Virginia and Truckee Railroad

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Virginia and Truckee Railroad
Virginia and Truckee Railroad Logo.png
Reporting markVT
Dates of operation1870–present
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
HeadquartersVirginia City, Nevada
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Virginia and Truckee Railroad
Virginia and Truckee Railroad Logo.png
Reporting markVT
Dates of operation1870–present
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
HeadquartersVirginia City, Nevada
Engine No. 18, Baldwin 2-8-2 built in October 1914. Photo at Tunnel #4, 2011.
V&T train at (collapsed) Tunnel 1, around 1940 and in 2014. Note shoofly around old tunnel in both photos.

The Virginia and Truckee Railroad (reporting mark VT) was built to serve the Comstock Lode mining communities of northwestern Nevada. At its height, the railroad's route ran from Reno south to Carson City, Nevada. In Carson City, the mainline split into two branches. One branch continued south to Minden, while the other branch traveled east to Virginia City. The first section constructed from Virginia City to Carson City was constructed commencing in 1869 to haul ore, lumber and supplies for the Comstock Lode.

The railroad was abandoned in 1950 after years of declining revenue. Much of the rail infrastructure was pulled up and sold, along with the remaining locomotives and railcars. In the 1970s, with public interest in historic railroads on the rise, the old lines were rebuilt by private investors, with an eye towards re-opening the lines.

Today, the privately owned Virginia & Truckee Railroad Company operates as a heritage railroad, headquartered in Virginia City. The present route is 14.1 miles (22.7 km) long. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad owns and uses the service mark "Queen of the Short Lines." The V&T Railroad runs up to 7 trains per day, many in steam behind locomotive #29, a 2-8-0 Consolidation, or an ex-US Army GE 80 ton diesel from Virginia City from Memorial Day until the end of October each year.

The public Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway has rebuilt the line from Gold Hill (connection with the current V&T Railroad) to Carson City, running the first train over the line in 68 years on 14 August 2009.[1] The Commission acquired a 1914 2-8-2 Mikado steam locomotive (The McCloud no. 18), which had been in use by the Sierra Railroad, out of Oakdale, California on special lunch and dinner trains. When the no. 18 arrived on the V&T, boiler problems were discovered, and the locomotive awaited repair at the Virginia and Truckee shops in Virginia City. She went to Hollywood for the filming of Water for Elephants. She returned after her scenes were filmed and finally had her first revenue run on July 24, 2010. Cars and locomotives from the original railroad are on display at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City, at the Comstock History Center on C Street in Virginia City, at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento and at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg.

In order to ascend the mountain to Virginia City it was necessary to build an enormous trestle. Popular Nevada mythology says Crown Point Trestle was considered to be such a feat of engineering that it is featured on the Nevada State Seal. This myth is mentioned by Lucius Beebe.[2]

Former Nevada State Archivist Guy Rocha debunks this myth on the state's Myth-a-Month page, pointing out that the state seal predates the trestle and shows a viaduct, not a trestle.[3]


The Comstock Lode[edit]

Restored V&T railroad
Further information: Comstock Lode

Gold was discovered in Nevada (then western Utah Territory) in the spring of 1850, by a company of Mormon emigrants on their way to the California Gold Rush. While these early travelers only lingered in Nevada until they could cross the Sierras, prospectors were soon permanently camping in the area around what is now Virginia City.[4]:12 In 1859, gold was found in outcroppings in the hills and canyons just outside Virginia City. Among the gold ore in these outcroppings were bluish chunks of silver ore which, initially overlooked in favor of the gold, were soon found to be quite valuable.[4]:12 This was the first of the silver from what came to be called the Comstock Lode.

Numerous mills soon appeared along the Carson River to process the ore from the Comstock Lode. Many of these mills were built with loans from the Bank of California, whose Nevada agent, William Sharon, would foreclose upon the mills when their owners defaulted on loan payments. Thus, the bank gradually came into possession of many important ore-processing facilities. Sharon, along with business partners Darius Ogden Mills and William Ralston[5]:8, formed the bank-owned Union Mill & Mining Company to process the ore from the mills that had been foreclosed.[4]:12

Initially, the Comstock Lode was a boon for the Virginia City area, as the city grew to over 20,000 persons, and was among the largest and wealthiest cities in the West.[4]:12 Soon, however, the costs to transport Comstock ore to the mills from points on the Lode further and further away became so great that many mines were closed and only the higher quality ores were worth processing.[4]:13 William Sharon took note of this, and realized that a cheap form of transportation between the mines, the mills, and the cities would allow all mines on the Lode to be profitable.

Early years[edit]

Sharon envisioned a railroad to run from Virginia City, down through Gold Hill where the first of the Comstock Lode was mined, passing the mills along the river, ending up at the state capital, Carson City.[4]:13 When finished, this route would cover 21 miles and descend 1,600 feet of elevation. The section between Virginia City and the Carson river involved fourteen miles of track at a 2.2% grade.[5]:10 The ceremonial first spike was driven on September 28, 1869, with the remainder of the route being finished just over a month later, on November 12.[4]:13

The same day, V&T Engine no. 1, an H.J. Booth 2-6-0, pulled the first revenue train for the company from Carson City to Gold Hill.[5]:32 Named the Lyon, engine #1 was one of three 2-6-0's purchased from Booth by the fledgling railroad, along with engines #2, the Ormsby[5]:14 and #3, the Storey.[5]:15 Lyon would finally arrive in Virginia City on January 28, 1870, completing the initially planned route.[5]:11 The railroad had cost $1,750,000 to build, not including the cost of rolling stock or buildings.[4]:14 The V&T ran up to 40 trains per day at the height of the Big Bonanza. Still primarily a freight railroad, there were 361 freight cars in use at the peak of the V&T's operations, which carried over 40,000 tons of freight per month, including 13 tons of silver ore.[4]:14 This was in contrast to a mere 10 passenger cars.[4]:23

Expansion and prosperity[edit]

CPRR issued ticket for passage from Reno to Virginia City, 1878

In late 1871, a line extension to Reno was begun, to connect the V&T line with the Central Pacific Railroad. This would allow through train service between Virginia City and San Francisco.[5]:12 Construction began with track being installed starting at the Reno end of the line.[5]:101 The first train to run end-to-end from Virginia City to Reno took place on August 24, 1872,[5]:11 pulled appropriately by the road's newest locomotive at the time, No. 11, the Reno.[4]:14 This milestone marked the completion of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad. By 1873, as more rich silver deposits were discovered, the railroad was earning a profit of over $100,000 per month,[5]:11 and paying $15,000 per month in dividends to investors.[4]:23

Virginia & Truckee Railroad Right of Way, Reno, Nevada Historical Marker No. 248. This grade was constructed in 1871, and in use until 1950.[6]

In 1880, the V&T built a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad called the Carson & Colorado. The railroad never did reach the state of Colorado; its aim was to head to the southern part of California, and eventually to the Colorado River where new mining claims were being struck. These never did pan out, and by 1891 those claim sites were all but forgotten.[4]:23 A liability to the V&T, the "slim princess" was sold to the Southern Pacific in 1900. The words of Ogden Mills, "Either we built this line 300 miles too short or 300 years too early" reflected V&T's attitude towards the railroad.

Shortly after the sale of the C&C, however, silver was discovered at Tonopah, Nevada. The C&C became prosperous for the Southern Pacific, as wagon trains would run for miles through the desert to reach the narrow-gauge line, which would then carry it back to the V&T at Carson City.[4]:23 Because of the break of gauge between the C&C and V&T, the Tonopah ore had to be unloaded from the narrow-gauge cars and into the standard gauge cars. Southern Pacific officials did not like this arrangement, so in 1904 they converted the narrow-gauge line to standard gauge, now renamed the Nevada & California Railroad.[4]:23 In addition, the Southern Pacific offered to buy the Virginia & Truckee, but the V&T officials set their price too high. Instead, the Southern Pacific built their own line from a branch on the former C&C. The line ran 28 miles from Wabuska through to Hazen to connect with their own main line, thus bypassing the V&T entirely.[4]:23

The corporate headquarters of the V&T was moved from Virginia City to Carson City in 1900. In 1904, the corporation changed its name to the Virginia and Truckee Railway.[4]:24 In response to agricultural and cattle ranch concerns, the V&T built a short branch line to Minden, NV, about 26 miles south of Carson City, in 1906. This branch line brought in increased freight traffic; as a result the V&T purchased three new ten-wheelers from Baldwin: No. 25, 26, and 27, in 1905, 1907, and 1913 respectively.[4]:24

Decline of the railroad[edit]

The Virginia and Truckee's decline began as early as 1924, the first year in which the railroad had failed to make a profit.[4]:27 Mining revenue had dropped off to very low levels, though revenue from the Minden line continued to flow. Passenger revenue was on a steady decline, due to the increased use of the automobile on the ever-expanding highway system in the US.[4]:27

The sole owner of the railroad in 1933 was Ogden Livingston Mills, grandson of original co-founder Darius Ogden Mills.[4]:31 He personally paid the deficits in the railroad's operating costs as a nod to the past and his family's involvement in the early days of Virginia City.[4]:31 In 1938, a year after Mills' death, the railroad went into receivership, and its management began making plans to cease operations,[4]:31 with the Virginia City branch already having been dismantled during that year. At the time of the railroad's closure, it had only three locomotives operating, the second no. 5 (2-8-0 built by ALCO in 1925), as well as numbers 26 and 27 (both 4-6-0's built by Baldwin in 1907 and 1913, respectively). The #26 was originally was scheduled to haul the last train, but after making its run on May 1, 1950, the single-stall locomotive shed it was stored in had caught fire. The 26, deemed as a total loss, was scrapped, and the road instead restored no. 27 for the occasion. On May 30, 1950, the no. 27 pulled the Virginia and Truckee's final train, rather fitting as experts considered, since the 27 was the last engine purchased new by the road.

Lucius Beebe, a noted railroad historian, settled in Virginia City with Charles Clegg, a photographer and helped to revitalize the town and interest in the railroad by writing books about the Virginia & Truckee as well as other Colorado narrow gauge railroads, such as the Carson and Colorado Railroad. See below in Bibliography.

Historic equipment[edit]

Virginia & Truckee "Tahoe", 1875, on display at Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.

The Virginia and Truckee's locomotives and other equipment appeared in numerous Westerns over the years since the railroad operated otherwise obsolete equipment well into the "cinema age." Many of these pieces have been restored, and are currently on display at museums throughout the country.[7] In addition, an operating 5/8-scale replica of the V&T locomotive, Reno, has been running on the Washington Park and Zoo Railway since 1959.[8]

No.NameTypeBuilderC/NBuiltNRHP[9] Ref. #Remarks
H.J. Booth
Replica currently under construction in Mason City, IA.
On display at Old Tucson Studios, although heavily damaged in the 1995 studio fire.
On display at the California State Railroad Museum
On display at the California State Railroad Museum
CP's Sacramento shops
Sac 6
On display at the Comstock History Center at Virginia City, Nevada.
On display at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania.
On display at the California State Railroad Museum.
Operational, on display at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.
25 (2nd)
Operational at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.
On display at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

Other Historic designations[edit]

Restoring the line[edit]

Train operating on the restored line
Winter excursion, south end of Virginia City, March 2010

In 1972, Robert C. Gray, who was one of the passengers on the last train to Virginia City in 1938, sought to rebuild the V&T as a tourist line. After gaining approval from Storey County, reconstruction of the line from F Street to the Eastern portal of Tunnel #4. The railroad's first operating season was 1976, utilizing former Dardenelle and Russellville #8 (renumbered to #28 to continue the old V&T numbering series), two open gondolas, and V&T caboose #10. The equipment had been leased from Short Line Enterprises, and it was too expensive to renew the rent, so the equipment was returned at the end the 1976 season. Locomotive #28 and Caboose #10 have since found their way to the Nevada State Railroad Museum, where #28 was given back its old D&R number.

For the 1977 season, the railroad faced a motive power shortage. The only locomotive available was ex-Pacific Portland Cement Company #3, a small Porter 0-4-0T locomotive that was very small, lacking in pulling power (only being able to pull one car at a time), and produced so much smoke, an extension had to be added to the smokestack. It was also around this time that the railroad acquired three pieces of ex-Western Pacific equipment from a siding in Reno (two boxcars and a bay window caboose). One of the box cars was converted into an open-air car, the caboose was modified for passenger service, and the second box car was converted into a tunnel car, which proved very instrumental in reopening Tunnel #4.

During the 1977 season, Bob Gray won an auction at the Longview, Portland and Northern Railway and walked away with 1916 Baldwin 2-8-0 #680. The locomotive was trucked to Virginia City and arrived safely (after many blown tires and having to sneak through Washoe due to trucks being forbidden in town on weekends). The locomotive was in good condition, and ran a charter train while still wearing its old identity. A month later, the locomotive was renumbered 29.

Work to re-open Tunnel #4 continued into the 1980s. The tunnel was finally reopened in the late 80s. Work had started on Tunnel #3 (which had a history of instability to the point that regular passenger cars could no longer fit by the time the last trains ran in 1938), but a large boulder shifted and buried the tunnel. A shoehorn was built around the tunnel, just enough as to not be too sharp for the locomotives, opening up a fantastic view of the valley. Conductors narrating the trip often erroneously state the tunnel collapsed in 1938, though recently, the correct information has been given.

In 1984, the railroad acquired a former SP 0-6-0 locomotive (#1251) from a park in Stockton, CA. Tracks had to be built through the park to pull the locomotive on to a truck. Since arriving in Virginia City, the locomotive has been given the tentative number of 30, but has been partially dismantled, and no noticeable work is currently occurring due to lack of funds.

The 1980s also saw the addition of ex-Feather River Short Line #8, a 1907 Baldwin 2-6-2. The locomotive arrived in operable condition, and was used alternatively with #29. During its career on the V&T, its number and lettering were never changed.

The line was reopened to Gold Hill in 1991 and marked by a double-header pulled by #29 and #8. Regular service between the two stations began soon after.

By 2001, #29 and #8 were in dire need of restoration, including new boilers. After the 2001 season, both locomotives were taken out of service. No other steam locomotives were available, so, for the first time in V&T history, a diesel was used. For the 2002 season, the railroad leased ex-Quincy Railroad #3, a GE 44-tonner, from the Portola Railroad Museum (now Western Pacific Railroad Museum) in Portola, California. In 2003, another GE locomotive painted in V&T Yellow and Green and numbered D-2 (not related to the current D-2) was used. This locomotive's disposition is currently unknown, though it is known it had a standard 44-tonner horn.

For the 2004 season, a more permanent diesel was acquired in the form of ex-US Army GE 80-tonner #1694. It was repainted in the same paint scheme as the first D-2 and given the number D-1. The locomotive served as the mainstay of the fleet while #29 and #8 were down (as it would happen, #8 never ran on the V&T ever again due to a legal dispute with the Gold Hill Historical Society, the true owners of the locomotive).

As early as 1993, interest in rebuilding the route beyond Gold Hill had been expressed by the State of Nevada itself. The state set up a commission to rebuild the line known as the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway.

In 2005, the Commission acquired a 1918 Baldwin 2-8-2 from the McCloud Railway. The locomotive, #18, is owned by the commission, but operated by the Grays operation.

Officials with the Commission held a "silver spike" ceremony January 3, 2006, in Carson City to commemorate the completion of two miles of track near Gold Hill. The construction, completed in September 2005, is part of an effort to restore the V&T's mainline from Virginia City to Carson City for operations. Then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), who was instrumental in securing $10 million in federal funding for the project, and Nevada Lieutenant Governor Lorraine Hunt, who secured an additional $1 million in state funding for the project, both spoke at the ceremony.

It is estimated that completion of the line from Gold Hill to Carson City will cost in excess of $55 million, and it is hoped that the line, which was originally abandoned in 1938, was planned be completed and operational once again in 2012.[20][21] However, as of 2013, trains only go as far as Eastgate Station.

In June 2008, #29 returned to traffic after a seven-year restoration including a new boiler. In early 2009, the locomotive's old silver boiler plate was replaced with a black one.

On August 14, 2009 the ceremonial first run from Virginia City to Mound House (mistakingly referred to as "Carson City Eastgate" in official material) occurred for VIPs. On the 15th and 16th the line opened to the public. Funds raised from these runs will be used to pay for the tracks through the Carson River Canyon, and will continue throughout the fall, every Saturday from August 22 through October 31. The runs will use the V&T Railroad's equipment (such as steam locomotive #29) and not that of the V&T Railway (owned by the Commission). Ticket price is set at $48.

The railroad is currently building up its collection, acquiring passenger cars from the nations museums and other private owners.

In May 2010, an ALCO S-4 was acquired from Montana in operable condition. It has been numbered D-2 (the number previously used for the locomotive used for the 2003 season).

On July 24, 2010, the No. 18 steam locomotive was brought on-line for revenue service. The locomotive had recently come back from Hollywood, appearing in the movie Water for Elephants.

In December 2010, an ex-CB&Q railcar was trucked into Virginia City. It was to be operational in time for the 2011 season, but is still undergoing restoration work. The V&T had previously acquired a motorcar in 1976, No. 50 Washoe Zephyr. It is currently at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in historical paint.

D-1 was fitted with a rare Hancock 4700 air whistle for the 2011 season so it would be more pleasant-sounding than the loud, booming Nathan horn it previously. The whistle was rebuilt by the Rizzoli Locomotive Works in Niles, CA for the 2014 season.

Also in 2011, a permanent water tank was built at the switch to the enginehouse.

In mid-2013, the V&T acquired the original 1870 passenger depot, which had been a private residence with several cabooses and a V&T speeder on display. All ticketing and gift shop operations moved from coach No. 25 (which had been used as the depot since 1976) to the depot. The tracks were also slightly extended to the depot, and a new waiting area with a lawn and benches was built. Short trips now originate and terminate at the depot, rather than next to coach No. 25. Long trips still stop on the siding directly next to F Street. Originally, operations were to have been moved to the freight depot at E and Sutton Streets, which would see Tunnel #6 reopen. This plan was eventually abandoned for being too expensive.

In May 2013, the railroad acquired a GE 44-tonner and a pair of passenger cars from the defunct Yuma Valley Railway. The diesel has been given the tentative number D-3, but is not currently in operation due to brake issues and the fact that the railroad really has no use for it. The passenger cars are in good condition, and are stored at Scales Siding.

Current equipment[edit]

V&T Engine No. 29, 2009.

The following is a list of the locomotives currently owned by the reborn V&T.[22]

Steam locomotives[edit]

Diesel locomotives[edit]

Motor cars[edit]

Passenger cars[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Virginia & Truckee reopens, TRAINS Magazine, November 2009: 13, retrieved 2009-11-28 
  2. ^ Lohse, Jim. "Popular Nevada and V&T Myths: Comstock Silver and the Civil War, State Seal". Train Arts. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  3. ^ Rocha, Guy. "Myth #8: The "Trestle" on the State Seal". Nevada State Library and Archives. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Wurm, Ted (1992). Rebirth of the Virginia & Truckee R.R. May-Murdock Publications. ISBN 0-932916-16-3. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Koenig, Karl R. (1980). Virginia & Truckee Locomotives. Chatham Publishing Company. ISBN 0-89685-102-8. 
  6. ^ Nevada Historical Marker No. 248
  7. ^ "V & T Locomotive Roster". Nevada State Railroad Museum. Retrieved 2006-03-12. 
  8. ^ Haight, Abby (June 21, 2009). "Oregon No. 1 chugs through its golden anniversary party". The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon). p. B3. Retrieved May 3, 2011. 
  9. ^ #NPS–04001198
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ Reno
  12. ^ Genoa
  13. ^ Empire
  14. ^ Dayton
  15. ^ Tahoe
  16. ^ J.W.Bowker
  17. ^ Inyo
  18. ^ Unnamed
  19. ^ Unnamed
  20. ^ Anderson, Tim. "V&T Railroad project marks milestone". Reno Gazette-Journal. Retrieved 2006-01-06. 
  21. ^ "Voters reject tax for Virginia & Truckee project". Trains. 2008-11-06. Retrieved 2008-11-06. 
  22. ^ "Existing Equipment Roster". VIRGINIA & TRUCKEE RAILROAD HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  23. ^ "Gold Hill Historical Society". GOLD HILL HISTORICAL SOCIETY. Retrieved 16 February 2014. 

External links[edit]