Virginia and Truckee Railroad Right-of-Way

The Virginia and Truckee Railway, affectionately known as the V&T, holds a storied history deeply intertwined with the development of the American West in the 19th century. Established in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1869, the railway quickly became a vital link between the bustling mining communities of Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Carson City, facilitating the transportation of silver and gold ore to processing facilities and connecting these remote towns to the broader economy. Initially built to serve the booming Comstock Lode mining operations, the V&T Railway later expanded its operations to cater to passenger traffic and freight transport, playing a pivotal role in the economic growth of Nevada.

Built in 1872, the Virginia & Truckee No. 11, the "Reno" was the V&T's first true passenger engine. It was the pride of the fleet, and was assigned to the pull the "Lightning Express," the V&T's premier train in the 1800s. The engine was damaged by a fire in 1995, and is currently undergoing restoration by the V&T.
Built in 1872, the Virginia & Truckee No. 11, the “Reno” was the V&T’s first true passenger engine. It was the pride of the fleet, and was assigned to the pull the “Lightning Express,” the V&T’s premier train in the 1800s. The engine was damaged by a fire in 1995, and is currently undergoing restoration by the V&T.

Throughout its existence, the Virginia and Truckee Railway experienced both triumphs and challenges. It weathered the economic downturns of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, adapted to changing transportation needs, and even survived a devastating fire in 1875 that destroyed much of its infrastructure. Despite facing competition from emerging modes of transportation such as automobiles and trucks, the V&T managed to remain operational until 1950 when declining profits led to its closure. However, spurred by nostalgia and historical significance, efforts to preserve and restore sections of the V&T began in the latter part of the 20th century. Today, the Virginia and Truckee Railway operates as a heritage railroad, offering scenic rides through the picturesque landscapes of Nevada, preserving the legacy of one of the West’s most iconic railways.

Nevada State Historic Marker Text

The Virginia & Truckee Railroad was built between 1868 and 1872 to connect the mining and milling communities of the Comstock to the Central Pacific Railroad that ran through Reno.

The line first connected Virginia City to Carson City in 1869, but work to run the railroad north moved quickly. Soon after Chinese laborers graded this section during the summer of 1871, track gangs commenced laying rail south, reaching Steamboat Springs by late October.  Nine months later, Superintendent Henry M. Yerington drove the last spike a mile west of Carson City on August 24, 1872, connecting Virginia City with Reno by rail.  Although regularly scheduled passenger service didn’t begin until October 1, the first through train traversed the 52 mile route on September 1, 1872 – the last passed by here on May 31, 1950.

STATE HISTORICAL MARKER NO. 248
STATE HISTORIC PRESERVATION OFFICE
CITY OF RENO

Nevada State Historic Marker Summary

Nevada State Historic Marker 248 was located at the intersection of South Center and East Taylor Streets, Reno, Nevada.

NameVirginia and Truckee Railroad Right-of-Way
LocationWashoe County, Nevada
Latitude, Longitude39.5163, -119.8064
Nevada State Historic Marker248

Nevada State Historical Markers identify significant places of interest in Nevada’s history. The Nevada State Legislature started the program in 1967 to bring the state’s heritage to the public’s attention with on-site markers. These roadside markers bring attention to the places, people, and events that make up Nevada’s heritage. They are as diverse as the counties they are located within and range from the typical mining boom and bust town to the largest and most accessible petroglyph sites in Northern Nevada Budget cuts to the program caused the program to become dormant in 2009. Many of the markers are lost or damaged.

Map

References

Virginia and Truckee Railroad

The Virginia and Truckee Railroad is a historic railway in Nevada, renowned for its role in transporting ore during the Comstock Lode mining boom of the late 19th century. The railroad connects Reno to Carson City and up to Virginia City and the mines of the Comstock Load, and down to the city of Minden, Nevada. The standard gauge rail consisted of about 60 miles and track. Today, much of the track is removed with a small railway offering passengers a historic experience between Carson City and Virginia City.

Built in 1872, the Virginia & Truckee No. 11, the “Reno” was the V&T’s first true passenger engine. It was the pride of the fleet, and was assigned to the pull the “Lightning Express,” the V&T’s premier train in the 1800s. The engine was damaged by a fire in 1995, and is currently undergoing restoration by the V&T.

History

Established in 1869, the V&T initially served as a means to transport silver ore from the mines of the Comstock Lode, located near Virginia City, to stamp mills in Carson City for processing. Its construction was driven by the need for efficient transportation of the abundant ore extracted from the rich silver mines of the region.

Under the direction of engineers like William Sharon and Theodore Judah, the V&T rapidly expanded its operations, stretching its lines to reach other mining towns such as Gold Hill and Dayton. The railroad’s success not only facilitated the transport of precious ore but also stimulated the growth of settlements along its route and provided essential passenger and freight services to the burgeoning communities of the Comstock.

The Crown Point Trestle crossed the Crown Point Ravine in Gold Hill. It was finished in November 1869, and stayed up until 1936. Here a Virginia City-bound train crosses the trestle in the 1880s.
The Crown Point Trestle crossed the Crown Point Ravine in Gold Hill. It was finished in November 1869, and stayed up until 1936. Here a Virginia City-bound train crosses the trestle in the 1880s.

The V&T gained renown for its engineering feats, including its crossing of the daunting Carson Range via the scenic and challenging Carson Pass route. The railroad’s iconic trestles, such as the 75-foot-high Crown Point Trestle, became symbols of the daring construction projects undertaken to connect Nevada’s mining districts.

Throughout its operational years, the V&T weathered various challenges, including economic downturns, labor disputes, and the decline of mining activities in the area. However, it continued to adapt and diversify its services, expanding into tourism and freight transportation beyond the mining industry.

The railroad faced a significant setback with the decline of the Comstock Lode and the subsequent closure of many mines in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, it found new life through tourism, offering scenic excursions through the picturesque landscapes of the Carson River Canyon and the Virginia City foothills.

In the mid-20th century, the V&T ceased its regular operations due to changing economic conditions and the rise of automobile travel. However, its legacy was preserved through the efforts of preservationists and enthusiasts who worked tirelessly to restore and maintain its historic routes, locomotives, and rolling stock.

The Railroad Today

Today, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad stands as a beloved historic attraction, offering visitors a glimpse into Nevada’s rich mining heritage and the golden age of railroading in the American West. Its meticulously restored steam locomotives, vintage passenger cars, and scenic journeys continue to captivate passengers, preserving the spirit of adventure and enterprise that defined the railroad’s illustrious past.

Virginia and Truckee Historic Route

Railroad Summary

NameVirginia and Truckee Railroad
LocationWashoe County,
Carson City,
Douglas County
LengthApproximately 60 miles
GaugeStandard Gauge – 4 feet 8.5 inches (1,435 mm)
Years of Operation1870 – 1950
1976 – Current

References

Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad

The Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad was a standard gauge railroad which operated along 197 miles between the town of Las Vegas and Goldfield, NV. Despite the name of the route, service from Goldfield to Tonopah is complete on the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad.

Rhyolite Train Depot is located at the north end of town in Rhyolite, Nye County, Nevada. - Photo by James L Rathbun
Rhyolite Train Depot for the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad is located at the north end of town in Rhyolite, Nye County, Nevada. – Photo by James L Rathbun

History

Railroad logo from a 1910 Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad timetable.
Railroad logo from a 1910 Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad timetable.

Despite a verbal agreement with Francis Marion Smith in April, 1905, William A Clark incorporated the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad on September 22, 1905. By this time, Borax Smith graded about 12 miles of the track route for his operations in Lila C, or Ryan as it would later be known.

Following a no-trespassing order served to Smith, Clark initial started laying track up the valley from Las Vegas on the route graded by Borax Smith. Track reached Indian Springs from Las Vegas on March 1st, 1906. By June, 30th, 1906 rail is laid down all the way to Rose’s Well. The route to Rhyolite, Nevada is completed in December 1906. During the height of construction, the track gangs were pushing the track forward at a rate of about 1.5 miles per day and complete the route into Goldfield in November, 1907. A financial panic of 1907 caused the failure of the town of Rhyolite which served a major blow to the newly complete line.

The LV & T is merged with the Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad in 1914 when it operated some 15 locomotives. Between December 1906 and February 1st, 1917, daily train service hauled passengers, mail and freight between Las Vegas and Beatty. After February 1917, only three trains ran per week until 1919 when the railroad is closed and scrapped.

The Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad laid one mile of track per day, then two miles of track per day, in its hurry to connect Rhyolite with the outside world. The first train from the Las Vegas & Tonopah entered Rhyolite at 7 p.m. on December 14, 1906, with about 100 passengers.

Rhyolite Train Depot Marker

Las Vegas to Goldfield Route

The Las Vegas and Tonapah Railroad was 197 miles long 23 stops along the way. The trip took about 8 hours to complete with food service only being offered at Rhyolite.

  • Goldfield ( Mile 0 )
  • T & G Crossing ( Mile 1)
  • Red Rock ( Mile 4)
  • Ralston ( Mile 17 )
  • Stonewall ( Mile 21 )
  • Wagner ( Mile 28 )
  • San Carlos ( Mile 34 )
  • Bonnie Claire ( Mile 41 )
  • Midway ( Mile 43 )
  • Petersgold ( Mile 59 )
  • Mud Spring (Mile 65
  • Original ( Mile 70 )
  • Rhyolite ( Mile 74 )
  • Beatty ( Mile 79 )
  • Gold Center (Mile 81 )
  • Chloride ( Mile 87 )
  • Rosewell ( Mile 97 )
  • Canyon ( Mile 109 )
  • Amaragosa (Mile 122 )
  • Charleston ( Mile 138 )
  • Indian Spring ( Mile153 )
  • Owens ( Mile 169 )
  • Corn Creek ( Mile 174 )
  • Tule ( Mile 182 )
  • Las Vegas ( Mile 197 )

Summary

NameLas Vegas and Tonopah Railroad
LocationClark County, Nevada
Nye County, Nevada
Esmeralda County, Nevada
GaugeStandard Gauge – 4 feet 8.5 inches (1,435 mm)
Length197 miles
Years of Operation1906–1918

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References

Barnwell and Searchlight Railroad

The Barnwell and Searchlight Railroad was a twenty three miles long railroad which connected Searchlight, Nevada to Barnwell California and the larger rail network of the Mojave Desert. Between 1907 and 1910, the gold mines of Searchlight produced $7 million dollars in gold and boasted a population of 1,500. Ore is shipped to Barnwell via the Barnwell and Searchlight rail service. In order to reduce costs, the Quartette company constructed a twenty-stamp mill on the Colorado River. The new mill utilized a 15 mile narrow gauge rail is constructed down to the mill in an attempt to further reduce costs. 

Following the discovery of gold in Searchlight in 1897 a gold rush brought industry into the high desert of the Mojave. In 1900, the Quartette Mining Company formed and within a short years a population of 5000 people works the area.

The Barnwell and Searchlight Railroad is formed in April 1906 at the height of the gold rush in Searchlight, Nevada. The twenty three miles of track are laid down between May 1st, 1906 and March 31st, 1907.  On April 7, 1907, just seven days after construction is completed the railway was leased by the California, Arizona and Santa Fe Railway

Barnwell and Searchlight Railroad
Barnwell and Searchlight Railroad

By 1919 trains travelled over the B. and S. Railroad only twice a week.  A severe washout on September 23, 1923, halted traffic completely.  Train service was never restored when the track is abandoned February 18, 1924. By this point, the population of Searchlight plummeted to just fifty people. Like many railroads, the valuable track was removed and recycled in other lines across the county.

Today, the rail route is a popular route for Mojave explorers and mountain bikers. The townsite is Juan is located along the route at the base of the Castle Mountains.

Barnwell and Searchlight Railroad

Railroad Summary

NameBarnwell and Searchlight Railroad
LocationSan Bernardino, California
Clark County, Nevada
Length23 miles
GaugeStandard Gauge – 4 feet 8.5 inches (1,435 mm)
Date of OperationApril 16, 1906–December 28, 1911

References

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Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad

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More details
Tonopah & Tidewater #1 was a Baldwin 4-6-0 steam locomotive, originally built for the Wisconsin and Michigan Railroad, later going to the Randsburg Railway on the Santa Fe as their #1 (later #260). Went to the T&T in 1904 and used in passenger and shunting service. It was scrapped in 1941, and the bell was saved by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society at Pomona, CA.
More details Tonopah & Tidewater #1 was a Baldwin 4-6-0 steam locomotive, originally built for the Wisconsin and Michigan Railroad, later going to the Randsburg Railway on the Santa Fe as their #1 (later #260). Went to the T&T in 1904 and used in passenger and shunting service. It was scrapped in 1941, and the bell was saved by the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society at Pomona, CA.

History

Francis “Borax” Marion Smith
Francis “Borax” Marion Smith

In the early 1900’s, owner of the Pacific Coast Borax Works, Francis Marion Smith owned the largest Borax mine in the world, which is located in Borate, CA. Corporate expansion found him looking into old Borax claims located in the Black Mountains, east of Death Valley. Originally, “Borax” smith used a steam tractor to haul the ore one hundred and thirty seven miles into Ivanpah, CA. The harsh desert proved too much and the plan is soon abandoned.

In 1904, Smith conceived a plan to connect a railroad from his mines to the nearest points of the Santa Fe. He hoped to connect up north to Tonopah to exploit a mining boom in the region, which include Rhyolite, Goldfield and Beatty Nevada. On July 19, 1904, Francis Marion Smith had incorporated the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad Company in New Jersey. Smith served as president, and associates DeWitt Van Buskirk as vice-president with C.B. Zabriskie as secretary-treasurer, and John Ryan as superintendent and general manager.

Originally, Smith worked with William A. Clark who was a Senator from Montana. Clark headed the Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad and proposed that Smith build the Tonopah and Tidewater out of Las Vegas as a cost effective solution to haul his Borax. In 1905, Smith sent personnel and soon discovered that he would not be allow to connect to the Los Angles and Salt Lake Railroad. This right of way is probably due to the fact that Clark is planning his own rail to Beatty, which would become the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad.

Following this disappoint, Borax Smith sold his assets and holdings after negotiating with Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad and settings up a terminus is Ludlow, CA.

Tonopah and Tidewater Route

The Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad covered a distance of approximately 230 miles, traversing the challenging terrain of the Mojave Desert.. Many stops along the railroad were named for associates of Borax Businessman Francis Marion Smith. Sections of the route runs through the Death Valley National Park, and certain sections of it have been made into hiking trails for tourists. Other parts of the route are easily accessible to back road explorers, and much of the former railroad bed parallels California State Route 127 between Baker and Death Valley Junction, California.

Tonopah and Tidewater Routes and Stops

More details
Originally a Deleware, Lackwanna & Western locomotive numbered #671, was sold to the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad around 1906, and supposedly became either their #2 or #3. Later sold to the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Co.in 1910 and became their #2.
More details Originally a Deleware, Lackwanna & Western locomotive numbered #671, was sold to the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad around 1906, and supposedly became either their #2 or #3. Later sold to the Goldfield Consolidated Mining Co.in 1910 and became their #2.
  • Ludlow
  • Broadwell – ( 12.68 Miles )
  • Mesquite – ( 21.49 Miles )
  • Crucero – ( 25.68 Miles )
  • Rasor – ( 29.38 Miles )
  • Soda Lake ( ZZYZX ) – ( 33.34 Miles )
  • Baker – ( 41.82 Miles )
  • Silver Lake – ( 49.50 Miles )
  • Talc – ( 56.0 Miles )
  • Riggs – ( 59.47 Miles )
  • Lore – ( 60.0 Miles )
  • Valjean – ( 65.11 Miles )
  • Dumont – ( 74.40 Miles )
  • Sperry – ( 78.84 Miles )
  • Acme – ( 82.97 Miles )
  • Tecopa – ( 87.67 Miles )
  • Zabriskie – ( 91.74 Miles )
  • Shoshone – ( 96.95 Miles )
  • Fitrol Spur – ( 97.5 Miles )
  • Gerstley – ( 101.26 Miles )
  • Jay – ( 106.00 Miles )
  • Death Valley Junction – ( 122.01 Miles )
  • Bradford Siding – ( 128.01 Miles )
  • Muck – ( 131.0 Miles )
  • Jenifer – ( 139.44 Miles )
  • Leeland – ( 144.51 Miles )
  • Ashton – ( 154.98 Miles )
  • Carrara – ( 160.55 Miles )
  • Post – ( 166.0 Miles )
  • Gold Center – ( 166.0 Miles )
  • Beatty Junction – ( 169.07 Miles )
  • Beatty – ( 169.07 Miles )
More details
Map showing Tonopah Tidewater Railroad Company line from Ludlow California to Goldfield Nevada circa 1907
More details Map showing Tonopah Tidewater Railroad Company line from Ludlow California to Goldfield Nevada circa 1907

Railroad Summary

NameTonopah and Tidewater Railroad
LocationSan Bernardino, California
Nye County, Nevada
GaugeStandard Gauge – 4 feet 8.5 inches (1,435 mm)
Operational1904 – 1940

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