Rail symposium a hit with off-site event

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The Nevada State Railroad Museum was swarming with rail fans by 8:15 Sunday morning as participants in the 2002 V&T Symposium prepared for a walking tour of sites above Lake Tahoe's Glenbrook.

"This year we made a point of including more off-site, auxillary-type options for people," said John Ballweber, director of the museum.

Sunday's hike, the final event for this year's symposium, followed the old Carson & Tahoe Lumber & Fluming grade from Highway 28 over to the ridge above Skunk Harbor and then down into Pray Meadows. Participants were provided with a binder holding historical photos of the area as well as color maps and a written history of the site.

Dan Thielman, who led the hike, described how Duane L. Bliss had lumber for the Comstock mines towed across the lake to Glenbrook, then loaded onto railcars for the trip to Spooner Summit. At a point above Skunk Harbor known to rail fans as the switchback, the trains went out onto a "probably fairly terrifying" trestle 100 feet off the ground before switching back and heading on up to Spooner. From there logs were flumed down to Carson lumber yards.

"There were two flumes," explained Bill Redmond, who is building a home in Carson. "One was for firewood -- in 24-inch lengths; the other was for cut wood lumber from 4 to 6 feet."

George Baumgartner, curator of natural history at the Nevada State Museum, came along on the hike to act as naturalist. He pointed to manzanita shrubs and bitter brush along the rail grade.

"We wanted him to come along and provide some context because railroads don't operate in a vacuum," said Ballweber.

Redmond and another symposium participant, John Friend, got excited about matching up rocks in an 1877 photograph by Carlton Watkins with the same spot during the hike.

"That rock there is this one here and that little cluster up there is right here," explained Redmond while pointing at the old picture.

Friend noticed how much of the timber was missing from the photograph.

"They totally denuded it," he said.

"That's why they were here -- they didn't just come up for the scenery," said John Inglewood.

The keynote speaker for the symposium, California State Archivist Walter Gray, noted the importance of old photographs in his address on Saturday night at the Nugget.

"The thrust of the talk was about what we are preserving and how we will preserve it," he said. He described the shift from paper documents like photos and engineering drawings to electronic data preservation.

"Imagine finding an old box of floppy disks in 50 years," he said. "We're facing an interesting problem."

The event attracted folks from out of state like Gene Prentice from Arizona and Barney Barnier from North Carolina.

"If I can afford it I'll definitely be back next year," said Prentice.

Although most of the symposium participants appeared to be older men, Gray thought there would be a continued interest in trains.

"Look at Thomas the Tank Engine," he said, referring to the children's book character and toy. "You've got kids hugging a blue locomotive with a face. Something's happening there."

The symposium has been an annual occurrence for over 20 years although there was no symposium last year for a number of reasons, according to Ballweber.

"We did not lose any participants as a result of not doing it last year, he said. "It was a tremendous success."

Dates are already set for next year's Carson & Colorado-themed symposium: Oct. 17, 18 and 19.


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