"Hey, driver, does the trolley go inside the mines on this tour?"
"No," replies the driver, "We have an agreement with the mine tour operators: We don't drive the trolley inside their mines, and they don't dig tunnels under our trolley."
Operations Manager Carl Kuttel has just completed his 16th year with Virginia City Tours and has heard enough "quaint questions" to last a lifetime.
"That's what we're here for," Kuttel said. "To entertain and educate the thousands of passengers who ride the trolley and tram each year. We are, in essence, history on wheels.
"Most of the visitors to the Comstock are in town for only a few hours, leaving little time to learn about the enormous amount of history that took place here. We provide some of that history in the 20 minutes or so they spend with us on this tour. And yes, we do occasionally get those 'quaint questions.'"
Virginia City Tours made its first round trip on May 19, 1975, when owner and Reno resident Rod Van Epps started the tours at the north end of town next to the shooting gallery. In 1976, Paul Lundgren of Reno bought out Van Epps and moved the operation to the Delta parking lot in 1978, where it still operates.
At the time, the only piece of equipment the company owned was a 43-passenger tram pulled by a 1974 Ford three-cylinder diesel tractor. Dubbed "The Green Monster," the work horse has been the backbone of Virginia City Tours for 27 years -- and shows no sign of ever giving up.
Lundgren designed and helped build the first trolley in 1979, when it joined forces with the tram for year-round operations. The second trolley was purchased in 1997, and the third in 2000.
In 1982, Lee Mayfield came aboard to help Lundgren with the driving. It was a good working arrangement until Lundgren died suddenly in April 1983 at age 73. Mayfield found himself the lone driver that summer, until he talked an unemployed printer into a part-time driving job in August
The business has always been in the Lundgren family. When Paul Lundgren died, his widow, Lucy, continued the tours.
Mayfield, in addition to driving, became manager of the company's day-to-day operations, a position he held for several years in the 1980s. In 1987, Lucy Lundgren's son-in-law, Carl Kuttel, joined the company. Mayfield eventually cut back on his driving hours to allow time to pursue other interests. Kuttel became manager, and in 1996, hired Dayton resident Herb Griffith to help with driving.
The company operates under stringent guidelines set down by the Public Safety Commission. License, permits, insurance, taxes, payroll and maintenance take a big bite out of the revenues generated.
"Maintenance is a major overhead expense," Kuttel said. "The two large tires on the tractor alone cost about $1,000. Keeping this equipment in the best possible condition is a top priority with this company for the safety of our passengers and to eliminate breakdowns during our tours."
This winter, the tractor will get some TLC at the Virginia City Station, where owner and mechanic Bob Reutzel will get it ready to begin its 28th season in the spring.
More than just history on wheels, the company and its drivers are goodwill ambassadors for the Comstock. But if you take the tour, it's recommended that you keep the "quaint questions" to a minimum.
Editor's note: Chic Di Francia, of Virginia City, was the unemployed printer and has many fond memories about the company he was employed with for five years.