The Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which operated between 1869 and 1950, played an integral part in Nevada’s mining history.
While the best place to view Virginia & Truckee railroad equipment is at the State Railroad Museum in Carson City, it is possible to find other remnants of the historic rail line, which stretched between Reno and Virginia City.
For instance, at the north end of Washoe Valley it is still possible to uncover the remains of two train trestles, located about 12 miles south of Reno via U.S. 395.
Unlike present-day U.S. 395, which passes over a hill at the north end of Washoe Valley, the Virginia & Truckee route traveled through a narrow canyon that bridged Washoe Valley and Pleasant Valley, the next valley to the north.
The entrance to the canyon is near the community of Washoe City, of which not much remains.
About a quarter mile from U.S. 395, we headed into the canyon and found the first trestle. The thick vertical wooden beams still spanned a small seasonal creek and rested upon a sandstone and slate foundation. No rails or ties remained on the trestle, but we could see that the railroad bed continued north into the canyon.
The canyon itself was intriguing. The walls were pocked and rough like bad facial skin. Walking through the narrow passage, the only sound we heard was the wind, which at times seemed to mimic a train whistle.
Another 500 yards or so was a second trestle. This bridge was more complete than the other, boasting a handful of vertical beams and horizontal ties. Along the banks of the creek that snakes down the middle of the canyon we could still make out the intricate stonework of the foundations. The bed continued through the canyon but quickly became impassable. From here, however, we could see the remnants of several other bridges located deeper into the canyon.
Scattered about the canyon were a handful of loose rail ties. After the railroad ceased operating, most of the rails were removed and sold. In many places, the rail bed was difficult to follow because of the thick growth of sagebrush, weeds, and grass.
The original V & T began carrying freight, gold and silver ore and passengers in 1869. The railroad was built to service the fabulously rich Comstock mines, taking ore to distant refineries and mills.
The V & T’s route eventually stretched from Virginia City, through the winding Carson River corridor, to Carson City and north to Reno. Later, a spur line was added to Minden and Gardnerville.
By the 1870s and 1880s, the V & T became informally known as the richest railroad in the world because of the enormous mineral wealth it carried out of Virginia City.
By 1938, however, Virginia City had long ceased to produce a sufficient quantity or quality of ore and the V & T line was discontinued from Virginia City to Carson City. The tracks were removed the following year.
In 1950, the V & T made a last run from Carson City to Reno and the remaining tracks were removed.
Still, despite the neglect and ravages of time, there is something special about seeing the trestles and reliving, if only in your mind, the glory days of the railroad that was once the richest in the world.—Richard Moreno