Lawmakers fund restoration of historic V&T motor car |

Lawmakers fund restoration of historic V&T motor car

Virginia & Truckee Mkeen Motor Car No. 22

The effort to restore the historic McKeen Car, which hauled passengers on the V&T tracks between Reno and Minden, has been given $70,000 by the Legislature’s Interim Finance Committee.

The money was originally appropriated to purchase Locomotive No. 1251, but State Railroad Museum director Peter Barton said they ran into problems in attempting to buy that locomotive, and it doesn’t appear they will be able to work out a purchase agreement in the near future.

But he told lawmakers the McKeen Car needs work now. It was donated to the state with the condition that it be restored by 2001. The Department of Cultural Affairs has been contacted several times by the donor’s lawyers, reminding the state of that promise, “including suggestions that the car would have to be returned to the donor if the conditions are not met.” The donor recently advised the state he won’t wait any longer.

“The state has a considerable investment in this car, and allowing it to revert to the donor would prove to be a substantial loss,” Barton advised the committee.

The McKeen is a 73-foot long motorized car – effectively a bus on rails – purchased for $22,000. Powered by a gasoline engine, it hauled passengers, mail and light freight on the V&T line from June 1910 until it was sold in 1945, covering a total of more than a half-million miles.

It will be restored as it was originally delivered, with seats for 84 passengers – 24 of them in a special smoking section.

Barton said the McKeen was a precursor of the transition from steam- to petroleum-powered mass transportation. He described it as the early 20th century equivalent of the PRIDE buses ,which now carry passengers between Reno, Carson City and Minden.

McKeen Car No. 70 was recently added to the state historical register. Barton said the museum has already put more than $40,000 and thousands of man-hours into its restoration.

The $70,000 approved Thursday, he said, “will take us closer to the finish line, but won’t get us all the way there.” He estimated restorers will need another $40,000 to complete the project.

“We’re hoping these funds will help us leverage what it’s going to take to get us to the finish line,” he said.

The money approved, he said, will probably go into buying a diesel engine, transmission and other parts to connect power to the wheels.

“That’s a total re-engineering effort,” he said. “Current life-safety standards wouldn’t allow us to operate it with the public if it were in original configuration.”

Another major project, he said, is painting the car.

He said work will begin in the next month or two and, when completed, the McKeen Car will carry tours and student groups on tracks at the railroad museum. Barton said it’s much more practical for that duty than are the museum’s steam locomotives.

“You don’t have to sit and look at it for four hours to build up a head of steam. You just start the engine, and in about 10 minutes, it’s ready to go.”

The McKeen’s permanent home will probably be next to the Inyo, a steam locomotive of the same design and age as the original V&T locomotives.

— Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.