A crowd of people stood at the end of the line in Gold Hill on Wednesday afternoon and strained to hear speeches from officials and dignitaries celebrating the groundbreaking for the Virginia & Truckee Railroad reconstruction project.
To their left, a hulking diesel locomotive thumped steadily. To their right, an earth-mover high on a hill overlooking the Overman Pit churned through a mound of dirt.
Eventually, somebody signaled the guy running the earth-mover to stop what he was doing so the crowd could hear better.
But I'm betting that, for most of those folks standing alongside the tracks, it was the sound of the earth-mover they most wanted to hear.
It's been a long struggle for people like Ron Allen and Janice Ayres and John Flanagan and a host of others. I could probably list all of the 120 or so people who were at Wednesday's ceremony and still miss quite a few who put a lot of time and effort into reaching that day.
"The V&T is finally back on track," said Jeff Fontaine, director of the Nevada Department of Transportation.
I hope you know the history of this famous railroad and understand why so many people have labored so long to find a way for it to make the trip from Virginia City to Carson City again.
The V&T's place in history is secure. What's not so certain is its future.
The key to tourism for Carson City and Virginia City is their history. We're not Las Vegas. We're not Lake Tahoe or Reno, either. But there are reasons - museums, historical sites - for people to want to visit.
A ride on the V&T would move to the top of that list. People who aren't train buffs may not comprehend the passion and devotion of rail fanatics. They would come from all over the world. They would come year after year.
A feasibility study on the economics of V&T restoration is 10 years old now. It's the basis for the estimates of $34 million in benefits to the region during construction, and $11 million a year when the train that hauled millions of dollars of ore begins carrying tourists.
Are the numbers realistic?
The railroad will cost some $30 million to reconstruct the rest of the way from Gold Hill to the east end of Carson City. A good portion of that will be tax money, but volunteers and donations have played a big part in keeping the project alive for the past dozen years. Once the train is running, $1 from each ticket sold would go toward repaying the investment.
Storey County residents already pay a quarter-cent sales tax to boost the V&T. The Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau uses room-tax dollars to support it. And Carson City residents will likely soon begin paying an eighth-cent sales tax for it, which Mayor Marv Teixeira figures amounts to about 75 cents a month each.
I think the numbers are reasonably close to the amount of business the V&T can generate. There are some assumptions being made, of course.
The study says a reasonable number of riders to expect once the train gets established is 160,000 a year. That would be on par with other visitor attractions - less than the Nevada State Museum gets, about as many as the excursion boats at Lake Tahoe get in a year.
To reach that figure would require roughly 650 riders a day over the course of 250 days of the year. My dear departed colleague, Alan Rogers, used to argue the 160,000 figure was not possible. He liked the idea of the V&T reconstruction, he just thought the picture being painted was too rosy.
First, Alan would throw out the winter months - just too cold and snowy for people to want to ride a train. He thought 250 days a year was stretching it. Then he figured four passenger cars of 50 people each could make two round trips to Virginia City a day. That comes out to 400 passengers a day. At that rate, the total is closer to 100,000 people a year.
But I think that was the pessimistic view, and I used to argue as much with Alan.
Round-trips to Virginia City wouldn't be the only rides available on the train. People could still take the short ride between Virginia City and Gold Hill. There could be a depot at Mound House for half-trips from either direction, too.
Besides, even if the V&T generates only 100,000 trips a year - which is a reasonable figure, I think, in the early years of operation - that's a significant impact on Carson City's and Virginia City's tourism industry.
Neither of them averages much more than 500,000 visitors a year now. An investment that could boost customers by 20 percent, maybe 25 percent eventually, would be a wise move for any business.
The V&T project isn't all about numbers, of course. I think it's worth doing for the historical value alone. But it should make sense economically, as well, and I think it does.
n Barry Smith is editor of the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1221.