Riding the Rails to Virginia City, Nevada
Our latest Nevada adventure started in the northern city of Reno. From there we headed for the Wild-West town of Virginia City on the historic V&T “Queen of the Shortlines” Railroad. What a hoot.
An early call
After a delicious dinner and a good night’s rest at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino in downtown Reno, we headed south to nearby Carson City to pick up a ride to Virginia City on the V&T Railroad.
The history of the V&T
Originally incorporated in 1868 the Virginia and Truckee Railroad provided early gold and silver miners with the means to get their ore to the mills, and lumber and wood back to the mines.
In its heyday in the 1870s, the V&T was paying its stockholders rich dividends of $100,000 per month. Being the richest short-haul railroad in the country, she became known as the “Queen of the Shortlines.”
In 1922, Nevada constructed what is now US Highway 395. The new highway ran parallel to the railway. Drivable roads and the emergence of the trucking industry signaled the end of the boom times for the small railroad. By 1950, the proud V&T was selling off property, structures, and equipment to pay debtors.
For a generation, the once thriving Virginia & Truckee was all but forgotten. Then in 1975, a renewed interest led to her rebirth and in 1976 steam once again rolled from an “iron horse” running the rails between Virginia City and Gold Hill – a distance of six miles.
It took many years, millions of dollars, and the involvement of local, state and federal governments to extend the short line to Carson City, a distance of 14-miles. The result was well worth the effort.
The V&T is a piece of history that is important to the settling of the West and development of America. Now everyone can experience the thrill of sitting behind a genuine steam locomotive as it labors to pull a string of vintage coach cars across the desert to and from Virginia City.
A ride through olden times
There are many reminders that you are in mining country as you ride along the V&T rail route. Abandoned equipment and mining sites pockmark the broad and barren landscape as far as the eye can see.
The local mountains are also home to herds of wild mustangs made famous in the Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable 1961 movie the “Misfits.”
A ride on the V&T is the best way to chug back 150 years to a time when Virginia City was one of the wildest and richest towns in America.
The Comstock Lode
Discovered in 1859, the Comstock Lode created the boomtown of Virginia City and a mecca for fortune seekers. The silver and gold rush lasted some 20 years and created so many millionaires that the city was referred to as the “Richest place on earth.” In the 1870s, it actually rivaled the population of San Francisco.
The famous reporter for the Territorial Enterprise
Virginia City is also at least partly responsible for nurturing a cherished American author. In the 1860s, he worked for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper. He started in Virginia City as a little known reporter named Samuel Clemens and wrote his way into our hearts and our history as author Mark Twain.
End of the line
The V&T Carson City to Virginia City line terminates just inside the southern boundaries of Virginia City at “F” Street.
Getting to town
It’s a short three-block walk, or if you prefer, there’s a trolley shuttle or you might like to arrange for a full size horse-drawn stagecoach to provide a bumpy ride directly to the weathered wooden sidewalks of downtown “C” street in the old west town.
Virginia City is only about 30 square blocks in size, but chock-full of interesting stores, saloons and casinos – and several good restaurants. There are no fast food restaurants in Virginia City – just wouldn’t look right.
Like in the dime store novels
Step down from the coach and the first thing you will notice is that there are cowboys with sixguns everywhere. Some are worn by docents outfitted like Wyatt Earp, Bill Cody, and even a somewhat out of place Davy Crockett – coonskin cap and all.
On the main drag of “C” street, you will frequently find a tired old pack mule being led by a grizzled gold prospector in denim overalls. The kids just love ‘em both.
The streets are full of interesting wild-west characters and activities (our next article will be about the famous Virginia City Camel Races), and everyone is having fun. We recommend you take the entire family to enjoy Virginia City and a ride on the old V&T RR. You will not be disappointed.
If you go
For information and days of operation of the V&T RR from the Carson City depot to Virginia City, look at their website at http://virginiatruckee.com or call 775.847.0380
For information about Virginia City check with the tourism office at http://virginiacitynv.org
For information about Nevada activities in general, check with their excellent Commission of Tourism at http://travelnevada.com
On our return trip to Carson City, we overnighted at the new Hampton Inn and Suites Carson City. It is remarkable what this Inn offers over other higher-priced accommodations in the area. They have a AAA triple diamond rating. We were very impressed. Unfortunately, their website pictures do not do the property justice. http://carsoncitysuites.hamptoninn.com
You might also be interested in some of the writers’ other articles about Nevada. Click on each title to read the article.
© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff
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