Photos by Greg Brown
Photos by Greg Brown
While relaxing in his Little Pocket backyard last week during a meeting with this publication, Sacramento native Dick Ryder was in a very reminiscent mood.
He also proved that he enjoys kidding with others, as he chuckled and explained that he had ushered in the Great Depression with his birth at the old Sutter Hospital at 28th and L streets on Sept. 6, 1929.
“I started the Depression,” Ryder said. “It’s my understanding that Sept. 6 (1929) was the first day that there was any indication that the stock market was falling.”
Although he has spent his entire life residing in Sacramento, Ryder, who continuously displayed a good natured demeanor during his interview, noted that he came close to being born in San Diego.
“My parents (Clark and Mary Ryder) met in the Bay Area and they were going to have me,” Ryder said. “They didn’t like the Bay Area that much, so they decided to move apparently. And it was either to Sacramento or San Diego, because my dad had been in the Navy. And guess what? They moved to Sacramento.”
As a result of this decision, Ryder was born a river city boy, as opposed to a beach city boy.
River City memories
And by opting to remain in the capital city for his entire life, Ryder has more than 80 years of river city memories.
In 1930, the Ryder family moved into a former tract house at 2800 Regina Way, where they lived for many years.
Among Ryder’s earliest childhood memories is seeing a unique, lighted sign at the eventual site of the Tower Theatre.
“One of my earliest memories was going to pick up ice every week (at the State Ice Co.) at 20th (Street) and Y Street, which is now Broadway,” Ryder said. “The icehouse had this big sign on the side that (read), ‘Ice,’ and that’s the first word I ever learned to spell. I was three or four at the time. Coming back along Y Street to turn left onto Land Park Drive, there was a big sign in the field over there. I can remember it well and I have never heard a word of it ever since. But it was a big billboard sign with a face and two big eyes on it – and I think the eyes flashed – and I always called it ‘goo-goo eyes.’ ‘We’re going to go back to goo-goo eyes.’ (The sign) was right where we made the left turn, right now where the Tower Theatre is.”
Having grown up in the area, Ryder witnessed the construction of the theater, which opened in 1938. He soon afterward began attending Saturday kiddie matinee movies at the theater.
Solons in ’42
Although he admits that he was not a big baseball fan, Ryder said that he does not recall missing a regular season baseball game at Cardinal Field at Riverside Boulevard and Broadway during the Sacramento Solons’ 1942 Pacific Coast League championship season.
Ryder said that he also remembers visiting the old Municipal Airport (today’s Sacramento Executive Airport) on Freeport Boulevard during his childhood.
“My father was always interested in flying and he was always hanging out at the airport and I was hanging out there also – the ‘Daddy, can I come, too, sort of thing,” Ryder said.
Ryder explained that during his childhood, he was like a cat with nine lives.
“Sacramento is a hot place (during the summer) and my dad had a spot out on the American River where he liked to swim,” Ryder said. “I gave my dad a big scare. Apparently he almost lost me there. He had to reach around under water and he couldn’t find me.”
“I gave him another scare when I had my tonsils out at age five, but I got through that one, too. I bled I guess. They had to give me resuscitation or something.”
Ryder said that he was also hit by a car during his youth on two separate occasions.
“When I was 12 or so, I was playing baseball in the street and the only time I can remember hitting a home run, I hit a car. I broke my shoulder and had a concussion,” Ryder said. “There was also the time that I came swinging around on my bicycle and this guy was pulling out (in his car) and he didn’t turn his lights on and I hit the front of his car and went clear over and landed on my front teeth.”
Ryder explained that his near drowning in the river proved to be a positive event in his life.
“Back in 1936 or 1937, my dad decided that we should have a pool in the backyard, so he could have better control,” Ryder recalled. “That wasn’t a thing that people did back then. They didn’t have pools. For two years, we dug a hole in the backyard and went swimming in the mud or dog paddling in the mud. It was a couple feet deep. In 1938 or 1939, perhaps, a concrete pool with walls rising 2 feet above the ground was done by Angelo & Frank. And Angelo & Frank were Angelo Queirolo and Frank Geremia. Geremia is a familiar name. A lot of pools in Sacramento are Geremia-built pools.”
The Ryder family’s pool was possibly the first backyard pool in the Land Park area.
Ryder eventually turned his family’s pool into a money-making place, as he charged area youth an admission of five cents each per day to swim in the pool.
He also earned money during his youth delivering The Sacramento Bee and The Sacramento Union and working during the summer harvest season in the Delta.
Dec. 7, 1941
After stating “everybody knows where they were when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor,” Ryder explained where he was at the time.
“I was getting over the mumps and my mother was getting the mumps and I was constantly listening to the radio,” Ryder said. “I was laying there in the chesterfield in the front room, because I was sick. I heard on (the radio) Pearl Harbor had been bombed and it was suspected to be the Japanese, etcetera, etcetera, and so I got the family together on that Sunday morning, so they could hear that.”
While discussing his education, Ryder explained that he was actually recruited to attend kindergarten at Crocker School at 1740 Vallejo Way.
“(Crocker’s) kindergarten teacher, Miss Eunice Tuttle, had to go on a recruiting campaign, I guess, to fill up the relatively new school,” Ryder said. “One of my earliest memories was Miss Eunice coming to our home to talk to my parents to sign me up for school.”
While Ryder was attending Crocker School, the next school that he would attend – California Junior High School at 2991 Land Park Drive – was under construction.
Eventually, he attended McClatchy High School, where he graduated in June 1947.
With his love for snow skiing, Ryder was later drawn to the University of Colorado, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1952.
From 1956 to 1982, Ryder worked in the insurance industry. He established the Insurance Protection Analyst company at Arden Way and Howe Avenue and then he served as the president of Howe-Ryder Insurance Service at 2613 24th Street.
Today, Ryder fills part of his time as an appraiser of collector cars.
His involvement in such work makes perfect sense, when considering that he was the person who decided to create an automobile museum in Sacramento.
“People come up to me and say, ‘You’re one of the guys who founded the California Automobile Museum (originally known as the California Towe Ford Automobile Museum),’” Ryder said. “And I tell them, ‘No, I am the founder of the museum. After Bill Harrah died at the age of 66, his collection of 1,500-plus cars was left without plans. I figured that it was time for the creation of a California car museum located in Sacramento. We never received any cars from Harrah’s collection, but Harrah’s death definitely created the concept for the (Sacramento) museum in my mind and the idea immediately caught hold.”
Outside his time providing assistance for the museum every Thursday, Ryder remains active in his life with the Sacramento Rotary Club and the Fremont Presbyterian Church.
Among the various draws of Sacramento is the California Automobile Museum on Front Street, just north of Broadway. And the majority of those who are most familiar with this museum remember the name Towe.
After all, it was the then Montana banker Edward Towe who provided nearly every automobile that was used to establish the museum at its current, original site in 1986. The museum officially opened to the public on May 1, 1987.
Many local automobile enthusiasts were delighted to learn that Towe, 97, would be making a special appearance last Sunday, Oct. 2 at the museum for the second edition of the museum’s annual Founders’ Day.
The visit also represented the 25th year since Towe’s automobiles were relocated to the then-new museum site.
A crowd gathered in front of the museum during last weekend’s event to meet Towe, who shared a few of his many memories.
While sitting in a wheelchair in front of the museum, which was originally known as the California Towe Ford Automobile Museum, Towe, who once owned the largest collection of Fords on display in the world, drew much attention, as he posed for photographs and signed several autographs.
Although much energy was created by guests who were eager to at least get a glimpse of the man who was so instrumental in the process of bringing an automobile museum to the capital city, it appeared at times that no one was more excited to be present at the event than Towe himself.
Towe’s excitement and sense of nostalgia for the event was apparent as he requested copies of photographs taken at the event and at one point turned to his daughter, Kristy Updegraff, who served as the museum’s executive director from 1996 to 2006, and asked, “Can you take a picture of the (museum) building for me?”
Fortunately for Towe, his visits to the museum do not have to be so infrequent as they were during the past, since he recently moved from Arizona to the Pocket area of Sacramento to reside with Kristy and his son-in-law and Kristy’s husband, Jim Updegraff.
Nonetheless, Towe seemed to treat the event as if it were either his last visit to the museum or it would be a long time before he would visit the museum again.
Dick Ryder, the museum’s founder, said that Towe’s presence at the event was a fulfillment of a commitment that he made in the 1980s.
“It was really neat to have the reminiscent of something that happened (about) 20 years ago,” Ryder said. “On that video tape (that was shown at the museum during the event, Towe) said that he would be around in 20 years or so (and) he was around in 20 years.”
Roseville resident Brenda Whittington, one of several people to receive an autograph from Towe last Sunday, said that she feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to have met Towe, considering that she had arrived at the museum for the current Porsche exhibit, which continues through Nov. 28, and was unaware of the Founders Day festivities.
“My husband (Tom Whittington) wanted to come see the Porsche exhibit,” Brenda said. “I like (cars), but I’m not as attentive to the finer details of a car as my husband is. We come down here (to the automobile museum) from time to time and look at the various exhibits. But I had no idea that (Towe) would be here today. I’m glad that I got a chance to meet him. It’s wonderful to see that he’s still doing so well for his age.”
Although Towe spoke few words to the crowd that had gathered to see him, he requested that he have the opportunity to share a few of his memories for this article.
And in doing so, Towe, who later rode in a 1903 Model A Ford as part of the event, said, “You might say that this is a culmination or the windup of about 100 years of playing with old cars. I put my life into (car collecting). I’m 97 and a half and I have two years and a half to go (to reach 100 years of age). I bought my first car in about 1926. It was a 1917 Ford Model T Touring car. I bought it from Sam Towe, a distant relative of mine, for $12.”
As a teenager, Towe, with the help of his father, established a bicycle business in his hometown of Paullina, Iowa.
As Towe’s mechanical expertise in bicycles progressed, he added automobiles to his business.
Towe’s love of Fords eventually led to his accumulation of 240 Ford automobiles. He purchased the first of this collection’s cars in 1950.
The collection included every year and every model of the first 50 years of automobiles manufactured by the Ford Motor Co.
During the event, Towe demonstrated that he still possesses a sense of humor.
After signing an autograph, Towe said, “Don’t write a check on top of it.”
Later during the event, after being asked why he specified the 1914 Touring car as his favorite automobile, Towe replied, “(Because) it’s the year I was born.”
In the most recent edition of Fuel, the California Automobile Museum’s newsletter, which is printed six times per year, Karen McClafflin, executive director of the museum, wrote: “Museums like ours are truly fuel for the soul. Museums are places of reassurance in times of uncertainty; a place where people can escape from the problems of life for a time. Museums are inspirational; a place where visitors can see how the changes and innovations of the past have shaped our world today.”
And fortunately for the capital city, Edward Towe helped pave the way for the creation of what has become the California Automobile Museum, thus allowing thousands upon thousands of people the opportunity to obtain “fuel for the soul” at this longtime, popular Sacramento museum.
Kristy said that she is appreciative of the opportunity that her father had to participate in this year’s Founders’ Day.
“I’m glad he’s getting some recognition,” Kristy said. “It’s been a long, long lifetime of collecting automobiles and he’s been away (from Sacramento) for some years now, so it’s nice to have him back.”