Railroad buffs enjoy the steam at 36th annual symposium | NevadaAppeal.com

Railroad buffs enjoy the steam at 36th annual symposium

More than 200 of what Nevada State Railroad Museum program coordinator John Frink calls “foamers” gathered this weekend to indulge themselves.

Frink said he calls historic rail enthusiasts that because whenever they see an old steam engine, “they start foaming at the mouth.”

It’s the 36th year the railroad symposium has been held. It was started in the 1960s by a group of old train lovers in Southern California – some of whom had experience with steam locomotives in the Hollywood movie industry.

It moved to the Nevada State Railroad Museum near the capital’s southern border some years later, and has been held there since the museum was built in the early 1990s.

One of the most regular attendees, Chuck Dargan Jr., of Las Vegas, said his father instilled a love of railroads in him as a child when they would go to the railyards every weekend.

“Doesn’t everybody on Saturday go to the rail station and help unload the freight?” he joked.

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He said the reward for all that effort was a ride on the engine.

Dargan said he not only loves the historic trains, but believes they have a future in modern cities. As a member of the Regional Transportation Commission Citizens Advisory Committee in Las Vegas, he lobbies for light rail as one solution to traffic problems in Southern Nevada. He said that could be a big help as Community College of Southern Nevada expands into Henderson. “I always argue for the trains,” he said.

John Williams, of Reno, said he’s loved trains since he was a child, too. He said he didn’t appreciate it as much as he should have, but his father took him for a ride on the Virginia & Truckee’s last run before it shut down in 1938. He was 11.

While many of the attendees had to leave Saturday night or Sunday morning, the museum’s curator of education, Frank Ackerman, took the die-hards on a Sunday tour of the historic V&T route north out of Carson City to Reno.

Then, he said, the bus traced the routes of the V&T, Southern Pacific and other railroads through the Reno area – along with the light-rail streetcar routes on East Fourth, Holcomb and other streets through the town.

Finding all those routes, he admitted, took quite a bit of research. The symposium this year was titled “The V&T and Beyond,” and ran from Thursday night through the Sunday bus tour. Presentations included the origin and construction of the Western Pacific Railroad, the Pacific Fruit Express and progress on the V&T restoration project, which will eventually reconstruct the historic railroad route between Virginia City and Carson City.

They also got to ride on historic engine No. 25. Museum volunteer Mark Owens said the only problem they had was an understandable bit of difficulty getting the locomotive fired up on a cold Sunday morning.

“The old engine did not want to go this morning,” he said. “But she’s only 101 years old.”

Once running, No. 25 carried not only the rail buffs who came from as far as Sweden to attend, but several hundred area families who brought children to ride on the steam-powered engine.

Volunteer Geoff Brunner of Gardnerville said most of attendees came from California, but, in addition to the guest from Sweden, there were railroad buffs from Maryland, Missouri and Connecticut, among other states.

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.