The Original Virginia & Truckee Railroad
Following the discovery of rich silver and gold deposits in Virginia City, it soon became apparent that something beside freight wagons was needed to carry the ore from the mines to the mills along the Carson River for refining. Additionally, a better transportation system was needed to bring lumber from the Lake Tahoe region to Virginia City, where it could be used to timber the underground mines and feed the mining furnaces
To address these needs, William Sharon and his Bank of California partners incorporated the Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company in March 1868. The plan was to build the railroad between Virginia City and the Carson River (near present day Mound House) and extend it later to Carson City and Reno.
Work began in February 1869 and by early the following year regular train service was established between Virginia City and Carson City. By 1872, the line had been extended to Reno, where it intersected with the Central Pacific Railroad, the transcontinental railroad that had been completed in 1869.
In the early to mid-1870s, Virginia City’s mines were so productive that from 30 to 45 trains operated daily on the 55-mile-long railroad, which, because of its winding route became known as the “Very Crooked and Terribly Rough Railroad.” Additionally, in 1880 work began on a second railroad, the Carson & Colorado Railroad, which operated between Mound House, where it connected with the V & T, to mining districts to the south and southeast such as Candelaria and Aurora.
The V & T’s fortunes began to wane with the decline of mining in the Virginia City area in the 1880s. By the turn of the century, the railroad had shifted its focus from transporting ore to carrying tourists and other passengers. In 1906, the V & T was extended south of Carson City to Minden.
The railroad’s financial situation worsened after 1924, when mining had virtually stopped in Virginia City. The railroad struggled to stay in business during the next 26 years (with the unprofitable Virginia City to Mound House spur shut down in 1938), losing money in each succeeding year. In 1950, the line was formally abandoned and the railroad’s historic rolling stock was sold to Paramount Studios.
Rebuilding a Legend
The rebirth of the V & T Railroad began in 1972 when Robert Gray, a railroad enthusiast from Sacramento,California, acquired a portion of the V & T right of way and began reconstructing the historic route. He laid the first tie in 1974 and started running his train for tourists three years later.
Despite setbacks, such as collapsed tunnels, steep grades, and aging equipment, Gray, his staff, and many volunteers have persevered. A few years ago, the V & T line had extended a few miles down the hill from Virginia City when it reached the entrance to the original Tunnel 3. Gray and his workers tried to reconstruct the tunnel but found it impossible to do so safely. The railroad was forced to extend the track around the hill, avoiding the tunnel. The result, however, is an even more spectacular trip as the train slowly sweeps around the side of a hill, offering a panoramic view of Gold Hill and the surrounding environs.