August 27, 2022

Virginia & Truckee Railroad Once Again Rolls Out of Virginia City, Thanks to Rebuilt Tracks and Tunnels

My first trip to Virginia City, Nevada coincided with the 150th anniversary celebration of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, a.k.a. "Queen of the Short Lines"—so while I was in the area, I wanted to make sure I could experience as much of the V&T as possible. 

After having ridden a railbike from Carson City towards Virginia City (where a train also runs, though its schedule didn't mesh with mine), I headed to Virginia City to ride a special train towards Carson City to experience the rail from the other end. 

But I had some time to kill before my train departure, so I started snooping around town. 

I came across the Comstock Historic District Center, a museum devoted to the National Historic Landmark District that encompasses Virginia City, Gold Hill, Old Town Dayton, and Silver City. 

It's located on E Street, which is where the V&T trains once rumbled past, right through a tunnel (a.k.a. Tunnel #6, now filled in) next to Saint Mary in the Mountains Church. 

Inside the museum, there's the V&T No. 27—a.k.a. "The Last of the Line," or the last new locomotive that the V&T had purchased. It retired in 1948 after 35 years of service, although it did pull an excursion train in 1949 and pulled V&T's last regular train in 1950.

It later starred in the 1951 Columbia Pictures film The Roar of the Iron Horse

Although it was restored to its circa 1940s appearance from 1994 to 1998... is non-operational...

...and serves as the centerpiece static display of the museum.  
Just north of the history center, also on E Street, is the former V&T freight depot...

...which helped handle deliveries to the boomtown of Virginia City but also large shipments (like silver ore) from the mining communities of the Comstock Lode (replacing the wagons that were once used).
This is actually the second freight depot on this site. The first one, built a few years after the last rail of the V&T Railroad was laid in 1869, burned in the Great Fire of 1875. This replacement was completed in 1877—and despite its poor condition, the Virginia City tourism website claims it's available for party rentals and weddings. 

V&T No. 27 was stored here for more than two decades before its restoration and relocation. Today, caboose #3337 from the Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad remains there, derelict and declining. 

The best-preserved—and, amazingly, still active—part of the V&T in Virginia city is the circa 1870 passenger depot, the ticket office and departure point for the contemporary excursion trains of the heritage railroad. 

It's located at the other side of Tunnel #6 (unfortunately both sides have been filled in and paved over) at the end of E Street, just south of Saint Mary in the Mountains. Much of it is original, including the passenger waiting room. 
It was from here that the Virginia & Truckee passenger rail service brought travelers to Gold Hill, Carson City, and eventually, another 31 miles to Reno. 

Excursions via the Virginia & Truckee R.R. (a different entity from the V&T Railway Commission that runs trains along the 17 miles between VC and Carson City) usually only take passengers (via either steam or diesel engines, depending on availability) from Virginia City to Gold Hill...

...but the weekend of my visit, perhaps because of the Great Western Steam Up, a special train was added at the end of the day. 

And that one was going to go beyond Gold Hill...

...all the way to the site of the former American Flat mine.
So, we boarded the open-air passenger cars and got ready to be pulled by the circa 1916 V&T No. 29—originally the Louisiana and Pacific Railway No. 252. It was recently renamed the "Robert C. Gray" after the man who helped rebuild the defunct V&T as a heritage railroad and put No. 29 on the rails in 1977, Bob Gray, who passed away in 2019.

Over the course of the journey, the train ride took us through many mine ruins...

...including a 100-year-old, creaky wooden trestle (which is being stabilized) and the remains of the "daylighted" Tunnel #5.

We passed vintage rolling stock...  
...and even the remains of the East Yellow Jacket mine (which connects to the main Yellow Jacket mine in Gold Hill). 

The train also passes through the Yellow Jacket Mine Tunnel #4 (located below Homestead Road and Fort Homestead). 

Some claim it's haunted—so of course it attracts paranormal investigators. 
We bypassed another tunnel, the caved-in Tunnel #3, which you can't see on your way to Gold Hill...

...only on your way back to Virginia City. 

After passing Overman Pit, the town of Gold Hill soon appears in view... does the Gold Hill V&T train depot, which provided both passenger and freight services until 1938. 

That's where the excursion train usually drops passengers off to go exploring a bit before returning to Virginia City, but we forged ahead...
...past more vintage rolling stock (including the recently acquired Deer Creek Scenic Railroad No. 100)...
...and more mine shafts...

...with the late-day, low-angle sun casting shadows of our locomotive on the carved up landscape along the rails. 
If the tunnels aren't haunted, there still might be some ghosts lingering along the railway—at least by the Masonic and Catholic cemeteries (collectively known as Gold Hill Cemetery) that the trains whistle past. 

One of the most recognizable features of the landscape below is the location of current mining operations...

...near the site of the former American Flat mine and mill (a.k.a. United Comstock Merger Mill), whose buildings were demolished in 2014.
Wild horse sightings are common here...

...but the only creatures we saw running across the hillsides were the trainspotters looking to snap a few pics of us.

Our turnaround point was just short of the rebuilt, 566-foot-long Tunnel #2 (the "American Flat tunnel"), which had been blasted shut in 1970 because of safety concerns. (The tracks had already been removed long before that.)
Our locomotive ran around to couple at the other end of the train, so it could face forward instead of backwards.

And we returned to Virginia City the way we came. 

It's pretty amazing that any part of this historic short-line railway has been rebuilt and has resumed any kind of service—not to mention daily departures. 

Long live the V&T!
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