An Interview With William Kohlmoos.
Sun & Wind and The Life I Love
Hi Bill, I just finished reading your autobiography, Sun & Wind and The Life I Love. Did anything in particular inspire you to write it?
“Yes, Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, * Atlas Shrugged. That is a fictional story about our natural resources and an out of control federal government. My book is a true account, and my behind the scenes and up close and personal experience with our natural resources and my beliefs in individual freedom and self-reliance.”
Bill, although you have spent most of your life in Nevada, like so many of us, you’re from Northern California. Tell me about that.
“Yes, I was born in San Francisco, California at Stanford Hospital. That was March 13, 1923 at 2:12 a.m. We lived at 559 Mira Mar Avenue. We moved to Belmont, a few miles south of The City, when I was four. In those days, coal furnaces heated all houses. That coal was mine din Utah and then by rail. The San Francisco Bay Area was the best place for a boy to grow up in. I used to wash the planes at the San Carlos airport, and paid me by teaching me to fly. Ralph and Sophie Heintz were my aunt and uncle. Ralph Heintz was a successful inventor of many things, one of them the radio equipment Admiral Byrd took to Antarctica. They left some $50 million to Stanford University in cash, stocks, bonds, their own railroad, observatory, telescopes, etc. Although I was six years old when The Great Depression started, I remember the mood of utter despair that was everywhere. No production means few jobs. Few jobs means little money. The Great Depression lasted twelve long years. My Dad had three part-time jobs. Ma Bell at 140 New Montgomery Street. He also worked construction, and also at the Belmont Water District as their accountant. The 1939 World’s Fair held on Treasure Island was something I had to see and I hitchhiked there on the cowcatcher of a streetcar. My first job was at the Lucky Grocery store in Redwood City. I received $1.50 for a ten-hour shift. In 1941, I joined the SUP (Sailors Union of the Pacific). It was WWII that brought me into the Merchant Marines. After the war, I spent time in Europe, then took a job herding cows in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In the fall of 1946, I enrolled at University of California, Davis, for a degree in Animal Science. In 1951, I married a Sonoma girl I had met at college. By summer of 1954, I was prospecting for uranium in Nevada.”
So that’s how you came to Nevada? And why uranium?
“Yes, I use to sit on top of a 10,000 foot mountain in the Toiyabe or Toquima range and look around for hundreds of miles. It was The Atomic Age. It was on January 27, 1951, that the US government’s Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) started detonating atomic bombs at the Nevada Test Site, sixty-five miles northwest of Las Vegas. The fall-out from those aboveground blasts devastated hundreds of thousands of lives. Incredibly, it continued through 1964, with more than 208 aboveground blasts. The AEC guaranteed a high price for the uranium, paid for the development work, and guided its exploration activities. Later uranium went bust. I spent many a fond moment at the Tonopah Club. Howard Hughes was then buying Tonopah properties. I was still prospecting for gold and barite. Barite is essential to the economy of the country. I worked for Kennecott. It was then supplying 10 percent of the nation’s copper. Rail was initially used to transport out of the mine pit, but in 1957, Kennecott switched to trucks. In 1960, I went to the Squaw Valley, California Olympics. Being a licensed pilot, I spent some time as a bush pilot in Alaska. I’ve owned several planes.”
How was Nevada different then?
“It was the only state in the union which didn’t act like “Big Brother” with a bunch of laws telling its people how to behave. It was the last state to respect the dignity of the individual. If a person wanted to go to a cathouse that was his own business not the state’s. There were no speed limits on the open highways; only Nevada allowed each person to decide on his own what was safe. There were no interstate freeways and there was no federal control of state speed laws. My 1965 Olds Toronado easily took the roads at 140 mph. Its front wheel drive was great in the snow. A working man never snitched on his fellow man and he never criticized him or his work. Did you know the Spaniards were prospecting in Nevada in the early 1800s? Civilization is dependent upon mining. In 1970, I was back in Ely, Nevada still working for Kennecott. In 1974, I bought a new 23-foot sailboat. I sailed her on the San Francisco Bay, Lake Tahoe and Lake Mead.”
You were part of the Sagebrush Rebellion. What was that like?
“It was a revolution against bureaucracy. Easterners didn’t understand Western ways and imposed their impractical concepts of the control of natural resources on the West. Nevada State Senator Rick Blakemore was a friend of mine. He was part of the movement to get the Federal lands transferred to the state. When Nevada became the 36th state in the Union on October 31, 1854, the government kept 90 percent of the land. In the late 1906’s I was part of a group that believed that government bureaus were running amok and squashing us under their big feet. That evolved into the Sagebrush Rebellion. The press though, the they think are the all-powerful creator of public opinion, was trying to ridicule us.
Tell me about your experience with the Nevada Real Estate Division and Skip Hansen.
“After a lifetime of my successfully passing tests, college, Merchant Marines, flying, instrument flying, multi-engine flying, first aid, truck driving, railroading, ham radio, surveying, etc., I took the Real Estate Broker’s test. Skip Hansen was then the Director of the Nevada Real Estate Division. Skip decided there were too many Nevada real estate agents so he made the test harder. The questions were about laws not on the books of Nevada. Skip had lifted the State of Connecticut’s real estate test without changing any of the wording. Only 7 percent of us passed that infamous day. It was rumored that Skip Hansen was subsequently fired.”
Thank you Bill. Any last words?
“Always believe in synchronicity.”
*According to polls conducted by the Library of Congress, Modern Library and the Book of the Month Club, Atlas Shrugged was voted the most influential book in readers’ lives after the Bible.
The novel Sun & Wind and The Life I Love is from Reno based Jack Bacon & Company. The book’s jacket design is by Reno Typographers, Inc. It was printed by Reno’s R.R. Donnelley.