Dennis Cassinelli: How much do you know about Carson City’s V&T shops?
November 23, 2017
When the V&T Railroad reached Virginia City from Carson City in 1869, the owners built the original engine house and repair shops for the railroad in a small building at the southern end of Virginia City. By 1872, business had outgrown the small shops and a new, larger site was selected to relocate the facility to the state capital in Carson City. The site selected was a full city block on level ground at the north end of town near the existing train depot on Washington Street. By February 1874, the new shops were in full operation.
The shops were constructed of the same sandstone material from the prison quarry that the State Capitol and the Carson City branch of the United States Mint were built. Abraham Curry, one of the city founders, directed construction of the shops and probably had much to do with design of the structure. There is no record of any architect for the building. It was an impressive horseshoe shaped building approximately 200 by 300 feet. On the east end, there were 11 stone arch doors where the locomotives and railroad cars could be brought in for repairs or maintenance.
The building housed a machine shop, iron foundry, fabrication shop, paint shop and other amenities. It was considered one of the best equipped shops in the western United States. In addition to fabricating material for the V&T and Carson and Colorado railroads, the shops were used to construct industrial and decorative material for many other customers. Church bells, flagpoles, structural iron and mining equipment were routinely made at the facility.
In 1874, the V&T line was extended west on Washington Street, then north to complete the line to Reno connecting with the Central Pacific at the Truckee River. (Hence the name Virginia and Truckee). Later, the line to Minden and Gardnerville was extended to the south. The V&T shops were then centrally located to serve the needs of all these railroad lines. When the Carson City Mint started operation in 1870, a spur line was built along Caroline Street to bring gold and silver bullion directly to the mint and return to the Comstock and other locations with freshly minted gold and silver coins.
In 1874, the coin press No. 1 at the mint sustained a crack in its 12-ton steel arch, rendering it inoperable. Rather than sending the press back to Philadelphia for repairs, it was taken across the street to the V&T shops where a new steel arch was cast at the foundry and the press was returned to the mint. This same press has since been used at the mints in San Francisco, Denver and Philadelphia, where it has produced countless millions of coins. It is still used at the Nevada State Museum in the old Carson City mint to produce commemorative tokens two days each month.
After the workmen at the V&T shops repaired the coin press, they removed the large brass nameplate and placed their own to show that they were the ones who had cast the new arch. This name plate still adorns the press after 143 years.
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As with all good things in a mining economy, the ore eventually ran out and inevitable decline set in. Business on the V&T suffered a major setback in 1939 when the service to the Comstock was discontinued. Daily service continued between Minden, Carson City and Reno for another few years but the maintenance on the V&T shops declined until they were in a state of disrepair. Finally in 1950, the last train made the run between Minden and Reno. The tracks were taken up and sold and the massive shops were shuttered up. Vandals, bums and wild animals took up residence and despite efforts to preserve the shops, no one came forward to buy the place.
In the late 1980s, time ran out for the Carson City V&T shops, and the building was torn down so the cut sandstone blocks could be taken to Napa Valley for constructing a winery. The lot was completely leveled off and not a sign of the old building remains today. For over 30 years, the place has remained a big vacant lot in the middle of town as if it was cursed land. Now, millions of dollars are being spent to resurrect the V&T Railroad, but the greatest asset of the old railroad has been allowed to slip away forever.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted at email@example.com or on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Dennis' books sold through this publication will be at a 50 percent discount to reduce inventory and Dennis will pay the postage. These will no longer be available from Amazon.