For the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, the story of its future as part of Nevada’s living history will be guided by its illustrious 150-year past.
The signature green and yellow cars, made famous during the Comstock Lode, continue to provide a historic reminder of what the now and then. The “Queen of the Short Lines” is running full steam ahead with train rides between Virginia City and Gold Hill daily throughout the summer season (until Oct. 27). The popular family attraction takes riders back through time from 1859 when the Comstock Lode was discovered.
Completed in 1869 as a commercial freight railroad to haul ore, lumber and supplies to serve the Comstock mining communities, the V&T became the most famous and richest short line in the world. It transported United States presidents and dignitaries to the “Richest City on Earth” through the peak years of 1876-1878 when silver ore worth $36 million was extracted annually and when as many as 45 trains per day arrived and departed the booming town.
Today, visitors can embark on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad four-mile, 35-minute narrated train ride via steam or diesel through Virginia City to the quaint mining town of Gold Hill.
The route passes through Tunnel No. 4, the last before Virginia City, elevation 6,300-feet, and one of seven built for the 1600-foot descent to the valley floor. The route affords views of 17 Bonanza mine sites, historic buildings throughout the rustic town, and a feel and flavor for Americana.
The Queen of the Short Lines today offers seven departures daily with the first departure from Virginia City at 10:30 a.m., with the last departing Gold Hill at 4:35 p.m. Tickets are $12 per adult, $6 for children ages 5 to 12, for the diesel train, and $14 per adult, $7 for children ages 5 to 12 for the steam engines. Children under 4 are free.
Tradition has long been a key word concerning the V&T. Like many railroads, in the 1920s it fell victim to the advance of automobiles, trucking and highways and specifically declining mining revenues before it was abandoned in 1950.
It was more than 20 years later when Robert C. Gray, a man fascinated with steam trains as a youngster, realized a long-held dream to resurrect the train – in 1938 he rode the final V&T Railroad train to Virginia City. His labor of love saved the V&T from an eternal scrapyard. The renovation began in the 1970s and he worked tirelessly for more than 40 years to preserve an integral part of Nevada’s history and culture.
In 1972, he traded the remains of a family ranch for the then abandoned V&T Railroad property in Virginia City, Nevada. He conducted the painstaking research, obtained governmental approvals, financed, relayed track, and ran his first popular steam tourist train on July 2, 1976, just in time for the Nation’s historic bicentennial celebrations. Gray kept operating and improving the V&T Railroad without compensation for nearly 50 years, and he was active as president until age 95.
Spearheaded through Gray’s vision and efforts, a major portion of the original 16-mile route between Carson City and Virginia City was reconstructed. The public Nevada Commission for the Reconstruction of the V&T Railway rebuilt the line from Gold Hill (connecting with the current V&T Railroad) to Carson City, running the first train over the line in 68 years in 2009. The route operates today as a separate tourism attraction operating on summer weekends.
The Gray legacy segued to Bob’s son, Tom, who started working on and off with his dad as a teenager. When the family patriarch passed away in April at 97, Tom assumed even greater responsibilities. When asked how his father achieved the long-held goal of resuscitating and preserving the V&T for current and future generations, Tom replied, “That generation believed in hard work, perseverance and old school values.”
Through his years railroading with his father, Tom has embraced the understanding that the story the V&T has come to represent reflects what it has been.
Today, 80 years after the last train left the Comstock, families, history buffs, train fanatics, curious locals and visitors can discover the joys of riding the rails. Authentic engines over 100 years old will chug, rumble, rock and roll along the original Comstock Lode ribbon of rails made famous from the storied silver boomtown days of the 1850s and ’60s.
The Virginia & Truckee R.R. is internationally renowned with its locomotives and cars featured on the big screen in dozens of motion pictures.
Virginia City Depot is located at 166 F Street, Virginia City, Nevada 89440. For details, schedule and specialty train rides visit https://www.virginiatruckee.com or call 775-847-0380.