When the hills are too much, take the stage
August 9, 2008
When he moved to his home on Union Street in Virginia City seven years ago, Grant Smith knew something had to be done.
“When I walked up Union Street, when I got to C Street, I practically needed the paramedics,” he said. “So I figured there must be other people up here that can’t walk these hills.”
So Smith, 61, started a service called “The Buck Stops Here” stage, which ferries visitors and residents alike to and from the cemetery, hotels, RV park, V&T train station and other off-the-main-drag venues.
He had “The Buck Stops Here” specially ordered, an eight-seat gas-powered golf cart with 111Ú2 horsepower than can make it up the steep hills of the historic mining town.
So far, the service has attracted mostly tourists.
“I get a few locals, but mostly visitors,” he said. “I meet the train every time it comes in and the Ramada calls me on weekends when they’re busy.”
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He gets started at about 11 a.m., earlier if someone calls, and runs until no one calls anymore.
“I’ve run to 10:30 at night before,” he said. “I was super busy on the Fourth of July.”
He always waits at the train, but said people could just flag him down if they see an empty seat.
“I also have my cards all over, and people call for me to pick them up,” he said.
Virginia City’s bar patrons have found The Buck Stops Here to be a money-saver and lifesaver, which benefits Smith as well.
“People who drink too much give nice tips,” he said. “I’ll get out of bed and go get them. It’s better than a DUI.”
He said he was looking forward to Aug. 23, when Union Brewery owner Jett Aguilar hosts her annual birthday bash. She asked him to be available to drive her guests home.
There is no charge for the service, just a tip bucket, which Smith said works just fine.
He said he would need a Nevada Transportation Authority license to charge a certain price. He plans to get the license, but will keep driving for tips.
“Sometimes I make money, and sometimes I don’t,” he said. “If it’s a cool day, you don’t get riders. People would just as soon walk. I make a lot of money when it’s real hot.”
Grant, a retired farm chemical salesman from California, said he doesn’t do it for the money, though the tips help cover his expenses.
“I meet a lot of different people,” he said. “A lot of people from Germany and England and the Netherlands. They are over here because their money is worth more than our money, so it’s cheap for them to come here. But how these people in Europe find Virginia City, I’ll never know.”
There are more businesses off C Street than there used to be, and he said they all have his cards. In addition to the RV Park, Gold Hill Hotel, Ramada Inn and V&T Railroad, there is the Chollar Mine on F Street and the new Comstock Gold Mill and stagecoach across from the V&T depot. Nowhere in Gold Hill or Virginia City is too far, though Smith won’t go to Silver City or other communities.
“They’re too far,” he said. “But I’ll go anywhere all over town. I’ll take people to the Chollar Mine and when they get done with their tour, they call me and I come back and pick them up. It’s a long walk to the Chollar Mine.”
He also will take folks to the Silver Terrace cemeteries, also a long walk from the main business district, and swing back to see if they’re done looking around so he can bring them back to C Street.
More and more, folks are calling him for rides.
“Almost everyone has a cell phone,” he said. “When they get off the train, I ask them where do they want to go, and everyone wants to go to the Bucket of Blood. I also get a lot who want to go to the Virginia City Jerky Company and eat barbecue.”
He has also been a benefit to the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority, shutting travel professionals around town on one of the many familiarization tours the organization arranges.
Smith said he will run his stage in the winter as well, adding tire chains when it snows and getting an enclosure so it is warmer.
“I plan on running it as much as I can,” he said. “It’s just fun. It’s fun talking to people.”
The stage is a hit with his friends too, he said, because he can grab seven friends and go to dinner.
“That way I can drive and they can drink,” he said. “I don’t drink anymore.”
He plans to run The Buck Stops Here until he’s too old, he said.
“I just have fun, I need something to do,” he said. “If you just sit around, you just die.”
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal or call 881-7351.