By Mark McLaughlin ·
Frank Titus Jr. at age 93, an aviator in World War II, career pharmacist and accomplished skier. | Mark McLaughlin ·
The town of Truckee dates back to the mid-19th Century, but there are still local families with roots in that pioneer era. The story of the Titus family offers a glimpse into early life in the Tahoe Sierra. At 93 years of age, Frank L. Titus Jr., who today lives in his family home along the Truckee River, still has plenty of tales to tell.
Back in 1893, his grandfather, John Charles Titus, broke his back while driving a meat delivery sleigh in Truckee and was forced to look for less strenuous work elsewhere. He returned to Genoa, Nev., where he worked as a guard at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City.
During his days as a cowboy, John C. had picked up tracking skills from the Pyramid Lake Indians, a talent he often employed when pursuing escaped prisoners. In 1906, he tracked down a wanted fugitive who had broken out of his cell by burrowing through a rock wall and then into the floor of a hidden cave near the prison quarry. By placing a small stone on each side of his nostrils the escapee managed to breathe while lying invisible under a thin layer of dirt. But John C. discovered the small hole leading into the clandestine lair, and when he stepped on the hidden convict’s chest, the jig was up.
As young men in the early 1900s, Frank Titus’ uncles, John Jr. and Will, moved to Truckee from Nevada where they set up a partnership cutting ice and wood. By 1910, the Titus brother’s business was annually shipping 3,000 to 12,000 tons of natural ice for delivery via Southern Pacific Railroad. Will and John Jr. dissolved their partnership that year, but each kept their hand in the declining industries. John Jr. established a drayage company in Truckee that delivered goods and Will also diversified his business interests. During some winters, the Titus brothers delivered the mail on skis between Truckee and Tahoe City.
John Jr. sustained a frostbite injury to one of his legs, which over time refused to heal. Infection forced Truckee’s young doctor, J.H. Bernard, to amputate the leg above the knee, a procedure done on a table in the Titus family’s Truckee home. Fortunately, the wooden prosthesis that replaced it served him well for many years. Later, Will lost an arm in a lumber mill accident.
Oldest brother Frank Adolph was a long-time employee of the Bliss family business in Tahoe logging and transportation. Duane L. Bliss was president of Carson-Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Co., the largest commercial timber harvester in the Tahoe Basin. Bliss’ lumber company used steamships to pull large rafts of logged trees from around the lake to saw mills located at Glenbrook on Tahoe’s East Shore. The tree trunks were then cut into lumber for the Comstock mines in Virginia City. Frank A. got his first job working for Bliss at the Glenbrook lumber mills when he was 15-years-old and later progressed to become an engineer on the Bliss-operated steamers that churned across Lake Tahoe every day.
In December 1898, Duane Bliss incorporated the Lake Tahoe Railway & Transportation Company. His oldest son William Seth, an engineer educated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was chosen to survey for a new railroad along the Truckee River, connecting Truckee and Tahoe. The company assigned Frank A. Titus (Frank Jr.’s father) to help William engineer the line. Will Seth also built Tahoe City’s legendary Tahoe Tavern hotel that, combined with the railroad, opened the door to modern tourism at Big Blue. Frank and Will did such a good job surveying that years later when Southern Pacific Railroad converted the narrow gauge rail to standard, the same route was followed. Upon completion of the Lake Tahoe Railway in 1900, Titus advanced to locomotive engineer on the line.
In October 1904, Frank A. married Flora Cottrell in Carson City and early the next year they moved to Truckee. Flora’s father, George Cottrell, was a blacksmith and carriage-maker who worked in Carson City. The family had arrived by emigrant train in 1878 from New Jersey.
Her grandfather, George Chubbuck, originally worked as a logging contractor for the Bliss enterprise. In 1885, he struck out on his own and established the Lake Valley Railroad, a wooden tramway built to log Lake Valley, which runs from South Lake Tahoe up toward Luther Pass. He later sold his operation to the Bliss family. In Truckee, Frank A. hired Will Seth’s brother and architect Walter to design the newlywed’s new home in the Brickelltown neighborhood just west of Commercial Row.
The Titus family lived in Truckee for many years, where Frank Titus Jr. was born during a driving snowstorm on Jan. 8, 1922. At the time of Frank’s birth, there was significant concern due to his mother’s age as Flora Titus had turned 45-years-old the month before. Indicative of the perceived pregnancy risk, Flora signed over her share of the home to her husband before Frank Jr.’s birth. In case of possible complications, not only was Truckee’s Dr. Bryant present at the Titus home for the delivery, but Flora’s younger sister, Carrie, was there from Carmel, as well as Aunt Elsie, a registered nurse.
Frank’s oldest sibling, Jack, had been born in 1907 while his sister, Frances, was born in 1908, both on Jan. 6. Jack was the shutterbug in the family and he took many photographs of Truckee during the early 20th Century. Frank’s birth at such a late date in his mother’s life placed him at the tail end of an older generation, when Truckee was still frontier country.
Fortunately for all concerned, the birth went well and another future ski champion was added to the ranks of the sleepy railroad/lumber town that was on its way to becoming the vanguard of California’s winter sports industry. Frank Jr. would be destined to ride the coming wave of American alpine skiing and become part of history. He was a member of the University of Nevada’s ski team during their undefeated 1939 season, coached by Squaw Valley founder Wayne Poulsen. Frank Titus competed in all four events – cross-country, jumping, slalom and downhill; but that’s a story better savored during next winter’s ski season.
Tahoe historian Mark McLaughlin is a nationally published author and professional speaker. His award-winning books are available at local stores or at thestormking.com. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his blog at tahoenuggets.com, or read more Sierra Stories at TheTahoeWeekly.com.