How the railroads built Nevada |

How the railroads built Nevada

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer

Just after the turn of the last century, the railroads began expanding through the Silver State, bringing with them the foundation for what would become Nevada’s largest cities.

Next week, the tumultuous first decade of the 20th century will be the focus of the 35th annual Railroad History Symposium at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

The event brings railroad enthusiasts from across the country and the world to Carson City for the latest information about the railways of the past.

“Nevada railroads and mining are topics known nationwide and internationally,” said Frank Ackerman, museum curator of education. “This year we have registrants from Massachusetts and Maryland. In past years, we’ve had people come from Sweden.”

The four-day symposium will focus on the 1900-1910 era and the impact of the railroads on growth.

The boom started in 1904 with the Southern Pacific literally moving operations, including buildings and offices, to a small outpost east of Reno. The move would sustain the town of Sparks and eventually cause the creation of an electric streetcar system between the city and Reno.

Then in 1905 the Union Pacific began building in Southern Nevada.

“They built through Lincoln County and held a townsite auction to establish a city in a little place nobody had heard of,” Ackerman said. “A little city called Las Vegas.”

One of the two big proponents of the railroad was Sen. William Andrews Clark of Montana. Clark County is now named after him.

Exactly 100 years ago, the Northern Nevada Railway built lines into the city of Ely to improve transportation to and from the copper mines. That same year the Virginia and Truckee Railway expanded into Minden.

The symposium kicks off Thursday night with a photography session featuring V&T locomotive No. 25 and TC&GB self-propelled passenger car No. 401.

Friday and Saturday include scheduled presentations on the various railroads and their impact during the decade, including a session on the Sierra Valleys Railway in northeastern California by Larry Meeker on Saturday.

“With that program, we have newly discovered information from a family archive of photos,” Ackerman said. “This symposium is a major outreach program for our education department and a chance to provide new information.”

The program concludes Sunday with a tour of the museum’s restoration shop and a ride on the steam train.

Registration fees are $50. Fees cover Friday and Saturday sessions and a Friday night reception at the Railroad Museum. The Sunday session has already filled up. The night photography session on Thursday is an additional $40. The Saturday night banquet is $35 for Friends of the Nevada State Railroad Museum members and $45 for non-members.

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at or 881-1217.

If you go

What: 35th annual Railroad History Symposium

When: Thursday through Sunday

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

Cost: Pre-registration required. Registration fees are $50 and cover Friday’s and Saturday’s sessions. Saturday night banquet is $35 for Friends of the Nevada State Railroad Museum members and $45 for nonmembers. The Thursday session is an additional $40

to register: Call the museum at 687-4942 or go online at