Saturday, May 25, 2024


| April 23, 2023 1:00 AM

Which of the following describes Barb Renner of Dalton Gardens:

  1. Former partner who helped Tom Robb build the Iron Horse Bar & Grill into an institution.
  2. The manager who whipped the county fairgrounds and North Idaho Fair & Rodeo into shape.
  3. The first woman elected president of the International Association of Fairs & Expositions.
  4. A member of the Rocky Mountain Association of Fairs Hall of Fame.
  5. An accordion player.
  6. All the above.

The correct answer is “all the above.”

Seventy years ago, as a girl of 17 from tiny Springston, 3 miles up the Coeur d’Alene River from Harrison, Barb and her brother, Willis Smith, were part of the 40-member North Idaho Accordion Band.

“My growing up time was special,” Barb told Huckleberries last week, “And the accordion band was a part of that special time.”

Under the direction of Joe Carbonatto, whom Barb described as “a feisty little guy with curly black hair and a mustache,” the local squeeze-box players won the regional International Music League Festival at Tacoma, Wash., against accordion bands from Oregon, Washington, Montana and California.

The North Idaho band was then invited to perform at the finals in Chicago, but it didn’t have the money to go.

Barb and her brother played the piano before Carbonatto came calling. And jumped at the chance to join his band and practice in Coeur d’Alene on Saturdays.

Carbonatto, who had a basement office on Sherman Avenue, found band members while giving lessons to schools without music programs. His musicians ranged from pre-school to women in their 40s. They were from Harrison, Kellogg, Wallace, Osburn, Post Falls, Rathdrum, Athol and Coeur d’Alene.

Barb can name the eight kids from Harrison without hesitation: she and Willis, Chad Pugh, Loretta Piper, Iris Hendriksen, Jean McKuin, Fred Muhs and Patsy Rake.

Carbonatto’s showmanship included a “Mini-Me.” The conductor noticed that the younger brother of an Osburn musician was mimicking his motions during rehearsals. So the boy was fitted with a tuxedo and top hat and incorporated into the performances.

“He was so masterful at getting us hyped up,” Barb said. “It was a show band, and we had fun.”

For its regional performance, the band wore new uniforms, consisting of homemade, red corduroy jackets, with gold braids and buttons, and black trousers, topped off with traditional Commodore caps.

In this day of pop, hard rock and rap, accordion music is quaint, even for baby boomers who grew up watching Lawrence Welk and his “Champagne Music” on the family TV. But to Barb in her formative years, it was a means to travel to bustling Coeur d’Alene and beyond — and upward.

Davidian ties

You know that the 30th anniversary of the Branch Davidian tragedy/slaughter/fiasco in Waco, Texas, passed recently. But did you know that a top disciple of cult leader David Koresh surrendered to the Texas Rangers on April 23-24, 1993, after hiding in the Coeur d’Alene area for two weeks?

Paul Gordon Fatta and his then 14-year-old son, Kalani, had been on the lam for about six weeks after attending a gun show and missing the standoff. The two went into hiding March 6, 1993, after a Texas judge issued a federal warrant for Paul Fatta for conspiracy to manufacture illegal firearms. The Fattas hid in Las Vegas and Portland before staying at a stranger’s house here.

Paul Fatta had met Koresh in California and followed him in 1987 to help build the Waco compound. They jogged together.

Fatta wouldn’t surrender to federal authorities in Idaho in the aftermath of the Ruby Ridge standoff. “They don’t want witnesses,” Fatta told Press reporter David Bond. “If they find me, they will kill me.”

Fatta would emerge from prison 13 years later with his faith in self-proclaimed messiah Koresh unshaken.

Eye full

Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls were spooked by naked — or nearly naked — women 20 to 25 years ago.

In Post Falls (April 21, 1998), rumors swirled that Déjà Vu owners were looking at an empty Seltice Way restaurant after lap dancing was banned at their Spokane Valley strip club. And City Administrator Jim Hammond was scrambling to address the threat that didn’t materialize.

Meanwhile, five years later (April 18, 2003), Coeur d’Alene’s ongoing battle against the downtown Torch Lounge made headlines. Using an obscure law, the city ordered Mans Montgomery, owner of the bikini bar, to remove the dark shades from his windows. The ordinance required places that sell beer to have a clear view inside from the street (so cops could check for illegal substances). Tongue firmly cheeked, city attorney Mike Gridley said what residents were thinking: “I am sure there will be a gang of teenagers outside the Torch Lounge.”

The rule held, and everyone kept her panties on until The Torch et al. shut a decade later.


Poet’s Corner: They appear in the springtime,/like flowers on the vale;/they appear in the springtime,/and they all say, “For Sale” — The Bard of Sherman Avenue (“First Signs of Spring.”)

Limericking: Looks like we are voting again./And school trustees have out their red pens./If the thing fails once more,/Some will head for the door,/As their kids wave goodbye to their friends — The Humble Spud (“DO OVER”).

Family Ties: Speaking of Barb Renner ... in April 1968, Christy Steinley (Holloway), 7, was pictured in the Press coaxing her father’s dog, Cindy, to pull Karen Renner, 8, in a wagon. The dog refused. In 1985, Karen’s mother, Barb, would become North Idaho Fair & Rodeo manager. And Chris Holloway would grow up to replace Barb as fair manager 14 years later.

Factoid: On April 19, 1958, Ruthanna Hawkins of Coeur d’Alene, the first Miss Diamond Cup and a U-Idaho cheerleader, was shown in the Press holding a giant faux diamond. The size of the ring indicated that local Hydromaniacs were “thinking big” in their plans for the inaugural hydroplane races that June 28-29.

Sightem: Sightem: Several downtown sightings of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, were reported last weekend, April 5-6 – at the resort, driving a white SUV on Sherman, in the shops. Kevin van Heel of CDA photographed Cruz scrolling on his cellphone at Tiffany Blue. P’haps the senator has found Texas too liberal and is checking out fuming-red North Idaho.

Outing Libruls: After his first Legislature, a freshman senator said: “I've always considered myself a conservative. I never thought I’d find a place where I was a liberal. But I’m a flaming liberal in the Republican caucus.” Dean Haagenson, then representing Coeur d’Alene, made that statement in — 1993! And it’s gotten lightyears worse since.

Parting shot

You’ve heard it said that every vote is important. But did you know that two pro-education legislators helped sink a Post Falls school levy 30 years ago — by not voting? Barb Chamberlain, then a Democratic senator, and Hilde Kellogg, a Republican representative, were enmeshed in the 1993 Idaho Legislature — and forgot to vote. The levy, which would have raised $450,000 for each of two years, lost by one vote, 1,079 to 1,078. Both Chamberlain and Kellogg should have voted absentee. Sheepishly, Hilde admitted she forgot. Why am I nagging you about this? GOPoohbah Brent Regan and his political CAVErs (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), including an Evangelical minister or two, are opposing the Coeur d’Alene school levy. Again. Two broader levies narrowly failed March 14. You need to pay attention.

• • •

D.F. (Dave) Oliveria can be contacted at


Photo courtesy of Museum of North Idaho

Conductor Joe Carbonatto, Barb Renner (back row, third from right), Mini-Me and 1953 North Idaho Accordion Band.


Photo courtesy of Museum of North Idaho

Self-made, red corduroy jacket worn by accordion band members.


Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

A boy peeps into the Torch Lounge after removal of curtains.


Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

Chris Steinley (Holloway) coaxes dog Cindy to pull Karen Renner.


Photo courtesy of The Coeur d'Alene Press archives

Ruthanna Hawkins, the first Miss Diamond Cup, holds a fake diamond ring.


Photo courtesy of Kevin van Heel

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz seen at Tiffany Blue downtown.

This story has been updated to reflect a correction.