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Senior Spectrum Newspaper
June 2018
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BIGGEST little City
by Harry Spencer
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History on the Rails

Harry Spencer
Harry Spencer

I have read numerous articles that state one of the main reasons for tourist travel is to visit historical sites. Most travelers seem intrigued by the prospect of seeing the way many locations and buildings contributed to the annals of the past.

Fortunately for those in this area, one does not have to travel far to experience an event that was routine more than a century ago. I am speaking of the historic V&T Railway that currently operates from Carson City to Virginia City along the same route early-day pioneers travelled. The train runs from Mother’s Day through the summer with a special train at Christmas called the Polar Express.

Ticket and schedule information can be had by contacting the V&T website, vtrailway.com or by phone at 775-291-0208. Since there is room for little more than two hundred passengers on each trip, early ticket purchases are recommended.

The trains depart at 10 a.m. on the dot and after the little more than one hour trip to Virginia City, passengers are given a four hour window to explore the many charms of the liveliest ghost town in the West. Most patrons choose to have lunch at one of the many fine restaurants in the town and visit the numerous shops that display all manner of things.

I have made scores of trips to Virginia City starting in the middle of the last century and on each visit I generally find something new. My favorite trip occurred when I drove actress Marie MacDonald up the hill to have lunch with her admirer, Lucius Beebe. At the time, I was most impressed with the mansion that Beebe lived in, which had been restored to its former opulence. Since Beebe was a newspaper publisher and I was a former journalist, we had much to talk about.

In 1870, Nevada’s first shortline railroad, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad (V&T) was completed between Carson City and Virginia City. Two years later the track was extended to Reno to connect with the transcontinental Central Pacific Railroad. The V&T was the brain child of William Sharon, William Ralston and D.O. Mills of the Bank of California in San Francisco. They feared that Adolf Sutro’s plan to drain the Comstock mines of water through an ingenious tunnel would adversely affect the bank-held monopoly of mills along the Carson River. William Sharon petitioned the Nevada legislature and received funds to build the railroad. This calculated move stalled the tunnel’s completion for many years. The line served to haul ore from Virginia City to the mills in Carson City, lumber from the Sierra Nevada, and passengers traveling between Virginia City, Carson City, Reno and Minden (south of Carson City). The V&T operated from 1869 until 1950.

historic V&T Railway rolls into action
The historic V&T Railway rolls into action this summer with roundtrips from the depot east of Carson City on Highway 50 to Virginia City and environs.

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 the Storey Commission, reconstruction of the line began from F Street to the Eastern Portal of Tunnel #4. The railroad’s first operating season was 1976. Work continued on Tunnel #4 until it was reopened in the late 1980s. The Gray family continued to work on the line, and in 1991 reopened the part of the line between Virginia City and Gold Hill Station.

As early as 1993, interest in rebuilding the route beyond Gold Hill had been expressed by the State of Nevada. The state’s commission to rebuild the line was known as the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway.

Officials with the Commission held a “Silver Spike” ceremony on 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 main line from Virginia City to Carson City for operations. Then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (DNev.), 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. On August 14, 2009 the ceremonial first run from Virginia City to Carson City Eastgate Station occurred for VIPs. On the 15th and 16th the line opened to the public.

Currently the V&T Railway Commission has an independent contract with the Virginia & Truckee Railroad to provide excursion services which include regularly scheduled steam and diesel trains as well as special event trains like the Polar Express, all departing from the Eastgate Depot in Carson City. This agreement also includes providing excursion services with passenger coaches in 19th century period appearance.