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Chinese rail workers museum planned for Carson City

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

Historical reference to the Chinese workers who labored on the 1869 Virginia & Truckee Railroad in 1869 is slim. They graded the railroad up to the Comstock Lode – receiving little recognition.

On March 23, the work of these immigrants will be honored during a public ceremony at the Nevada State Railroad Museum, which will feature the Chinese ambassador to the United States. Plans will be unveiled for a museum devoted to Nevada’s Chinese workers.

V&T Commissioner Janice Ayres said Thursday that the labor-intensive work of the Chinese on the Comstock track deserves recognition. Their story will live again, just as the V&T will run again.

Project officials plan to put the Chinese Workers Museum at the V&T depot, which will be built in east Carson City, off Drako Way and Highway 50 East. The V&T commission recently purchased land in that area for the depot.

“This will bind our two nations together,” Ayres said.

The $40 million V&T Railway is expected to carry tourists between Virginia City and Carson City by 2010. It’s funded by private and public monies, including an eighth-cent sales tax increase starting next month in Carson City. A state commission is in charge of the reconstruction and has so far completed 1.8 miles of track in Gold Hill.

Ambassador Peng Keyu, consul general of the People’s Republic of China, is expected to speak at the event. He and Vice Consul Huan Wang will tour Virginia City. They will end the evening with a VIP dinner in Reno.

Museum architectural plans will be on display at the Carson City event. The museum committee had planned to build it along the Truckee River in Reno. Ayres said the historical relevance was a component in the decision to move the museum to Carson City.

Khan Tung, of Hannafin/Darney Architects, said Thursday that the $6 million cost of land along the Truckee was a significant factor.

“We have a state and a community that has the contribution of the Chinese people in the birth of its statehood,” Tung said. “Acknowledging this kind of historical significance can only bridge the relationship and friendship of the People’s Republic of China and the U.S.”

Though the commission has discussed the overall layout and interior components of the depot, decisions were put on hold until a rail operator could be included. The commission recently began the search for a qualified rail operator. That company would then contribute to the design of the multi-million dollar depot.

A local developer announced plans for a possible 153-acre project molded to fit the railroad depot, including a casino, museum and shops. Andy Hettrick, project manager for RIDL Ltd., is buying land adjacent to the commission’s Drako Way property.

State Archivist Guy Rocha said that in the last 30 years the Chinese workers have gotten some attention. The workers are mentioned in David Myrick’s “Railroad of Nevada.”

“They were allowed to build through Carson City and Lyon County, but once the line approached the Comstock they were laid off,” he said. “The Virginia City and Gold Hill miners unions said the Chinese were a threat to them because when they were done building the railroad they would get jobs with the mines and that would undercut the union workers.”

Ayres said the V&T event is an attempt to build a relationship with the Chinese government. Nevada already has a tourism office in Beijing.

“We’re saying thank you to those workers,” she said. “It must have been hard to do all that. It’s hard now.”

China is widely considered to have the fastest growing economy in the world. It became the world’s biggest producer of steel, cement, aluminum and copper in 2004.

The 2005 Index of Economic Freedom ranked the People’s Republic in the bottom 40 of 155 nations evaluated. It calls the country of $1.3 billion “mostly unfree” for a high level of protectionism in trade policy and high tax rates.

— Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.

Chinese Connection event

When: 2-4 p.m. March 23

Where: Nevada State Railroad Museum, 2180 S. Carson St.

Cost: free

Featuring: On display will be renderings of the planned Chinese Workers Museum at the future Carson City V&T Depot; speeches by Gov. Kenny Guinn, Ambassador Peng Keyu, V&T commission Chairman Bob Hadfield and Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira. Award presentation to state Sen. Bill Raggio, R-Reno. Appetizers and wine, donated by the Atlantis resort, will be served.

Information: Call Janice Ayres at 687-4680, ext. 2.