Alfie Reiff and Bill Avansino decided to take one last trip down the dual state roads that lead from Virginia City to Silver City before their shift ended early Monday morning.
It had rained hard over the weekend, so at 3:15 a.m. the two Nevada Department of Transportation snowplow drivers drove down State Route 342 through Gold Hill and State Route 341, the truck route to the Comstock, checking for any more problems.
Reiff headed down 342 and Avansino took the truck route, with the plan that each would drive back up the opposite route and head for the NDOT equipment yard.
About a half-mile north of Silver City, Reiff glanced out his side window and noticed a hole in the northbound lane, about 25 feet in diameter and 15 feet deep.
"I almost drove right into it," he said. "Thank God the pavement didn't give way. I already drove past the hole before I realized it was there, because it was dark out, and it's hard to see in all that rain."
Reiff contacted Avansino by radio and the two blocked both lanes of the road with their snowplows and called their boss at NDOT.
"We told them we weren't going to budge," Avansino said. "Because, God, if someone fell in that, there would have been a real liability."
Highway 342 was immediately closed. and NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder says it probably will remain closed until Thursday or Friday. Though Silver City residents are able to get to their homes, traffic to Virginia City has been detoured to 341, the truck route, until the repairs are made.
He said a contractor would be named as soon as possible. "We want to make sure it is secure enough that it's not going to go down more," he said.
Magruder said the saturation caused the pavement to give way into an old mine shaft. The brick infrastructure of the long-closed mine is visible in the hole, which has increased in size since it was first detected, to about 30 feet in diameter and 25 feet deep.
He added that the problem of sinkholes, while not common, is not unheard of in the old mining district, and has happened on that stretch of the road before.
"You get these sinkholes up there," he said. "This is the second one right in that same area in about six years."
Bill Fain, owner of the Gold Hill Hotel and Saloon in Gold Hill, said if it had to happen, he was glad it didn't happen on New Year's Eve.
"We had a great party for New Year's Eve," he said. "This time of the year, particularly with the snow, we don't get much business to hurt."
Fain said that although the hotel and bar were open, the kitchen and dining room were closed until Saturday for cleaning and painting.
"People can come up the truck route and then come back down to Gold Hill," Fain said. "Geiger Grade to Reno is open and the truck route is open, so we're not completely cut off."
Scott Jolcover, general manager for Plum Mining in Gold Hill said the hole was not a major problem. "Just the same inconvenience everybody else has; our employees have to go up the truck route and then come back down," he said. "We've offered whatever help and cooperation we can give to the Department of Transportation."
Magruder said he was happy no vehicles fell into the hole.
"The good news is nobody was hurt," Magruder said. "That is the big news. It could definitely fit a whole snowplow in there."
n Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111, ext. 351.