Following the discovery of rich silver and gold deposits in Virginia City,
it soon became apparent that something beside freight wagons was needed to carry
the ore from the mines to the mills along the Carson River for refining. Additionally,
a better transportation system was needed to bring lumber from the Lake Tahoe
region to Virginia City, where it could be used to timber the underground mines
and feed the mining furnaces
To address these needs, William Sharon and his Bank
of California partners incorporated the Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company
in March 1868. The plan was to build the railroad between Virginia City and the
Carson River (near present day Mound House) and extend it later to Carson City
Work began in February 1869 and by early the following year regular
train service was established between Virginia City and Carson City. By 1872,
the line had been extended to Reno, where it intersected with the Central Pacific
Railroad, the transcontinental railroad that had been completed in 1869.
early to mid-1870s, Virginia City’s mines were so productive that
from 30 to 45 trains operated daily on the 55-mile-long railroad, which, because
of its winding route became known as the “Very Crooked and Terribly Rough
Railroad.” Additionally, in 1880 work began on a second railroad, the Carson & Colorado
Railroad, which operated between Mound House, where it connected with the V & T,
to mining districts to the south and southeast such as Candelaria and Aurora.
The V & T’s fortunes began to wane with the decline of mining in the
Virginia City area in the 1880s. By the turn of the century, the railroad had
shifted its focus from transporting ore to carrying tourists and other passengers.
In 1906, the V & T was extended south of Carson City to Minden.
financial situation worsened after 1924, when mining had virtually stopped in
Virginia City. The railroad struggled to stay in business during the next 26
years (with the unprofitable Virginia City to Mound House spur shut down in 1938),
losing money in each succeeding year. In 1950, the line was formally abandoned
and the railroad’s historic rolling stock was sold
to Paramount Studios.
Rebuilding a Legend
The rebirth of the V & T Railroad began in 1972 when Robert Gray, a railroad
enthusiast from Sacramento,California, acquired a portion of the V & T right
of way and began reconstructing the historic route. He laid the first tie in
1974 and started running his train for tourists three years later.
such as collapsed tunnels, steep grades, and aging equipment, Gray, his staff,
and many volunteers have persevered. A few years ago, the V & T
line had extended a few miles down the hill from Virginia City when it reached
the entrance to the original Tunnel 3. Gray and his workers tried to reconstruct
the tunnel but found it impossible to do so safely. The railroad was forced to
extend the track around the hill, avoiding the tunnel. The result, however, is
an even more spectacular trip as the train slowly sweeps around the side of a
hill, offering a panoramic view of Gold Hill and the surrounding environs.
Presently, the train runs from a small depot on F Street, just south of the St. Mary's in the Mountains Catholic Church, to the Gold Hill Depot (a 35-minute ride that covers a little under six miles). During the leisurely ride, travelers are treated to an informative talk as the conductor relates anecdotes about the Comstock and points out places of historic interest along the way, including original mining head frames, mill sites and other buildings.
The Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company operates until from Memorial Day until the end of October.
For more information call 775-847-0380.
Full Steam Ahead: Reconstruction of the V & T
In the early 1990s, V & T enthusiasts along with Storey County, Carson
City, and state officials began studying the possibility of reconstructing the
historic rail line between Virginia City and Carson City. A financial study was
commissioned, which indicated that the railroad was feasible, and the non-profit
Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V & T Railway was created
to raise money for the project, estimated to cost $25 million when completed.
During the next decade, the railroad project made slow progress as the commission
acquired right-of-way easements and financial commitments. Starting in 2005,
the project—pun intended—picked up steam. The Nevada Department of
Transportation awarded a $3.8 million contract to extend the railroad south from
Gold Hill. The contract included filling in a huge open pit mine called the Overman
Pit, which had blocked previous efforts to lengthen the railroad (the pit had
been dug after the railroad was abandoned). Funding for this was provided by
a 2% increase in room tax by the CCCVB. Additionally, the commission purchased
a 1914 Baldwin steam locomotive from a defunct Northern California tourist railroad
The Nevada Legislature provided $500,000 in additional funds to
help keep the project going while the Department of Transportation donated a
railroad bridge formerly used in Southern Nevada for a crossing over U.S. 50,
once the rebuilt railroad reaches that point.
The Legislature also granted Carson
City permission to raise its sales tax by one-eighth of a cent to fund a big
portion of the remaining expenses. The CCCVB has also pledged an additional $100,000
annually for the next 20 years. The reconstructed railroad will closely follow the original railroad right-of-way
between Virginia City and Carson City. It will incorporate the Virginia and Truckee
Railroad Company’s 2.5 miles of existing track from Virginia City to the
Gold Hill Depot. From there, it will cross the filled-in Overman Pit and continue
through American Flat, a former mining mill district near Silver City, before
reaching U.S. 50 near Mound House.
The route crosses the highway and enters the
Carson River Canyon area, where it winds along the banks of the river, offering
spectacular views. It will conclude its 21-mile route in Carson City. Railroad
officials predict that first leg of the expanded rail line, Gold Hill to U.S.
50, could be completed by 2009.