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Starting with the resurrected V&T Railroad, Nevada is long on tracks.
Photo: Tony Marcin
In the hierarchy of Nevada lore, railroads rank right up there with ghost towns and wild horses. Not that this truth needed reinforcement, but it was never more apparent than on a perfect summer evening last August, when the Virginia & Truckee Railroad woke up from a seven-decade slumber to again transport passengers from Virginia City to Carson City.
As I stand in line waiting to board, I stop snapping photos long enough to take in the moment. I look around me, notice a number of Nevada dignitaries, and have to check twice that there isn’t a red carpet under my feet. I look up to see Lieutenant Governor Brian K. Krolicki patting Senator Bill Raggio on the back. Governor Jim Gibbons waits anxiously, as does Congressman Dean Heller. The historical relevance of this moment sinks in.
The re-inaugural ride, if you will, had a celebratory feel to it from beginning to end. In my car, the state song, “Home Means Nevada,” is performed in unison and some have even dressed the part, sporting early 20th-century garb. The family friendly atmosphere is one that the Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway had envisioned when it officially launched the railroad restoration project in April 2005. “It was truly a special occasion to be a passenger on the inaugural run, especially since I was able to share this historic moment with my daughters, who wore big grins for the entire ride,” Krolicki says.
Krolicki’s 11-year-old daughter, Kate, is also caught up in the moment. “Lots of people were lined up along the tracks clapping as we rode by, and my sisters and I had so much fun waving to all of them,” she says. “We can’t wait to go on it again.”
The illustrious night ends with a celebration at one of the route’s current depots at Flint Drive in Carson City. “The highlight of the trip, for me, was coming over the bridge over Highway 50 and seeing a large gathering of people lined up cheering us on, thrilled to see this special part of our heritage in service again,” Krolicki adds. The overall vision for the project is a roughly 16-mile stretch, planned for completion in 2012, that would end at one of two proposed Carson City terminals. Thirty-five-minute roundtrip rides on the Historic Route, from Virginia City to Gold Hill, begin March 23. The longer Sisters in History Route, 1.5 hours each way (12.8 miles) from Carson City to Virginia City, begins its 2010 run on May 27. See map at right for a visual of the current V&T route.
Virginia & Truckee Railroad
There are several other Nevada locations to hitch a ride on the short line, or learn about the importance of railroads to the state’s history:
NEVADA STATE RAILROAD MUSEUM
The Nevada State Railroad Museum preserves the railroad heritage of Nevada, including locomotives and cars of the famous Virginia & Truckee Railroad and other railroads of the Silver State. Many were bought from Hollywood studios, where they were made famous in movies and television shows. Among 65 locomotives and cars in the collection, 40 were built pre-1900. More than 30 pieces that operated on the V&T are available to peruse.
Museum activities consist of operation of historic equipment, including train rides, handcar rides, lectures, an annual railroad history symposium, changing exhibits, and special events. A public unveiling of the Virginia & Truckee McKeen car, No. 22, is planned for Sunday, May 9—perfect timing, as steam operation begins a day earlier. Motor-car operation begins May 1.
2180 S. Carson St., Carson City
SPARKS HERITAGE MUSEUM
Sparks’ proud railroad heritage is apparent in its historic downtown where the museum is located. A vintage steam locomotive, caboose, and executive car are displayed along with a depot replica, the restored Glendale Schoolhouse, and a monument to Chinese rail workers.
Inside the museum, visitors can explore artifacts from the original town, as well as relics from the region’s prospecting, farming, and ranching heritage. The museum offers tours of the train, schoolhouse, and museum by appointment. This year the museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary with activities planned throughout the year.
Otherwise known as “Rail City,” Sparks was formed in the early 1900s after the Central Pacific Railroad decided to straighten its tracks and move the division point to what was at the time swampland.
814 Victorian Ave., Sparks
NEVADA STATE RAILROAD MUSEUM
In 1928, the Federal Government appropriated funds for the construction of the Boulder Canyon project, eventually renamed Boulder Dam and then Hoover Dam. To bring people, supplies, and equipment to the site, a two-lane road was built from Las Vegas to Boulder City. For heavy equipment and supplies, in 1931 the Union Pacific constructed a rail line linking Las Vegas to Summit, later renamed Boulder City. The Union Pacific abandoned the portion of the line from Boulder City to Henderson in 1985 and donated the land and track to the State of Nevada for this Nevada State Railroad Museum.
The train operates most Saturdays and Sundays. Departure times are 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2:30 p.m., and boarding begins 15 minutes before departure. The museum even challenges guests to create their own special event. For instance, you can charter the entire train for your birthday party or wedding or drive a diesel locomotive via the Engineer for an Hour program. Teachers can also schedule field trips with their classes.
600 Yucca St., Boulder City
CALIENTE RAILROAD DEPOT
For more than 40 years, Caliente was one of the major division points on the railroad line. When diesel locomotives replaced steam engines in the 1940s, the division point moved to Las Vegas, but the history is still alive in this small Nevada town.
Evidence of this can be seen in its mission-style Caliente Railroad Depot. City offices, an art gallery, library, and a unique mural in the old Amtrak waiting room occupy the depot.
In its heyday, the two-story building included the railroad station, private offices, and a community center on the first floor, while the second level featured a hotel. Adjacent boxcar museums add further authenticity to the experience.
100 Depot Ave., Caliente
NEVADA NORTHERN RAILWAY
Trains hold an important place in the early development of Nevada. They transported precious metals, supplies, and people to and from mines. Many Nevada cities and towns may not exist if it weren’t for railroads. The Nevada Northern Railway historical museum in Ely preserves and celebrates that legacy.
Visitors can explore historic locomotives and dive into the rich history of the railroad at the expansive indoor and outdoor museum. But the uniquely interactive museum doesn’t stop at informative displays. Train buffs and the general public are given the chance to ride these historic locomotives along the lines they used to ply. A variety of rides are available, from regular excursion trains to themed rides such as wine trains, barbecue trains, and the popular Polar Express. The adventurous tourist can rent a steam or diesel locomotive and drive it either 14 or 28 miles—with supervision, of course.
The Railway, in cooperation with the Ghost Riders and the USPS, will be running a Pony Express Special on April 3, 2010 at 1 p.m. using the original Nevada Northern Railway passenger equipment, including the Railway Post Office railroad car. The Post Office will be doing a special cancellation in the Railway Post Office during the trip.
P.O. Box 150040, Ely