Deciding between two locomotives to display

Historical accuracy, or sentiment?

That's the choice facing Virginia City officials, residents and Virginia & Truckee Railroad enthusiasts when a proposal for a locomotive display at the new Comstock History Center is presented at the Storey County Commission meeting at 2 p.m. Monday.

Instead of displaying Engine No. 27 at the facility as originally planned, the Department of Cultural Affairs will propose that Engine No. 18, the Dayton, an 1870s-era locomotive that served Virginia City, be considered.

State Historic Preservation Officer Ron James said Nevada State Railroad Museum staff suggested the switch, because, unlike Engine 27, the Dayton actually went to Virginia City during its heyday.

"Engine 27 has a certain amount of sentimental attraction because it was displayed in Virginia City for 22 years," James said. "But it never went to Virginia City."

The department is seeking comment on the possible engine switch from the commissioners and the public before making a decision.

"I honestly believe it's trading up," James said. "The Dayton is a glamor queen, a beautiful engine with brass and wood and shiny steel, and it's absolutely gorgeous."

In 1971, V&T Engine No. 27 was put on display in Virginia City. In 1993, the engine was transferred to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City for restoration with the understanding that it would be displayed at a state facility as soon as possible.

James thinks that the Dayton would be a better attraction.

"It's been in movies and is an extremely good-looking engine that happens to be appropriate to the Bonanza period of Virginia City."

Tom Gray, whose family owns the Virginia & Truckee Railroad that runs from Virginia City to Gold Hill, said he would be happy with either engine.

"The difference is the No. 27 can be made into an operable engine, and it's a lot more difficult to make the Dayton operable," he said. "The Dayton is a more attractive locomotive, and that time period is a more fascinating period."

The Dayton was built at the Central Pacific Engine Works in Sacramento and first ran on the V&T line in 1873, traveling regularly to Virginia City. James calls it a "classic" 19th century locomotive with a balloon stack and lots of brass, wood, steel and colorful paint. Engine No. 27 was built in 1905 to run on the V&T line connecting Carson Valley and Carson City to the Transcontinental Railroad in Reno.

Joe Curtis, owner of the Mark Twain Bookstore and Museum, was enthusiastic about having the Dayton engine on the Comstock.

"I think it's a wonderful idea," he said. "The Dayton is beautiful. The tourism impact would be much greater. It's a cooler engine."

The engine that is chosen will be on display at the new history center being built in the old V&T Railroad yard, which was designed to include elements of a V&T car shed. The building will house the locomotive. The move is expected to take place on Aug. 25. The building is expected to be completed Aug. 27.

n Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 881-1274.

If you go

What: Choosing which locomotive to display in the new Comstock History Center, Engine 27 or Engine 18, the Dayton.

When: 2 p.m. Monday

Where: Storey County Courthouse, B Street, Virginia City.


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