The Virginia and Truckee Railroad is one of the most famous short lines in American history. It was incorporated on March 5, 1868 by the “Bank Crowd” to serve the mines of the Comstock. A railroad was deemed necessary because of the high cost of freighting goods by wagon into and out of Virginia City, and the need to carry ore to the mills along the Carson River.
The Comstock region posed peculiar problems for railroad construction because of its difficult terrain. Isaac (“Ike”) James was selected as its surveying and construction engineer. The building of the Virginia and Truckee proved to be a remarkable achievement. James held the grade to a maximum of 2.2 per cent as the railroad descended 1,600 feet in thirteen and a half miles from Virginia City to reach the mills along the Carson River. To achieve this, the track had to make the equivalent of seventeen complete circles. Most of the work was done by Chinese labor.
The initial twenty-one miles from Virginia City to Carson City was completed on November 29, 1869. The construction to a terminus at Reno, thirty-one additional miles, finally connected the Comstock to the transcontinental Central Pacific Railroad on August 24, 1872.
Virginia City boomed with the discovery of the Big Bonanza in 1873, and the Virginia and Truckee enjoyed stunning success and prosperity. At the Bonanza’s height, the railroad worked twenty-four locomotives and scheduled as many as forty trains a day on a single track. Its refitting facilities were capable of repairing its own and other railway companies’ equipment. The railroad transported valuable ore from the Comstock, and, in return, Virginia City and Gold Hill received timber to shore up mines and build homes.
By 1878, the Big Bonanza had played out and mining production collapsed, although mining on the Comstock would continue on a relatively minor scale for over sixty years. The Virginia and Truckee kept operating on a much reduced scale. Hopeful of future bonanzas elsewhere, the Bank Crowd in 1880 incorporated and built the Carson and Colorado Railroad which connected with the Virginia and Truckee at Mound House, and which thrust southward into the desert for 293 miles to Keeler, California. Unfortunately, since its route went from nowhere to nowhere, it generated no particular traffic.
In 1900, the strapped Virginia and Truckee sold the Carson and Colorado to the Southern Pacific Railroad, just in time for its sold progeny to take advantage of the Tonopah and Goldfield mining booms. Whatever traffic was interchanged with the Virginia and Truckee at Mound House was stopped when the Southern Pacific built a more direct route (“The Hazen Cutoff”) to the central Nevada mining boomtowns. In 1906, the Virginia and Truckee constructed a fifteen-mile extension southward from Carson City to the newly created town of Minden, which transformed the railroad into primarily a carrier of agricultural products.
From 1869 to 1910, Henry Yerington served as the line’s Vice President and General Manager. Darius Mills was president until his death in 1910 to be succeeded by his son Ogden Mills who died in 1929–in turn followed by his son, Ogden Livingston Mills. In 1929, straight passenger service from Virginia City to Reno ended and the road paid its last dividend.
Until Ogden Livingston Mills’ untimely death in 1937, he cheerfully picked up the bills for the declining railroad. His estate was not so accommodating. The road filed for bankruptcy in 1938 and service on the original line of track from Virginia City to Carson City ceased that same year. At first it looked as if operations might have to be shut down entirely, but an upswing in interest by rail fans–and the sale of equipment to Hollywood studios–kept the road going. But competing automobile and truck traffic, the road’s financial inability to invest in new equipment, and deferred maintenance spelled its doom. The last run on the Virginia and Truckee was on May 31, 1950.
Above written by Jerome Edwards for the Nevada Humanities website.
Full Steam Ahead: Reconstruction of the V&T Railway
In the early 1990s, V&T Railway 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 for $420,000.
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.
In 2019, the V&T Railway celebrated its 150th Anniversary with a special ride featuring an onboard performance and re-enactment of 1800’s banker and business man William T. Sharon, famous for his influence on the founding of the railroad in 1869.