Editor’s Note: Nevada 150 is a yearlong series highlighting the people, places and things that make up the history of the state.
The sky was clear in the capital city on a bright Saturday morning at the train depot. A group of Old West cowboy re-enactors entertained passengers waiting to board the train.
Of all the ways there are to celebrate Nevada’s history in the run-up to the state’s 150th birthday, few feel more like a time machine than a ride along the Comstock on the Virginia &Truckee Railroad.
You could see and hear the excitement build among children and adults alike as passengers boarded the locomotive dating to the turn of the 20th century. The train cars were completely rebuilt, allowing riders to settle into refurbished Hale &Kilburn wicker walkover seats like the ones Mark Twain might have sat in all those years ago.
Then the enormous, rumbling V&T steam locomotive pulled the passenger cars out of the station and into the heart of Nevada’s best-known mining district, passing along the way through old mining towns such as Gold Hill, where old wooden mine supports still weather in the elements.
Among the passengers this day were the Williamses and the Colliers, a two-family group on vacation from Oregon. They heard about the train online and decided to ride it for the first time.
“We were looking for what activities to do in the area and saw the Virginia &Truckee Railroad had a steam train and thought that would be perfect for my son, who is crazy about trains,” Heather Collier said. “I think that it is great that they were able to preserve a train like this.”
“It’s a beautiful project,” said Neil Duncan, a conductor for the V&T Railroad.
And it has its very own source of state support.
In 2001, the Legislature created the Nevada Commission to Reconstruct the V&T Railroad and infused the project with the proceeds from the sale of special V&T license plates — something of an ironic twist since it was competition from automobiles that sank the original railroad.
Starting with its launch in 1868, the V&T served as a major economic factor in the growth and development of western Nevada and eastern California. It connected Carson City and Virginia City to the transcontinental railroad in Reno, allowing for the large-scale delivery of ore, lumber, and other goods needed to fuel Nevada’s first big mining boom.
It operated for 80 years, outlasting many of the mines it served, before it finally succumbed to increasing competition from highway traffic. The line to Virginia City was abandoned in 1938, and the entire railroad was shut down in 1950.
Two decades later, it was a Sacramento, Calif., man named Robert Gray who decided to resurrect the V&T, this time as a tourist attraction. In 1976, the first train ran between Virginia City and Gold Hill, but it would take another 33 years for the route to be extended. In 2009, the steam train, which runs on recycled motor oil, made its first run from Virginia City to the Carson depot.
Today, passengers can ride the rails from May through October, when the train runs between Virginia City and Gold Hill seven times a day between 10:30 a.m. and 4:50 p.m. The longer trip, 90 minutes one way from Carson City to Virginia City, is available only on select Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Annual ridership has steadily increased over the past three years from less than 20,000 in 2011 to more than 23,000 last year. Officials believe they are on track to beat that number this year.
Contact Capital Bureau reporter Whip Villarreal at email@example.com or 775-687-3901. Find him on Twitter: @WhipVillarreal.