This is the next in a series of columns on the effort to restore the historic Virginia & Truckee Railroad from Gold Hill to Carson City.
"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly ..."
- Thomas Paine
Although I suspect that Mr. Paine, given the tenor of his times and the object of his desires, was referring to American independence, his admonition is equally applicable to volunteers whose selfless dedication is often never fully appreciated because it is given without remuneration.
In light of this, it occurred to me that one of the Northern Nevada Railway Foundation's earliest and most contributory members has never been profiled in this column. It is a pleasure and a privilege to rectify this oversight.
Mike Rowe, a member of the Northern Nevada Railway Foundation Board of Trustees and legal counsel to the Tricounty Railway Commission, was born and raised in Reno. In the mid-1970s, following his graduation from UNR and Georgetown University Law Center, Mike clerked for Chief Justice Gordon Thompson at the Nevada Supreme Court.
After a three-year stint as Assistant City Attorney in Reno, Mike was elected District Attorney of Douglas County, a position he held until leaving public life and establishing a private practice in Minden in 1983. In addition to his private sector clients, Mike currently represents the Town of Gardnerville and the Gardnerville Ranchos General Improvement District.
Like many of us who wish to be good, community-minded citizens, Mike participates in a variety of civic activities, some that are family-oriented and others that have a professional focus. In addition to his altruistic involvements, Mike occasionally finds time for a little self-indulgence. As a member of several national organizations devoted to the restoration, preservation, or modeling of our country's railway heritage and equipment, Mike expresses a fascination with trains that was inculcated in him at a very early age.
In 1994, when responding to a request for proposal from the Tricounty Railway Commission, Mike conceded that his response was "colored by two personal principles." The first and foremost was his devotion to the Virginia & Truckee Railroad since the days when Lucias Bebee and Charles Clegg were patients of his father's and the second was his belief that the staff and members of the Commission were "devoted individuals committed to serving the public."
When asked to elaborate on his father's relationship with Beebe and Clegg, two of the V&T's most flamboyant promoters, Mike reminisces with ease. In addition to being the first board certified internist in northern Nevada and responsible for establishing the cardiac care unit at Washoe Medical Center, Mike's father, as Beebe and Clegg's physician, formed a close personal friendship with both men.
"I can remember, as a kid, having dinner with them in Virginia City," Mike recalls. Equally memorable were the autographed copies of their books that they presented to his father upon publication.
Mike's early involvement with the V&T was not always as a passive observer. He relates, with an awkward mixture of pride and embarrassment, the details of his involvement with the Nevada Heritage Commission which was established by the Nevada State Legislature sometime in the late 1960s. As predecessor to the Nevada State Railroad Museum, this early commission was created for the expressed purpose of preserving V&T Railroad equipment.
Under the auspices of the Commission, Mike and a group of his classmates from UNR laid several miles of track in the Mound House area along the path of the original right-of-way. Unfortunately, their extracurricular activities also involved unearthing the rails that were buried under Highway 50 East without permission from the Nevada Department of Transportation. I'm told that, to this very day, NDOT official regard Mike with a bit of a jaundiced eye.
Following their track laying escapades, Mike and his classmates moved V&T Engine 27 from the Carson City Airport to a location in Mound House close to the reconstructed tracks. Although Mike describes the activities of the Nevada Heritage Commission as somewhat "abortive," it is apparent that his involvement with these early attempts at reconstruction have led to his present involvement with the newest effort to re-establish the V&T.
In his 1994 letter to the Tricounty Railway Commission, he confesses that he once considered the goal of the Commission to be "impossible to attain." Today, I believe he would tell you, with equal candor, that he is more than cautiously optimistic about the prospects of reviving the V&T.