Search billions of records on Ancestry.com

Virginia and Truckee Railroad

Location: Reno-Sparks Convention Center (Formerly Centennial Coliseum)

Dedicated: March 19, 1970; Relocated and rededicated November 2, 2002

Marker Significance: The marker was placed to memorialize the route of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, specifically where it ran from Reno to Carson City during its 78-year tenure.  In 1868, the Central Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad was nearing the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and would soon reach the Truckee Meadows at Lake's Crossing, the future site of Reno. A rail connection from Virginia City to the Central Pacific would drastically cut the cost of hauling freight to the booming mining town.  Thus, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company was incorporated, with a route running from Virginia City, north along Lousetown road to the present site of Lockwood, 10 miles east of Reno, where it would connect with the Central Pacific.

Factions in Storey and Ormsby counties paid $500,000 to run the railroad through Carson City and Washoe Valley to connect to the Central Pacific at Lake's Crossing.  Henry M. Yerington was appointed superintendent of the V & T. The timing was perfect. In May of 1868 the Central Pacific laid the transcontinental track into Lakes Crossing, 30 miles north of Carson City.

Grading of the V & T right-of-way began in February of 1869. On September 28, Superintendent Yerington drove a silver spike into the first rail. December saw the first train from Carson City reach Gold Hill. In January of 1870, the first official passenger train pulled into Virginia City.  The V & T route began in Virginia City, curved its way a half mile south to Gold Hill, across the famous Crown Point trestle, through more curves to American Flat, down to Moundhouse and through Brunswick Canyon into Carson City. The route made enough turns in the trip to go around in a circle seventeen times. The V & T easily earned its name as "The Crookedest Railroad in the World." The turns were tight, with many of them more than the standard 14 degrees. The sharpest turn was an unheard of 19 degrees leading into Gold Hill. The 16 mile trip took 21 miles of iron rails imported from England. Six tunnels were built on the main line, all timbered against loose rock and zinc-lined to prevent fires.

By 1873, the entire run was open, from Lakes Crossing to Virginia City.  In May of 1873, a huge body of high grade ore was discovered in Mackay and Fair's Consolidated Virginia Mine. The discovery was the largest ever on the Comstock and became known as "The Big Bonanza."  The V & T was getting rich, too, making four hundred thousand dollars a month hauling freight and passengers. In today's dollars, the V & T profit was nearly ten million dollars a month. Soon the busy V & T was operating 116 ore cars, two hundred platform cars, and 361 freight cars hauling as much as 40,000 tons of freight each month.

By 1874 the V & T had 18 locomotives in service and was running 40 trains a day. Feeder lines were built to Yerington's wood flume at the south of Kings Canyon near Carson City and to the lumberyards at Clear Creek Canyon. Thousands of cords of wood passed through the V & T every month. A typical Comstock mine could burn upward of 25 cords a day for the operation of their hoisting works and the huge Cornish water pumps needed to keep the mines free of water.  However, the V&T, like the mining boom, would not last forever.

Faced with competition from the trucking industry and the depletion of the rich Comstock ore, the V & T fought frantically to stay in business. In a last ditch effort to remain afloat, tracks were ran south to Minden from Carson City and in August of 1906 the V & T opened its lines to the agricultural and cattle freight from Douglas County, south of Carson City. In 1910, Superintendent Yerington and President/Owner Darius Ogden Mills, two stalwarts of the V & T, both died. The spirit of the V & T was nearly gone. Mills' grandson, Ogden Livingston Mills, took over the Railroad and personally picked up the deficit the train was generating. But competing against improved trucks and highways proved impossible. By 1917 the majority of the ore cars had been scrapped and many of the other cars sold. The Railroad continued to decline as the automobile and truck industry expanded.

In 1922, the United Comstock Mining Company built a large cyanide mill at American Flat that still stands today, and once again the V & T experienced a short rejuvenation. But the mines in Virginia City were played out and in 1924 the straight passenger service to Virginia City was down graded to mixed trains after 55 years of continuous service. In 1926, the American Flat Mill closed and left the V & T again running on the deep and generous pockets of its owner, Ogden Mills. In 1935, the Crown Point trestle in Gold Hill, the famous symbol of the Comstock, was torn down to mine the rich ore beneath. Soon after that, Ogden Mills, the generous owner and steadfast Railroad fan who had been supporting the V & T, died. The V & T was placed in receivership.

In 1937 there was a short spurt of money as Hollywood began buying old V & T rolling stock to use in the movies. But it wasn't enough. In 1938, the Board of Directors of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad announced its intention to close down the Railroad. They began selling off equipment as antiques. June 4, 1938 marked the last freight run to Virginia City. By then the trips to Virginia City were excursion trains for Railroad buffs to the Comstock Lode. In 1941 the tracks to Virginia City were finally removed.The V & T was barely surviving on the revenues it earned as a feeder line for the Central Pacific. By 1945, the V&T had only three working engines, and was a diminutive reflection of its once glorious self.  May 31, 1950 marked the official end of the V & T.

Some 22 years after the V&T disbanded, the Nevada DAR partnered with the Washoe County Fair and Recreation Board to commemorate its route through the Truckee Meadows.  The marker was placed along the right of way of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad on the grounds of the Centennial Coliseum in Reno to mark the location of the former Virginia and Truckee Railroad, 1872–1952.  The marker was dedicated on March 19, 1970 by the Nevada State Society and four chapters:  Francisco Garces, John C. Fremont, Nevada Sagebrush, and Toiyabe.  The Centennial Coliseum later became the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, and is located at 4590 South Virginia Street in Reno.

A renovation of the Center required the relocation of the marker in 2001. The marker was rededicated by State Regent Rose O’Grady on November 2, 2002.  Another renovation occurred during the summer of 2007; however, the marker was replaced in substantially the same location and mounting.

Directions: A renovation of the Center required the relocation of the marker in 2001.  The marker was placed near the west side entrances of the Reno-Sparks Convention Center near where the original V&T tracks ran through the coliseum grounds.

Web hyperlinks to non-DAR sites are not the responsibility of the NSDAR, the state organizations, or individual DAR chapters.