‘Bombing Harvey’ — a son’s role in Stateline incident
By Kathryn Reed
When I first saw the title of the book I thought there should be an S at the end Harvey. After reading “Bombing Harvey” I understood more fully how the man responsible for the explosive device going off at the Stateline casino in 1980 had a vendetta against casino owner Harvey Gross, so the title was appropriate.
While I had already read much that is included in the book by John Birges Jr. and Nina J. Arnold, I chose to read it because of the author. Birges was part of the bombing. It was his father John Birges Sr. – or Big John – who came up with the plan.
I was in high school in the Bay Area when the bombing took place. Honestly, I don’t have any memory of the news coverage from then. I can only imagine it was extensive.
However, I have read plenty about it in the years since then, especially at various significant anniversary dates.
“Bombing Harvey” is an easy to read 205-page paperback that came out in 2010. For anyone who lived through the incident, it’s doubtful anything new would be gleaned from reading the book. But for those who weren’t here or aren’t old enough to remember the event, it would probably be worth reading.
It delves into the family life of the Birges. Big John had his two sons and girlfriend working on various aspects of the plot.
Some of the names of people in the book will be familiar to locals. For instance, Ron Pierini who is now sheriff of Douglas County was the captain of the Lake Tahoe substation at the time.
While Harvey Gross is no longer alive, plenty of his descendants reside on the South Shore. A bit of the book talks about his anxiety in knowing a 1,000-pound bomb was sitting inside his hotel-casino. One can only wonder with a corporation now owning the casino, if the same concerns for human life would be exhibited.
I remember that day….the bomb shook our house, clear out in Christmas Valley.
A corporation owned Harvey’s back when this happened and I am sure the coropration that owns Harvey’s now would be concerned about the physical safety of their customers and employees.
This was a very sad day for everyone. It really was a first case of domestic terrorism. At the time it was the largest domestic bombing in US history. It pressed our Explosive Ordinance Disposal Team into action. The Bomb was an amazing device that is still used today as a teaching tool by many government agencies, including the FBI. One of the biggest take home lessons was for citizens to be aware and report strange activities. Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District is a member of a very capable EOD team; we train for these events to protect the public. Responders were still very surprised at the magnitude. We are very thankful no one got killed or injured which can be attributed to the training and actions taken to protect life by the emergency responders.
REMEMBER THE POLICE DRIVING THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOODS AT STATELINE (LOUD SPEAKER) TELLING PEOPLE TO OPEN THEIR WINDOWS; THE CONSUSSION WOULD BREAK GLASS OUT HOMES.
WE ALL WALKED DOWN TO THE OLD CECELS IN THE RALEYS PARKING LOT, WATCHED THE BOOM, PEOPLE CHEERED, PEOPLE HAD A IDEA THAT CASINO CHIPS, SILVER DOLLARS WOULD BE RAINING DOWN, IT WASN’T THAT LOUD FROM THERE, NO CASH FELL FROM HEAVEN.WE WERE ALL LUCKY ENOUGH TO NOT BEEN LAID OFF, THE SILVER DOLLARS STARTED ROLLING BACK IN FEW DAYS WHILE THE LAZY EMPLOYEES GOT A LAY OFF NOTICE.
THE OLD CASHIER AND HANK THE BAR TENDER AT THE LOW CELLING ENTERTAINMENT BAR STARTED POURING AGAIN,THERE WAS A WINDOW SO YOU COULD LOOK IN SEE THE DAMAGE.
THE INK SPOTS PLAYED ON TO COINS DROPPING, PEOPLE PLAYING. PEOPLE WERE BUMMED TO THE SAGE ROOM, TOP THE WHEEL CLOSING WITH LOBSTER, STEAKS SERVED ON TWO DIFFERENT PLATES FOR 9.99 WERE DELAYED TILL THE PLACE WAS GOING FULL BORE AGAIN WITH PLENTY CASH GOOD RETURNED LOYALED CUSTOMERS.
WE FOUND SHEETS OF FREE DRINK TOKES CUPONS, GREEN, PURPLE, ORANGE, IN THE Sahara parking lot helped ourselves to party nights for two months. At that time the town had more females than men, so was cool to have a new babe ever other night.
Paid 195.00 a month for 3 bedroom two bath party pad with gas, fireplace, close to the clubs, beach.
Harvey Gross was a very kind man, good to his employees, even had a policy to get a draw on your next pay check in advance keep food on the table. He sure liked his bearcat auto’s, chopper he buzz the lake with on his way work, check on the joint FROM THE VALLEY RANCH. Real hands-on MAN KIND BUSINESS PERSON SAT IN THE VERY FRONT BOTH WITH A PHONELINE, MANAGERS, IN THE COFFEE SHOP IN THE MORNING…
I have post bomb photos Kae if you’d ever like to use them. They’re taken from Hwy 50 looking west at the damage.
BTW couldn’t agree more with Carl.
Man this town has had it’s share of national news stories over the years.
This book is riddled with spelling mistakes and lies. Not worth the read if your looking for the truth.
A corporation did not own this company when this happened , a real FAMILY owned this business It changed our lives forever! This was a very sad time, SHAME on this kid for trying to profit on this :(
We stayed open at Caesars and I was at my station working when the bomb went off. We had closed the casino and had a free buffet and drinks in the back for all that didn’t want to go anywhere. All I did that day was sell quarters to the press…long before cell phones and they had to call in their stories.
Too bad people who commit crimes are able to profit from them.
I was a dishwasher at the “Top of The Wheel ” back in the summer of 1968. Zan Barker and some girls from high school were working the dining room that year. At the time of the explosion, all those many years later, I had ridden my 10 speed out to the Y, I heard about the blast when I was in Shehadi’s car lot. Some friends of mine made up some t shirts that they stenciled on the front “Let’s get bombed at Harveys” with a picture of a wagon wheel and cow’s skull( Harvey’s old logo ) being blown up in a mushroom cloud. They sold these shirts in front of Raleys to all the people gathered there To watch what was going on.
From a personal point of view I wish the Ledbetters and the Gross families still owned the place with Mr. Tanzi running the day to day operations with old Mudcat and Ray cooking in the kitchen at the “Top of the Wheel” as Ron Rose played his piano over in the corner of the dining room as you looked out the big windows to see So. Shore light up at night and watch the moon reflect upon the lake .
Take care, Old Long Skiis