10, 1990

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewer and interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Churchill County Museum or any of its employees.

This interview was conducted by Marian LaVoy; transcribed by Pat Baden; edited by Sylvia Arden and Myrl Nygren; final typed by Pat Roden; index by Gracie Viera; supervised by Sylvia Arden. Humanist-in-Residence; and Myrl Nygren, Director of Oral History Prolect/Assistant Curator Churchill County museum.


Cousie Coverston Nelson is a charming woman who lives an active life. She has given years of musical training to students in the local schools as well as sharing her musical talent with her lodges and church. Now that she has retired she spends time on genealogical research as well as finding time to travel to foreign countries.

She is a loving mother who is interested in the welfare of her children and their families. She carries the sorrow of the loss of her daughter. Joanne, who died July 4, 1987. Cousie was selected as an interviewee as she had lived at Lahontan Dam as a small child. Her first home there was a temporary tarpaper dwelling and the next home was situated above the dam on a hill near the forebay and in a cluster of three dwellings set aside for key personnel. Her father, Lynn Smith Coverston was an operator at the Power House for the Valley Power Co., later became a partner in the Fallon Garage and then became a TCID foreman for many years. He. George C. Coverston and “Chic” Thomas started a stageline to Ely, Nevada, which they later sold to the Hiskey Stage Lines in 1928. Much of the history of Fallon is interwoven with the names Coverston and Nelson.


LaVOY:  This is Marian LaVoy of the Churchill County Museum Oral History Project interviewing Cousie Coverston Nelson at her home, 420 Pintail Drive. Fallon, Nevada. The date is September 10, 1990. Good morning, Cousie.

NELSON: Hello there, how are you today, Marian?

LaVOY:  Well, just fine, thank you. Cousie, would you mind telling me the name of your parents?

NELSON: My father was Lynn Smith Coverston, my mother was Cousie Dupuis Coverston.

LaVOY:  And where was your mother's birthplace?

NELSON: She was born in Toledo, Ohio, on February 16th. 1889.

LaVOY:  And where was your father Porn?

NELSON: He was born in Muscatine, Iowa, on April 10th, 1888.

LaVOY:  Well, how did they happen to meet?

NELSON: After my father finished high school he went up to Toledo to work, he became a chauffeur for a real estate company and through a mutual friend, met my mother.

LaVOY:  Well, that's very interesting. Well, where were they married?

NELSON: My father's brother, Ray, had gone to Mexico with the American and Mexican Light Power Company between 1905 and 1910 when they were just starting that company, and he asked my father to come down there and join him in Mexico to become an operator in a power house. My father had studied electrical engineering with the International Correspondence Course, so he went to Mexico to this power house out in the hills and then he asked my mother to come and join him and get married. So he went up to San Antonio, Texas, and met her and they were married in San Antonio, Texas, and returned to Mexico. It was a rather adventuresome trip because my mother was first 11 a trait wreck in Arkansas where a tie had disintegrated and after they got on train together in San Antonio, Texas, they were in another train wreck in Mexico where a bandit had out a spike in a track because that was at the time of the revolutions in Mexico in 1911. They were married on August 9th.

LaVOY:  In Texas?

NELSON: In San Antonio, Texas.

LaVOY:  San Antonio, Texas. My goodness. Two railroad train wrecks in one trip, that's too much. Well, how did they happen to come to Fallon?

NELSON: After living in Mexico for a year and being out in the hiils, one week the bandits would come through and the next week the soldiers would come through, and they were continually running away from the bandits. One time they had to escape on a handcar on the railroad and one time my father was captured by the bandits and held overnight in an old mill, but fortunately they didn't shoot him in the back when they released him. So after a year of this they decided life was too short, so they decided to come up to Fallon, Nevada, where my father's father. George W. Coverston and his brother, Lloyd, had started the Fallon Garage. So they came to Fallon and shortly after that my father got the position of an operator at the power house at Lahontan Dam. This was in, I'd say, 1913.

LaVOY:  Now, did any other member of his family work at the Dam?

NELSON: No, no, they were involved in the Fallon Garage. My uncle, George Coverston, was out on a farm at this time here in Fallon.

LaVOY:  Now, I just was wondering, I had read someplace that George had been a surveyor?

NELSON: George came in earlier, he was the first one to come to Fallon, he came in with the surveying crew. He surveyed all the canals for the irrigation project before the Dam was built. However, he got mastoid trouble and had to be taken to San Francisco and then eventually went back to Indiana and then went to North Dakota before returning to Fallon.

LaVOY:  Oh, I see, I also read someplace that he drove a Pullmer for the Bureau of Reclamation. Do you know anything about that?

NELSON: I can't tell you about that.

LaVOY:  I had read that he…

NELSON: He had a farm way south of Fallon out there about the last farm, it was on the edge of Carson Lake, that was there until the Dam was built.

LaVOY:  Oh, I see. Well, now, where were you born?

NELSON: I was born here in Fallon at my grandparent's home at 428 Humboldt Street, which is just east of the Methodist church, and when I was a month old we moved to Lahontan where my father was employed in the power house, during the building of the dam.

LaVOY:  And how long did you live there?

NELSON: I lived there 'til 1917 and, at first we lived in the temporary town there at Lahontan in a tar-paper shack and in 1915 my mother was not well, so she decided to go to Toledo, Ohio, to have her second child, so my sister, Eleanor, was born in Toledo, Ohio, in April of 1915. When they came back the three houses had been built on the top of the hill, above the power house. We moved into one of these houses, and lived there until 1917 when my father was transferred to an office job in Lovelock by the Valley Power Company, as it was called then. He did not like the office work on the inside, so we were only there about seven months and then we returned to Fallon in 1918 and he went into the Fallon Garage to work with his father and brother.

LaVOY:  I'd like to digress just a bit. You said that your family lived in a tarpaper shack. Where was that, I mean where was that on the map of the Dam area?

NELSON: As you go up to enter the Dam from the north side, on the north side road that takes you down the north side of the dam, there used to be a town up there to the right of the highway and built over the hillside up there and the people lived in the town up there.    In fact, until a few years ago, there were two chimneys still standing from that old town. And if you walk around that area to the right of the highway beyond the Truckee canal, you find bits of glass and iron all over. And then, the common laborers lived in a camp down by the river across from the power house. There was a bridge across the river there, and like Hungarians and other East European laborers, they had their camp down there under the cottonwood trees.

LaVOY:  How interesting, did this town have a name?

NELSON: No, it was just the camp, the camp for the building of the Dam, that's all it was.

LaVOY:  About how many people were living in it? Do you remember hearing your mother say?

NELSON: No, I don't, and then at the completion of the Dam that, naturally, was all torn down, but the three houses that had been built by the power company for the three operators at the power house. They each did an eight hour shift.

LaVOY:  And your father was one of these operators?


LaVOY:  Very, very interesting. [tape cuts, small inaudible section] Would you tell me something about the area there where the houses were?

NELSON: The houses were built, above the power house on top of the hill just east of the forebay. The forebay holds the water for the water that goes down the flume to the power house to the big generators. Originally, just three houses were on the hill. In more recent years another little house was added at the south end and the operator of the gate tower had his house under the cottonwood trees near the State Park Headquarters. They moved that house up also, so now five houses stand on the top of the hill.

LaVOY:  What was the name of the gate man, do you recall?

NELSON: Mr. Fisher was the operator of the gate tower for many years. His wife lived there, and their one daughter married Tom Sanford who was the son of Grandma Sanford, a pioneer who had come here to Ragtown in the pioneer days. The daughter died after the birth of their daughter who was Ann Mackedon, the wife of Roy Mackedon, and so she lived at Lahontan Dam, I'd say, during the 1920's. One of the operators of the power house at the same time my father was there was named Bill Tottman, and he had a wife named Buena and a daughter named Marjorie, and they were there operating the power house at the same time.

LaVOY:  Oh, then when you moved into town what did your father do?

NELSON: We were able to get the house next door to my grandparent's house at 408 Humboldt Street, which we bought. My grandfather had built the two houses after coming from Indiana and that was our home until 1936. My father went into the Fallon Garage to work and eventually become a partner to George C. Coverston in the Fallon Garage until 1936.

LaVOY:  Well, I'd like to ask you, what were your grandparents names? Were they the George W. Coverstons?

NELSON: Yes, that's right, George W. and Luna Coverston.

LaVOY:  All right, getting back to the Garage here, I was reading that George W. bought the garage from a Mr. Cod, a Mr. A. A. Cod in 1913 and Mr. Cod had originally, in 1911 set up an L. M. Lewis in this garage. Did you know anything at all about that?

NELSON: I know nothing about that, previous to my grandfather's ownership.

LaVOY:  Where was the garage?

NELSON: On Center Street where the Bill Janess Chevrolet is, that was the Fallon Garage.

LaVOY:  And how many years, did you say, your father worked there, or was he a part-owner?

NELSON: He was a part-owner, eventually, from 1918 to 1936, at which time he sold out to George Coverston and, believe it or not, got a job with the T.C.I.D. and we went back to Lahontan again to live for fifteen months while he was an operator in the power house again. At that time, he rewound one of the turbines in there, that was not in operation, he got it moving again. It had not been in operation for some time, and at the end of fifteen months he was asked by T.C.I.D. to be in charge of T.C.I.D.'s all over the valley in Fernley. So we moved back to Fallon again, and he was the head of T.C.I.D. as far as reading all the meters and being the trouble shooter all over the valley until 1941.

LaVOY:  Do you have some interesting stories that you remember of his years of doing that?

NELSON: Well, I remember he had to go read meters all over the valley and up at Fernley, and if we had an electrical storm my father very conscientiously had the power back on much quicker than we have it now with being tied into California and Oregon (laughing).

LaVOY:  Well, with him having to go all around the valley like that he must have known everybody in the valley?

NELSON: Yes, and he'd been in business here for many, many years so many of the people were friends of his, having been in the garage business and their buying Chevrolets and Oldsmobiles, why he knew almost everybody in the valley at that time.

LAVOY: You said he was a partner in the garage. Who were the others that were with him?

NELSON: George Coverston, George C. Coverston, and after my father left the partnership, then George C. fixed up a partnership with his own children.

LaVOY:  Was there a Lloyd Coverston that was a partner for a while too?

NELSON: Lloyd was his oldest brother, a veteran of the Spanish American War, and he was in business with his father, George W., but he left the partnership early.

LaVOY:  Oh, I see, now tell me your home, give me the address of it again.

NELSON: 408 Humboldt Street. You will see that the two white houses east of the Methodist Church are built just the same; my grandfather built those two houses.

LaVOY:  Tell me something about it, did you have electricity?

NELSON: Oh, yes. And before we moved in, well, we had inside bathrooms. I mean the house was very modern but you could see out in the sheds that the house had been built before they had a sewage system in Fallon because they had the toilets in the garage, with just large metal bins that were emptied by somebody once a week, or something like that. But we never had to do that, we had the inside bathroom. It was a two-bedroom home, living room, dining room, kitchen and bathroom. I remember we had the pull-chain toilet (laughing) in the early days where you had the box up above and, believe it or not, they're still using some of those in England (laughing).

LaVOY:  Well, those are very popular here in the United States now, they're going back to them.

NELSON: Then, after my brother, Mason Lynn, was born in 1919 and started growing up we added a third bedroom for him and you'll notice that 408 Humboldt Street has a wing projecting out at the back. We also had a fruit cellar because the women of the family were always busy canning fruit each summer.

LaVOY:  Well, I know this sounds like an odd question, but what kind of a bathtub did you have?

NELSON: The kind that stood on legs.

LaVOY:  Cast iron with porcelain?

NELSON: Yes, cast iron and porcelain and the regular basin stood on the wall but had no cabinet under it. And we had a pump in the back yard, believe it or not. In those days people did not have many refrigerators so we had a pump in the back yard where we could pump cold water for making lemonade in the summer time. We had our first electric refrigerator in 1928. Previous to that we had a cooler in the dining room. A cooler is a cupboard that has screen shelves and the cold air from under the house comes up through and keeps the food cool. Well, naturally, we shopped for meat almost everyday. We had a milkman bring milk everyday.

LAVOY: Who was that, do you recall?

NELSON: Hammond, Jon Hammond's father, Frank Hammond. He had a dairy for years and years and years and we always had milk delivered from that dairy and they lived out on Casey Road. Their dairy was situated out there.

LaVOY:  Well, now, with the milk did you put that in the cooling cupboard?

NELSON: That would go in the cooling cupboard and you could set it in a saucer of cold water and wrap cloth around it which evaporate and keep the milk cold 'til the next day it would be all right.

LaVOY:  And the milk was not homogenized so you had thick cream on the top?

NELSON: That's right. We could scoop the cream off to use on cereals or fruits, separate the cream from the milk if you wanted to. We didn't have a washing machine for a long time. My mother had an Indian squaw come once a week to do her washing and the squaw had a little platform in the backyard where she built a fire and the big tub was put on the fire and heated the water. She had a washboard and she washed the clothes in the backyard and rinsed them in another tub of cold water and hung them on the clothes line. That's how our laundry was done.

LaVOY:  Do you remember her name?

NELSON: Annie Lawry, I think was her name, no, no, Maggie Lawry was our squaw.

LaVOY:  What kind of a cooking stove did you have?

NELSON: We had a coal and wood stove in the kitchen, and my father had put electric plates hooked to one end where we could heat suppers in the evening in the summer time. In those days we also had our tank for heating our bath water, stood beside the kitchen stove and the way you heated your bath water was to fire it up and keep it fired. In those days you had your big dinner at noon because my father came home from the Fallon Garage at noon for dinner. Then in the evening was just a lighter meal which didn't have to be heated up in the summer time. The living room stove was a coal stove and in later years we got a stove-oil stove. The bathroom was heated by a little kerosene stove that would smoke if you let it the flame get too high (laughter). My grandmother, next door, had a three burner kerosene stove that she used in her kitchen in the summer time.

LaVOY:  And that kept it from being so terribly hot.

NELSON: That's right.

LaVOY:  That's very interesting. What kind of a yard did you have, was your mother interested in gardening, did you have a vegetable garden?

NELSON: Not so, but we had a lawn all around our house, the backyard was just dirt and the children did a lot of playing in our backyard. We had the freedom of that whole block because my grandfather owned the east end of the block and McLeans owned the west half. Madeline McLean was our other playmate on the block, and their two houses that stand there today, the same, south of the Methodist Church, were there at that time. Originally they stood up facing Stillwater Avenue but they were moved and left the lot vacant for the Methodist Church to be built. And then, the rest of the block on the east side was my grandfather's chicken yard, and he had chickens.

LaVOY:  What kind?

NELSON: Oh, just regular laying hens, and for eating. And there was a great big cottonwood tree in his backyard and my brother would play Tarzan on that, swinging back and forth on a length of hose with a tire hooked on the end (laughing). We children were very imaginative playing in the backyard. My grandfather had a little carpenter shop in his garage. He let us use the tools because we were taught how to take care of them. We'd use mill blocks that were used for our stove; we'd use them for making little automobiles and dragging them around the block.

LaVOY:  Oh, that sounds like it would have been a lot of fun. Who was your very best friend?

NELSON: In grade school my very best friend was named Pauline Williams, who later married Gerald Miller.           She lives down near Hayward now, California. Gerry Miller was a brother of Boyce Miller and Lloyd Miller.

LaVOY:  I remember her very well. What pets did you have?

NELSON: We just had one dog. He was part Airedale and part Terrier and he was a family pet for seven or eight years. My mother's parents lived in Toledo, Ohio, I mean her mother did and her sister and brother. So each three or four years my mother would take we three children on the train back to Toledo to spend the summer with her mother. One summer we came back and Jerry had died and we didn't know if he died of a broken heart or what, but my father would never have another dog then.

LaVOY:  Oh, the dog's name was Jerry?

NELSON: That's right.

LaVOY:  Well, now, tell me, you said you had a sister and a brother and being the eldest what were your responsibilities at home?

NELSON: Oh, we girls had the household chores of wiping the dishes, dusting the furniture, caring for our own bedroom, making our beds, and my brother had the chore of bringing in the coal and wood, that type of thing, and when he was bigger to mow the lawn.

LaVOY:  Oh, I see, now how did you spend the evening?

NELSON: During the school year they were spent studying, and I started piano lessons at age eight, so everyday when I came home from school I practiced piano half an hour. Then my sister started violin lessons; she would practice twenty minutes, then I'd practice a half hour, then she'd practice twenty minutes. By then it was supper time, and in between times, I could go out and play, but the evenings were spent studying. And in those days, children played out in the backyard and had a good time in the morning, but in the afternoon the girls were dressed up and sat in the shade and played with their dolls all afternoon. And then in the evening, when we were a little more advanced, my father liked to hear us play the violin and piano together, so we'd play duets together.

LaVOY:  Who was your music teacher?

NELSON: My first music teacher was Mary Oats Reed and when she got married I went to a teacher named Mrs. Hobson. Later on I had Mrs. Foulks and I had Mrs. Eva Canterbury, and my last music teacher was Frieda McCullough in Fernley.

LaVOY:  Now, you started school when you were five or six?

NELSON: When I came to Fallon, I started Kindergarten late that year, that was in 1918. I do remember seeing the Armistice Day parade in 1918, standing on the corner of Center and Maine. And I remember the school buses were in the parade and they were little old gray bodied things, little high things. I remember the school busses going by in the parade and the ringing the bell on the fire station which was at the corner of Center and Maine, where the Fallon National Bank is now. Later that building was moved out to Courtesy Corner as a house and it now stands on Allen Road as a home.

LaVOY:  Oh. What was your first teacher's name do you remember that?

NELSON: It was Miss Van, she was my first grade teacher. I don't remember who taught me in kindergarten.

LaVOY:  What school did you go to?

NELSON: It was called the Old High. It was a two story brick structure there where the Cottage Schools now stand. And they were there until about 1943 or 1944 when they were torn down and the Cottage Schools were built with bricks from them and from the beet sugar factory. The Cottage Schools were built out of those brick, plus a cottage building at West End school. And, at that time, they built the first structure at West End School it was the north end of the school and my husband, Wendell Nelson, built that in 1947.

LaVOY:  Oh, I see. Now, what subject did you like best in school?

NELSON: Oh, I always liked music and I think I liked everything but history. I finally got to like history when I was in college, but I'd never cared much for history. But, I was always good in the other subjects. I liked them all right.

LaVOY:  Well, now, after you finished grade school where did you go to high school?

NELSON: The Churchill County High School. I went there for four years and graduated in 1930.

LaVOY:  Now where was this located?

NELSON: Where the present Junior High School is now. It’s the big building on south Maine Street, the pale green building, that was Churchill County High School.

LaVOY:  Who was your principal?

NELSON: George McCracken.

LaVOY:  Do you have any stories about Mr. McCracken?

NELSON: Well, I taught under him and his favorite expression was always "I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts". He always thought he knew the right answer (laughing). He was a very strict disciplinarian too. When we'd go to the High School dances he'd go around and tap the girls and boys on the hand and say "Let me see daylight between you. (Laughing).

LaVOY:  At the dances?

NELSON: Yes. The school dances.

LaVOY:  Did he have chaperons there too, at the dances, or was he the chaperon?

NELSON: Well, there were teachers there and usually sometimes my mother would take me to the dance, my father was rather strict and my mother would take me to the dance and a lot of us girls just went stag, and we had programs at the dances, little programs with pencils and always decorated for the dances with crepe paper hung up to the chandelier in the middle of the auditorium. And then we would have a few formal dances during the year, the Junior-Senior Prom was always formal.

LaVOY:  What were some of the decorations that you remember?

NELSON: It was usually the twirled crepe paper but up to the center chandelier, I think one time they had confetti, but they ruled that out after the clean-up committee tried to get rid of it the next day (laughing). I always seemed to get on the clean-up committee.

LaVOY:  Well, I can see why you ruled out confetti that's hard to get up. What year did you graduate?

NELSON: 1930.

LaVOY:  Now, did you decide to go on to school?

NELSON: Yes, my parents wanted me to go on study to be a piano teacher, so they sent me to the College of Notre Dame at Belmont, California, which was a music conservatory and a school for girls. At that time, there was no music at the University of Nevada except Mr. Post's band, that was all there was, was the band. And, I wasn't quite seventeen years old so they wanted to send me to a girls' school.

LaVOY:  Won't you describe that school?

NELSON: The College of Notre Dame had moved from San Jose, California, up to Belmont about three or four years previous. Now both Betty Allen and Eunice Allen, Lem Allen's sisters, had gone there to school, so my mother knew about this school. They had bought the Ralston Sharon Estate [William C. Ralston and Senator William Sharon] at Belmont, California, and had built a new grammar school, a new high school down below the Estate and put in a swimming pool, a music conservatory, built a new chapel. Extensive grounds there, but we girls lived in the Ralston Sharon mansion which was really an adventure because it was a three story mansion, built with money from the Virginia City gold rush days. And we went into this beautiful mansion with the dark and light parquet floors, all crystal chandeliers, and all the walls on the first floor of this mansion are French frosted glass with silver plates on the doors. In the original days all the walls would go back into the wall, or up into the ceiling to leave the whole floor as a ballroom. The original ballroom was used as our chapel, and the nine foot mirrors were covered with cardboard while we were there as students. Later on, the school was built up on top of the hill after the days I was there. The original ballroom is now back to its original beauty of having the mirrors uncovered and is now a historic landmark, and they take people through on tours. But we lived in that house for two years.

LaVOY:  That must have been exciting.

NELSON: Oh, yes, I'm telling you it was a gorgeous mansion.

LaVOY:  What music did you study there?

NELSON: It was a small school, there were only twelve of us boarding there at the time, and I had to practice piano three hours a day. Then the sisters, the Catholic sisters who were then dressed in the habits of black serge with white trim and collars, taught me. It was a one-on-one proposition, I mean I was usually about the only person in my class because we progressed at our own speed and I took every phase--I took history, I took harmony, I took counterpoint, took every subject in music. I just concentrated on music.              The only other subject I took was French and I took two years of French there-college French. And then the second year I also took dramatics but outside of that all my subjects were on music.

LaVOY:  Do you remember what order of nuns ran the school?

NELSON: The College of Notre Dame, the sisters of Notre Dame, the Notre Dame de Namur out of Belgium, and they came there originally in 1853 to California.

LaVOY:  Now, did you have a graduation ceremony when you left?

NELSON: I received a certificate for having gone there for two years, it was just a silver pen and certificate, there was no graduation because, at that time, they just had a two year school and even the girls taking all the college subjects would transfer to other colleges. But I did riot take the other subjects so I just had two years of intensive music study.

LaVOY:  Then you returned to Fallon?

NELSON: I returned to Fallon intending to teach piano lessons. It was right in the midst of the Depression and nobody around Fallon had money for piano lessons so I taught my cousin, Helen. I gave her lessons and then I had one other pupil. However, I was receiving liverwurst, chicken and eggs in payment, most of the time, for those lessons and after staying home for a year and having a good time around here because there were country dances every Saturday night and I had a friend who played in a little band. We had lots of fun; it was all good normal, clean fun.            My father decided I was going back to college and become a music teacher, so my folks sent me to San Jose State and I went there majoring in music for three years until I got my general secondary and my BA degree.

LaVOY:  Regressing just a little bit, do you remember the name of your first pupil, the one that paid you in the produce?

NELSON: Well, her name was Loretta Jesch, and her father was a barber here in Fallon. They'd had ten children so I mean there were nine children in the family to raise.

LaVOY:  And you were her teacher?

NELSON: I was her piano teacher.

LaVOY:  Her sister, Helen, is quite a musician. You didn't have her as a student?

NELSON: No, Helen was just a couple of years younger than I was but she's a good friend of mine, and digressing a bit, I visited her brother's grave at Cambridge American Cemetery this summer, and I had my picture taken with his tombstone.

LaVOY:  In England?

NELSON: In England.

LaVOY:  Very, very interesting. [End of side A] Tell me something more about your years at San Jose?

NELSON: At that time, San Jose State didn't have approved dormitories, any dormitories, so we lived in approved boarding houses. I lived with a house mother named Sally Jones for three years there during my time at San Jose State. At that time, when I started San Jose State, there were about eighteen hundred students and it was in the middle of the depression. When I left three years later the enrollment was up to three thousand and now there are over twenty-five thousand at San Jose State. It's a State university now. Music was my major, French was my minor; and piano was my music major and strings my minor and music strings were my minor. I played a double bass which I had started playing in the fifth grade and all through high school. I played the double bass in the symphony orchestra there. I took the rest of the subjects so that I could graduate with a BA degree.

LaVOY:  When you tell me about your graduation ceremony, did all of your family come down for it?

NELSON: Yes, my parents came down for it. There were three hundred and eighty-six in our graduating class and I graduated with distinction. I was number sixteen so I didn't get to graduate with great distinction (laughing). At that time, there were about twenty teachers for every job available, so I came back to Nevada and my cousin, Ethelyn, and I took a tour around Nevada looking for jobs. At that time, the Fallon schools were not hiring any inexperienced teachers; they always wanted experienced teachers and also you couldn't get married and be a teacher. In August the local music teacher in the grade schools resigned and left them without a music teacher so they hired me, wondering how I would get along with discipline and so on. I became a music supervisor in the elementary schools here. I taught all the music in the fifth through the eighth grades and saw the lower four grades one day a week. And I also taught orchestra, band and chorus, and taught the high school orchestra. Looking in my own survey it said what salary did you have? In 1936 I received the salary of twelve hundred dollars for a year's teaching in the grade school and two hundred and fifty dollars for the year for teaching the high school orchestra two noon hours a week for a half hour each time. Later on I went back to teaching in 1953, I was getting twelve hundred dollars for a half a day teaching. I taught until 1939 at which time I planned to get married so I did not sign a contract after that.

LaVOY:  Now, regressing back a little bit, who was it that hired you?

NELSON: [Long pause] His name escapes me right now.

LaVOY:  Well, we can come back to that, but I wondered if the same superintendent of schools…

NELSON: I taught under E. C. Best for three years. He was the principal of the school, and that's who I taught under from '36 to '39. And then George McCracken was the principal of the High School, and I had gone to school to him, so he was my principal when I taught in the High School those three years.

LaVOY:  Do you recall who any of your students were?

NELSON: Oh, yes, my cousin Carl Coverston was one of my students, and I remember Bob Harper was one of my students.

LaVOY:  Did they have band or orchestra competitions in those days?

NELSON: Yes, I took my children to music festivals.

LaVOY:  And where were some of these places?

NELSON: Winnemucca, Reno, Gardnerville.

LaVOY:  Did they win any prizes or play with distinction?

NELSON: We were rated, we got good ratings at the festivals. I would take orchestra or I would take small string group, something like that, I remember taking a string group to Winnemucca one time. We got very nice ratings.

LaVOY:  I imagine that you had a very, very good group. Now, it seems to me that about this time you must have met your husband.

NELSON: I had met my husband out at Union School at a dance one Saturday night during a Christmas vacation, probably 1934. He was just up from the bay area at that time. He was working on the coast, and I was just home for Christmas. But I didn't start going with him until after I graduated from college in 1936 when he had returned here and was working as a plasterer, doing plastering jobs around town.

LaVOY:  Would you give me your husband's name?

NELSON: Wendell Edward Nelson.

LaVOY:  And he was a contractor, is that correct?

NELSON: Yes, at that time he was a plastering contractor, plastering different buildings around Fallon and other places and just before we were married, he decided to go into general contracting. He became a general building contractor.

LaVOY:  You mentioned something about him building one of the schools. Which one was that?

NELSON. He built the high school gymnasium, the former one, which is now there on Virginia Street, and he built the original grammar school in Hawthorne and he built the home ec department in Hawthorne and he built the first high school in Hawthorne the big building in Hawthorne. Then he built an addition to the gymnasium in Hawthorne. He built the original West End building which was the north end of the building at that time.

LaVOY:  Somebody said that he was instrumental in building the first hospital [155 N. Taylor] here, is that right?

NELSON: Yes, he built the original part of the hospital here and he built the First Interstate Bank building [295 S. Maine St].

LaVOY:  The one that's on the corner of . . .?

NELSON: Richards and Maine. And he built the Lawana Theater which is now the bicycle repair shop [360 S. Maine], he built that.

LaVOY:  He must have been a very active contractor here in town.

NELSON: Oh, yes, and when he went into general contracting he built highway maintenance stations, and armories and he built buildings as far away as Herlong and Ely.

LaVOY:  What was the name of his company?

NELSON: He belonged to the Associated General Contractors but just built under his own name, Wendell E. Nelson. In his early days he was backed by Ira L. Kent and later on in his contracting career he was backed by Andy Drumm, and then, finally, he just went to work for Andy Drumm.

LaVOY:  All right, tell me a little bit about your courtship?

NELSON: Well, we did the usual things. We went to the local dances; he was a great fisherman so I was always going on fishing expeditions out to Austin and back (laughing). We'd go into Reno to dinner and dance, and I lived at Lahontan so for fifteen months, '36 and '37, he was keeping the roads hot between Fallon and Lahontan. And we had a whole gang of young people that we liked to chum around with.

LaVOY:  Tell me some of the things you did with these young people?

NELSON: Oh, we'd have beach parties at Lahontan, and wiener roasts, and swimming parties, and go to the local dances, and go out and have baseball games and that type of thing.

LaVOY:  Do you recall where he proposed to you?

NELSON: Not really, I think it was up at Pyramid Lake. We'd taken a drive up there one Sunday afternoon (laughing).

LaVOY:  Very romantic, very romantic. Now, tell me about your wedding?

NELSON: It was a home wedding. My parents were living at 105 South Allen Street, where Genevieve Hill lived until her death. They had leased their home on Humboldt Street out. When we moved back to Lahontan and didn't want to take the house away from Mrs. Renfro, who was living there, so we lived there until she built her own home. So, at that time, I was living with my parents on Allen Street and had a home wedding on Sunday morning, January 14th, 1940. It was just family members and a few close friends and then after the wedding we had the wedding cakes. Then my husband and I headed for Las Vegas, which is the only direction you can go in January where it isn't all ice and snow. We went down there for the weekend and then we drove up to Ely and of course, it was twelve above zero in Ely. We drove on ice all the way back to Fallon (laughing).

LaVOY:  Goodness gracious. Did you wear a long white gown or a short dress?

NELSON: I wore a short dress. I had a kind of an aqua colored dress and I had a kind of dusty rose wide brimmed hat and gloves. I forget what my corsage was, something pretty. My sister stood up with me.

LaVOY:  I bet you were a beautiful bride. Now, here you are a married lady already and where did you live?

NELSON: For the first month we lived in an apartment up in a stone building which no longer stands. It had to be taken down after the 1954 earthquake. It was a stone building on the corner of Maine and Williams where the Nugget's parking lot is now. Then the second month we lived in a little house behind the Privett residence on Williams Avenue, then a friend moved away and left their cottage available at 510 1/2 Churchill Street behind the Pinger residence. We lived there a year until we bought our own home at 727 West Williams. This house had been built by Larry Crehore's mother, Mrs. Aikins. When we moved into it my husband took all the plaster off the walls and removed the woodwork through most of the house and put all new plaster inside the house. We put a new tub and toilet in the bathroom, and new woodwork, he interior-stuccoed the house and redid the kitchen, put in a new sink, new linoleum, so the house was all new inside, and we moved in there on Easter Sunday, 1941.

LaVOY:  Did the house always have that interesting pillared front?

NELSON: Yes, and it originally did not have the wing on the west. The house was just a one bedroom house. The whole front of the house was the living room which is thirty-one by fifteen four, that living room is. Had a big gray brick fireplace which my husband stuccoed over and did a special hand molding around the fireplace and all around the coved ceiling that he put in, which could be seen today if you were to go into that house. It had hardwood floors and one large bedroom. So going out to the west of the house in a picture that I put in the paper a few months ago, was just the beams for a driveway. When we added on to the house in 1948, we added two more bedrooms and another bathroom which put that west wing on the house.

LaVOY:  I see. When did your first child arrive?

NELSON: She was born on July 6, 1941.

LaVOY:  And her name?

NELSON: Joanne.

LaVOY:  Of course you had other children. Would you please give me their names too?

NELSON: Diane Kay was born November 17, 1944 and Wendell Edward, Junior was born on February 12, 1947. The girls were born at the Handley Hospital here in Fallon, and Dr. Sawyer [Dr. H B. Sawyer] was their doctor. My son was born in St. Mary's Hospital in Reno because Dr. Wray had bought the Hospital and Dr. Sawyer couldn't use the Hospital, so I had to go to Reno and get a different doctor.

LaVOY:  Where was the Handley Hospital?

NELSON: Out on Auction Road and it’s an apartment now owned by Joe Lister, right next to some storage units he's built there. It's a low cottage type building, and is now just several apartments, right at the end of Regan Place.

LaVOY:  Now, Dr. Sawyer delivered the first two children, is that correct?


LaVOY:  Delivered them at the Handley Hospital?


LaVOY:  Can you tell me something about the Hospital itself, the interior of it?

NELSON: Well, it was a cottage type building and had a number of rooms, delivery room, operating room and had very efficient nurses there.

LaVOY:  Who were some of them, do you remember?

NELSON: I remember a Mrs. Lancaster. She was very, very nice and a very efficient nurse, had come from British Columbia. I don't remember the other nurses’ names. And, at that time, it cost me sixty dollars for ten days in the hospital and sixty dollars for the doctor. Then when I had Dr. Bibb [John] in Reno for my son it was one hundred and twenty dollars, just double what the others had been (laughing).

LaVOY:  Now it's three thousand dollars.

NELSON: That's right.

LaVOY:  Unbelievable! You said that somebody else had taken over the Handley Hospital.

NELSON: Dr. Wray had.

LaVOY:  Dr. Wray?

NELSON: W-r-a-y, yes.

LaVOY:  Did he run that as a hospital for a while?


LaVOY:  So it was known as the Wray Hospital?

NELSON: Yes, and then he moved his office down to South Maine Street on the corner of Stillwater and Maine; that two-story building there was later his home and office.

LAVOY: Well then, approximately when did the Churchill County Hospital come into being, that your husband built?

NELSON: He built that in, I think, 1949.

LaVOY:  So from the Handley Hospital to the Wray Hospital and then to the Churchill County Hospital.

NELSON: Then the original Churchill County Hospital wasn't as big as it is now; it had later additions.

LaVOY:  Now, one more thing that I wanted to check back with you on your husband, you said that after he decided to give up his contracting, is that correct, he went to work for Andy Drumm for a while, with the Silver State Construction?

NELSON: Yes, he became his fuel man, and worked for him as his fuel man until 1969 when he retired.

LaVOY:  have heard so many funny stories about Andy Drumm. Do you have any that you'd care to share with us?

NELSON: Oh yes (laughing) Andy Drumm and Doris were our next door neighbors for a number of years. They lived in their home right behind our house there, see, our house on Williams Avenue. Andy had a heart of gold, believe me, he was right behind his workers. Very generous. And he knew that we were raising three children and wanted to educate them right and so he saw that my husband had work. He had an old springer dog named Rollo and unfortunately Rollo died. He got run over. We had two springer spaniels, so we would look out in the backyard and here would be Andy Drumm's car parked in our alley. We would wonder "what's Andy doing out there?"--Andy had stopped to visit with our dogs.

LaVOY:  What were your dogs' names?

NELSON: First dog was Freckles, and later on we had a Gus and a Toby, all springer spaniels the way his dog had been. So Andy would come over to visit our dogs or he might take one of them for a ride, and each morning our dog, Freckles, would go over to their back door for a hand out. Doris said he was quite a gourmet because he would eat blue cheese or he would eat salami, wasn't particular but he was there for a hand out. And, of course, the stories about Andy are numerous, you could write a book about Andy.

LaVOY:  I understand that he had a very, very bad temper and that some of his workers would really hate to see him come. Do you know anything about that?

NELSON: Well, he used to fly his plane into his different road jobs. One time two of his workers were out along the road at Eureka and the one worker said to the other "You better get to work now," he said, "here comes Andy's plane." "Oh, that's all right, doesn't matter," and kept on talking. When Andy arrived in camp he fired the fellow (laughing).

LaVOY:  My goodness.

NELSON: Another time he was on a job up the canyon toward Reno and they were realigning the railroad there and he was walking across the railroad bridge and here came a train. Nothing to do but him jump in the river to get out of the way of the train. So he jumped in the river and got out, had to borrow a pair of jeans so he gets a pair of jeans but they weren't quite large enough for him, but that didn't stop him. He went directly into Reno into one of the clubs.

LaVOY:  (Laughing).

NELSON: And another time my husband flew with him and Ernie Maupin to San Francisco and they flew in Drumm's plane. Wendell said that perspiration was just dripping off Andy's chin all the time they were flying over all the Sierra. They get down to San Francisco and go to the Palace Hotel and he hadn't dressed Western until he got to San Francisco then he put on a cowboy hat and he his boots to go into the Palace Hotel (laughing).

LaVOY:  Oh, that's marvelous.

NELSON: Then found out he'd forgot his glasses, so he went down to the five and ten and bought another pair.

LaVOY:  Another-pair of reading glasses? Well, he must have been a character and I'm sorry that none of his family is around.

NELSON: He was very, very devoted. He wanted to be sure Doris was home every evening. At seven o'clock she knew he was going to call her, no matter where he was; she was always there at seven o'clock. And every time, in the early days, when he’d fly in in his AD6 he’d dip over the house and let her know he was back in town.

LaVOY:  Oh, my, as I recall they lost two of their children to tragic accidents?

NELSON: Yes, they did. They lost Dellard in an auto accident. .

LaVOY:  What was his name?

NELSON: Dellard. Very nice young man, and then they lost a daughter, Laverne, in a flying accident.

LaVOY:  Too bad. Well, now, do you have any other stories that you'd like to tell me about when your children were growing up?

NELSON: Oh, dear, that's a little hard for me to think of right off hand. Our vacations usually were going to Big Creek on fourth of July weekend and camping out because my husband was always working when the weather was good, so our vacations would be short. My oldest daughter, Joanne, I taught her to play the piano and she learned to play the clarinet and the bassoon. And she knew from the time she was a sophomore in high school that she was going to be a dietitian, and so she went on to the University of Nevada and graduated there as a dietitian, went to Seattle and interned at Harbor View Hospital: was dietitian there for three years and then returned to Nevada, went to Monterey, California as hospital dietitian for a few months, and then taught at the University of Nevada, an associate course for two years. And then later on, she was the head dietitian at St. Mary's Hospital after Myrl Nygren left there.

LaVOY:  Well. When did your husband pass away?

NELSON: My husband passed away in October 24th, 1979. They discovered the first of May that he had liver cancer and he just survived for eight months.

LaVOY:  That's too bad. Did you teach while the children were growing up?

NELSON: I was asked to come back to teaching half-day -n 1953. And that was the year my son started school, so as all the children were in school, I accepted the job and just taught half-day. Well, shortly after I started teaching, my son came down with nephritis and had to be in the bed all year long, so I did not quit teaching, I got a baby sitter to take care of him the three hours I was gone. And then he made a complete recovery, but I didn't Know at the time, so I did not take a contract for the next year but substituted for three years. And then in 1957 they again asked me to come back to teaching half-day, which I did. By then my son was in the fifth grade, and went back to teaching then, and then I taught from 1957 until 1973. When I reached my sixtieth birthday I retired.

LaVOY:  Well, the school system certainly must have missed you. Now, I know, you were active in many organizations in town, could you tell me something about them?

NELSON: Well, I joined AAUW [American Association of University Women] soon as San Jose State was approved. They weren't approved until they got the dormitories. And I belonged to them, and belonged the Business and Professional Women's Club, and Eastern Star. When the pressure of having small children came along, I dropped out of BPW and eventually out of AAUW for awhile. Later I went back into AAUW for a number of years. I was active in Eastern Star and went on to be the Worthy Matron of Eastern Star in 1952 and, then, I've been the organist of that organization for many years.

LaVOY:  Are you the organist for your church group, too?

NELSON: I was an organist in the Baptist Church and then in 1954 we moved to the Methodist Church and joined that church and I was organist for the early services; later on organist for the main services. And then for awhile, previous to 1979, I was not active in the church. And then after my husband's death, I started back to church and joined the choir and became a choir member and also substitute organist, and became active in the United Methodist Women. And then my interests, since my husband passed away, I've been very active in the Friends of the Library and I'm a Library board member, and am a volunteer worker at their book store. And then I've been very active in the United Methodist Women's group, and I belong to the genealogy society and the historical society.

LaVOY:  Well, it seems to me you've kept yourself very, very busy.

NELSON: Oh, yes, I'm a joiner, I guess (laughing).

LaVOY:  Well, thank God for joiners and volunteers. Cousie, one thing that I wanted to ask you, are all of your children still living?

NELSON: No, I lost my daughter, Joanne, in 1987, fourth of July; two days short of her forty-sixth birthday. She had a malignant brain tumor which she battled for over two years.

LaVOY:  I see, I don't' believe I asked you when your husband passed away, where he was buried?

NELSON: He wished to be cremated and his ashes flown out to Smoky Valley. So we were able to do that, so his ashes are out over Kingston Canyon, and there's a marker in the Fallon Cemetery, to his memory. And there's a marker also there for daughter Joanne's, and her ashes are out in the Smoky Valley.

LaVOY:  Why did they choose the Smoky Valley?

NELSON: That was a favorite place of ours, to go fishing out to Kingston Canyon.

LaVOY:  Did you go with them in the plane when they scattered the ashes?

NELSON: No, my son, Wendell, went with them.

LaVOY:  I see. One thing that I realized that we have not talked about was the earthquake that Fallon had; what year was that?

NELSON: That was in 1954 and its easy for me to remember the three dates of the three major earthquakes we had because the first fell on my daughter, Joanne's birthday, July sixth; the second fell on August twenty-third which was my husband's folks anniversary, his stepfather C. B. Likes and his mother, Gertrude Likes, anniversary; and the third was on December sixteenth which is a nephew's birthday.

LaVOY:  I see. Can you tell me how you reacted to them?

NELSON: Yes, I had my nephew visiting there at the time. And he was only five years old so I rushed in and picked him up out of the bed and stood in a doorway, and my son had to fend for himself. However, we had no structural damage in our home, I did have to go over and hold on to the guppy aquarium because the water was sloshing out of it, and the standing lamp was waving around, and some ceramic figures on the fireplace fell off and broke. My husband dashed out of the house down the street; his parents lived two doors away and they lived in a cement block house and he was so afraid that it would crush his mother, and he dashed down the street to see what was happening there.

LaVOY:  What time of day did the earthquake happen?

NELSON: I think one happened around ten o'clock at night, and another maybe around four in the morning, I know that it was dark and that we were in bed, and the third one happened at night too, but I couldn't give the exact times.

LaVOY:  When you went to survey the damage about town, what did you see?

NELSON: I found out that the fire walls on some of the buildings were gone. I can tell you better what had to be replaced. The second story of the Elk's Club had to be replaced, the second story of the Overland Hotel had to be torn down to the first story. All the fire walls on the buildings down town, the front of the Arcade Building had to be changed from the original face to a plain face, The Fraternal Hall front building had to be replaced, and the back end of the Fraternal Hall fell off twice and you can see to this day you can see where it was repaired, the back end of the dance hall there. We took a ride out in the country, and there was a crack right down the middle of the Stillwater Road going down toward Stillwater. All the ranches in the Stillwater area had been unleveled and had to be leveled again. The Indian Cemetery was full of cracks and some of the graves sunken in. And the Bank Club had to be torn down on Maine Street, and the Corner Bar had to be torn down, and the stone building--People's Building--on the corner of Maine and Williams had to be torn down, and the Esquire Club next to it. And most of the chimneys in town that did not have flue lining had to be replaced. Fortunately, our fireplace chimney had just shifted a little and we had to replace the firebrick in the back of our fireplace but that was the only structural damage because we were in a frame house.

LaVOY:  Were any of the schools damaged?

NELSON: Yes, there was a cottage building at West End School and the floor had raised up about four feet and the building had to be razed, and the roof was taken out and is the roof of the Stockman's Restaurant. When they built their original restaurant--the roof is the old cottage building roof. There were cracks all across the West End school ground and holes where water had flushed up through the sand. There was kind a minor fault went through that particular block.

LaVOY:  Water flushed up through the sand; that was not water mains, that was ground water?

NELSON: Ground water, from underground. Except that I think it did crack some of the school pipes underneath the new building there that I told you my husband built, because years later we found out there was water leaking underneath so apparently had been damaged in the earthquake.

LaVOY:  That must have been very frightening.

NELSON: Oh, yes. Because you have after-shocks. We had after-shocks and tremors for two years after those earthquakes and every time you feel one, you wonder if a big earthquake is starting again.

LaVOY:  Did you go out to see the huge crack that is northeast of town, or east of town?

NELSON: We went out to Fairview mountain and traced the fault through there for sometime and later on drove down to the earthquake fault where there is a displacement of at least twenty feet high, where the mountain went up and the valley went down. They said the mountain grew four feet and the valley sagged four feet. But we found the fault right across there on the east side of Fairview mountain. We visited that.

LaVOY:  That must have been very interesting.

NELSON: Yes, it was.

LaVOY:  Well, I think we have covered most everything that we can think of at the moment. On behalf of the Churchill County Oral History Project I want to thank you very much for this interview.

NELSON: I've enjoyed it very much. Didn't you want to ask me about my children or not? Oh, no. I told you about that, didn't I?

LaVOY:  So this will be the end of our interview. Thank you again, Cousie.

NELSON: You're welcome.


  1. Wendell Nelson's mother and father, John and Gertrude Nelson, moved to Fallon from Alameda. California in 1907. John died of septic Poisoning in September 1907 [he was a plumber]. His daughter, Gertrude, had been born on July 9, 1907, so was a tiny baby when he died. Gertrude was left with three small children to support so she went to work in the "I.H. Kent Dry Goods" department. [Kent's store had three adjoining departments--Grocery--Dry Goods-Hardware]. While working there she met Columbus Brumley Likes and married him in 1915. C. B. Likes was in the wood and coal business with his son by his first marriage, Eldridge "Kelly" Likes. C.B,'s brother was George Likes who was Churchill County Clerk and Treasurer for many years. Likes Lakes are named after George as it was his idea to establish the lakes which were just a string of reservoirs.
  2. Lynn and Cousie Coverston lived out in the hills near Guanajuato, Mexico, during toe years of revolution in Mexico. He was employed by a mower company [Mexican-American Light & Power]. His brother, Ray and wife, Ada, were also in Guanajuato and later Mexico City. Ray went down with the Mexican-American Light & Power Company and they remained the rest of their lives.
  3. Research shows that Cousie's uncle, George C. Coverston, was a surveyor for Lahontan Dam. He also worked for the Bureau of Reclamation as head chain man. Later he drove their Pullman [an automobile] and maintained vehicles and telephone lines.
  4. When Cousie attended toe Conservatory of Music at the College of Notre Dame Belmont, sore lived in Berchmans Hall for two years with eleven other boarders. This huge home had been the country estate of William Chapman Ralston who amassed his fortune through financing the Comstock Lode silver mines. He also was the founder of the Bank of California, builder of the California Theater and the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. Upon his death in 1875 at the age of 49, the estate passed to his former partner, Senator William Sharon, who also amassed his fortune from the Comstock Lode in Virginia City.
  5. Cousie told prices of groceries in 1940: eggs--25 cents a dozer: bread--15 cents a loaf; and coffee--30 cents per pound! A month's grocery budget for two could be $30. A family could live comfortably on $150--$200 per month.
  6. Jo Anne married Robert E. Lee Taylor, D.V.M. in 1969. To this union was born a son, Michael Edward on January 21, 1974. Their second daughter, Diane Kay Nelson graduated from Churchill County High School and the University of Nevada at Reno. She taught in Las Vegas, San Diego, and overseas for two years for the Department of Defense in Okinawa and Germany. In 1973 she married David S. Hicks. They have a daughter, Stephanie Marie, born March 5, 1979 and reside at present in San Diego, California. Their son, Wendell Edward, Jr., graduated from Churchill County High School and Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. He married Marilee Lipphardt of Vernal, Utah. They have three daughters, Kelly Lynn, Kristin Hillary and Kerry Keene. They make their home in Salt Lake City.

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Churchill County Museum Association, “Cousie Coverston Nelson Oral History,” Churchill County Museum Digital Archive: Fallon, Nevada, accessed July 1, 2022,