Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Virginia & Truckee (and a 3WW)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Three Word Wednesday. The words this week just seem to fit a post I’ve been trying to get around writing and encouraged me to get busy. Last month, while in Nevada, I took a large number of photos of the old Virginia and Truckee Railroad. This week’s 3 WW words are “history, narrow and spent.” The first is a card I created, the second shot (click on each photo to enlarge).
The history of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad is colorful. Built in the late 1860s to haul supplies from the Carson Valley into Virginia City, it was known as the crookest railroads in the world, with the line having the equivalent of seventeen 360 degree turns in the 21 miles of track between Virginia City and Carson City. Prior to the coming of the railroad, all supplies into Virginia City had to be hauled in by horses, mules, oxen and even camels. Transportation cost made commodities expensive and the roadways were crowded and dusty, or muddy, depending on the weather. In the era when it was customary to use narrow gauge lines for railroads in the mountains (the smaller gauge allowed for tighter turns), the owners of the V&T decided to spend the extra money to have a standard gauge line. Overnight the line became a success, hauling supplies in the town and ore out to the mills along the Carson River. In the early 1870s, a line was extended from Carson City to Reno, which was then just a town on the Truckee River and a stop along the newly laid transcontinental railroad. This was a prosperous time on the Comstock and businessmen were able to board a plush sleeper in Virginia, early in the evening, and wake up the next morning in San Francisco. Although the V&T continued to operate between Reno and Minden till the 1950s, service to Comstock ended in the 1930s. By then, the rich ore bodies of the Comstock were spent. The tracks were removed for scrap.
In the 1970s, the V&T was resurrected. An old steam engine was purchased and iron tracks were laid from Virginia City to the edge of Gold Hill. One of the things I loved about summer on the Comstock, when I lived there, was hearing the steam whistle and seeing smoke as the train chugged back into town with cars filled with tourist. In later years when I visited, I was excited to see that the tracks cross the highway in Gold Hill and stop by the station there.
When I came into town last month, I was depressed to learn the steam engine had been out of commission for five years. During this time, an old diesel electric switcher was used to pull the passenger cars. It just wasn’t the same. But, on a happy note, I was told they’d laid tracks all the way down into American Flats and if I took the last train of the day, they’d run to the end of the iron. I hopped abroad. The train kept going south of Gold Hill, across what use to be the Crown Point trestle (which was made into a solid bed by using 1000s of truckloads of mining tailings), and on to the north edge of American Flats. It was exciting to know that after Gold Hill, I was riding on a rail bed that hadn’t been used in nearly 70 years. The community hopes to have the train running all the way to the edge of Carson City in two years. Then, people will be able to park their cars in the valley and once again take the crookest railroad as it winds its way up the mountains to Virginia City. After a day in the city, they can take the train back to their cars in the evening.
Now, my story isn’t quite over… While riding the train on Sunday afternoon, one of the employees told me that the next day, if all went well, they’d bring back the old steam engine for a trial run. They were hoping to have the engine going in time for the July 4th weekend. I got to be there to watch the train make its run. Listening to her chug back into town was a real treat! I hope you enjoyed the photos...
I've always wanted to be an engineer!


  1. Very cool. I thought of you the other day when I read a story about the disappearing caboose. People are buying them up and turning them into offices, shops, cafes, and even guest houses.

  2. Seeing those trains makes me long for Stausburg Railroad here in PA. I have't been there in yonks.

  3. Ahhhh steam engine! You know, I do believe that once a person sees, hears and "smells" the real steam engines, he/she will just simply fall in love with that old piles of metal.

  4. Kontan, I stayed in a B&B in Western NC (and this was probably 25 years ago) that had several rooms in cabooses.

    Mistress, I've never been tot e Stausburg RR, but I've heard of it--it's a classic narrow gauge.

    Mother Hen, yes, one does fall in love with steam--and diesel just never has the same romance.

  5. There's nothing like a steam locomotive.

    My dad, as a little boy in the early twenties, remembers going to the train station to meet one of his Dad's cousins who was an engineer on the Iron Mountain RR in the SE Ozarks. He said, engineers were like airline pilots -- very respected and very glamorous!


  6. Every once in a blue moon, when I tell someone that I'm an engineer, they mistakenly identify me as a train engineer. I've always wondered what life would have been like had I been one.

  7. Very cool.

    I'd love to ride an old locomotive. Today's trains just don't seem the same :)

  8. Very interesting. I remember my grandmother telling me her "people" were some of the first pioneers to CA in 1840's and came over the Donner pass. She mentions Truckee, but I never listened enough. I picked up a book called Sierra Crossing - First Roads to California by Thomas Frederick Howard, but no time to read it yet.

  9. Hi Sage...I just want to say thank you for the glimpse of old locomotive. It is rare indeed to have this kinda write. Thank you.

  10. Fantastic photos! Great history here, too, about the crooked railroads.

    So, why AREN'T you an engineer??

  11. Sherman, it took skill to handle the steam trains.

    Ed, you should get yourself a hat... further the myth!

    Diane & TC, thanks

    Peri, that's interesting about your family. When did they come to CA? Have you read Ordeal by Hunger? Truckee, in the case of the railroad, refers to the river that flows from Tahoe, through Reno and on to Pyrmaid Lake

    Cyclopseven, thanks!

    Scarlet, I'm not sure... my comment partly had to do with the woman (look at her reflection in the steel) behind the cab. Maybe she's Dinah (in the song, I've been working on the railroad).

  12. I love trains. Unfortunately Tweetsie and the Dollywood train are all I've gotten to ride! I keep wanting to visit a town in the mountains that offers day rides.

  13. This was a fascinating post! I love that they resurrected the tracks/line. Its nice when history merges with the now.

    Great pics,too, by the way!

  14. Sage, allot of the timber in these mountains were hauled on Shay Engines. Now that rail road sounds more crooked than the old timber rail roads that were here.
    Over at Bryson City NC they have an old steam engine running up Nantahala Gorge for tours.

    Interesting post.

  15. Absolutely loved this story. I live near a small rail line which has just converted to 2 electric carriages. They look all smart and shiney for now, but I loved the old black engine with 2 red carriages. Our line hosted the last of a dying breed. And it was always on time!

  16. Sage, it is so nice to learn new stuff and railroads are very interesting to me.How nice that you got to see the steam engine once more. I love riding them, although I haven't done it much. When we were in Europe in 2006, we rode many a train and it made me wish that the US had a good network of trains still functioning just as they do in Europe. It would help with the energy crisis, too! Michele sent me this morning.

  17. Deanna, Tweestie would have been the first steam train I rode, when I was about 10!

    Hollygl, thanks.

    App, The Shays were good for logging... I've seen the train that runs down through Bryson City and Nantahala--back when the rail line was working, I spent time in an old box car by the river waiting out rain (it was easier than sitting up a tarp or tent.

    Greyscale, wow, they were just recently running steam on a regular line? You should do a post on it.

    Kenju, NC has been trying to increase rail ridership between your fair city and Charlotte. From where you're at, it's the perfect way to go north to Washington or NY or south to Florida.