Remembering the Nut Tree

By Dave Wingate

I just returned from Lake Tahoe and I’m thinking about the Nut Tree. The old place is gone now, but I always think about it when I drive by the site on Interstate 80. I remember the Nut Tree is one of the reasons I love airplanes.

Photo by Dan Allen

If you grew up in Northern California in the 1960s and '70s like I did, chances are you remember the Nut Tree as the most interesting thing on the highway between San Francisco and Sacramento. In those days the Central Valley was mostly farms and ranches, and the local attractions were funky places with names like Milk Farm and Ranchotel. To a kid, the Nut Tree was something special. And to aviation buffs, it was not only a rest stop but also a destination.

The Nut Tree started as a ranch in the 1850s. They set up a fruit stand in 1921, then a restaurant, and in the 1950s added a toy shop, miniature railroad, and airport. By the 1970s the restaurant was recognized as a pioneer of California cuisine, and the expanded Nut Tree Airport was part of the National Airport Plan.

Aviation became part of the Nut Tree’s identity. The airport hosted air shows and exhibitions, and was home to everything from basic light planes to corporate jets, Reno racers, and stunt planes. The main building of the Nut Tree, which housed the restaurant and gift shop, was decorated with large scale model airplanes. The gift shop offered aviation-themed books, toys, artifacts, models and kits.

One of my prized possessions – as a child and now – is a small hardcover book I got at the Nut Tree around 1970: “The Pocket Encyclopedia of World Aircraft in Color: Fighters 1939-45” by Kenneth Munson.

I kept this book next to my bed for years and liked to read it (or at least look at the pictures) before going to sleep at night.

Each color plate includes a side view and split top/bottom view of an airplane, with basic data and specifications below. The second half of the book is text explaining each airplane in a little more detail.

The original Nut Tree closed in 1996. By that time the corridor from the Bay Area to the Sierra foothills was becoming solidly developed and the Nut Tree had outlived its usefulness - except for the airport, which remained open. In 2006 a new Nut Tree Theme Park opened. It has a roller coaster. That's okay but it's not my idea of a Nut Tree.


Wout Moerman said...

I bought the book "Fighters 1939-45" a few weeks ago in a book outlet. Great little book! This was before I read your comment about the book on your blog and it is always fun to see I'm not alone in my opinion. I often browse in the book and my wife remarked a few days ago: "don't you know everything in that book by now?" But I keep finding new things in it.

Lauri Ann said...

I also remember the Nut Tree. I used to go visit my girlfriend in Vacaville quite often and we would visit. I now have one of the original pics in the series they had hanging on the walls. It was #16 in the series, a restored P-40 Warhawk flown by Claire Chenault of the famed Flying Tigers.
Thanks for the memories.