For V&T, the end comes quietly
As we prepare to honor the 50th anniversary of the last run of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad on May 31 of this year, it is appropriate that we reflect on the events that both preceded and precipitated the V&T’s eventual demise.
In May of 1950, in anticipation of the end of an era, the Sacramento Bee ran a series of articles recounting the enormously important role this railroad played in “…one of the great mining episodes of the West.”
As a courtesy to the author of this series (newspaper staff writer Walter R. Hecox), we are reproducing specific segments of those articles without editorial comment or revision.
“Carson City (Nev.), May 18 – The Virginia and Truckee Railway, timeworn monarch of short line railroads, which has hauled more than its weight in silver away from the Comstock Lode is about to give up the ghost and pass into the limbo of legends. Cannon roared, a brass band blared a welcome, beer flowed in unlimited quantities for the miners and baskets of iced champagne awaited the elect on the November day in 1869 when the locomotive Lyon appeared in Gold Hill, officially opening the road to the Comstock.
“There will be no bands or beer or champagne when the show closes.
On May 31st, the V&T’s string of little yellow cars will leave Minden and roll through the green meadows of Douglas County for the last time.
“At Carson City, Gordon A. Sampson, the road’s vice president, Ed Zimmer, the dispatcher who has been with the line 43 years and the rest of the station crew will wave a final farewell.
“As the tiny train rolls over the ridge into Truckee Meadows, Lester Felesina, the conductor, will show one more passenger the home of the English lord who married a Reno hat check girl and tell their story again.
“He will point out Bowers Mansion, favorite resort of the Comstock miners in days not too long dead and, perhaps, call someone’s attention the ramp where the V&T picked up its last load of cattle.
“The train will roll past the stately west wall of the Sierra Nevada and into Reno, where children probably will have a friendly greeting or throw a mischievous rock as they have on countless trips in the past. And Les Felesina will be half a trip from the end of the job.
“There will be one more journey early the next morning back to the Carson City roundhouse. Then time will stop for the V&T.
“A great portion of the most colorful pages of Nevada’s past are wrapped up on the V&T which, in its prime, was known as the most powerful short line in the world. Its twin in history was the fabulous Comstock Lode and its brightest moments came three quarters of a century ago, when John Mackay, James Fair, James Flood and William O’Brien were taking the Big Bonanza out of the California and Consolidated Virginia Mines.
“Forty thousand people lived on the steep streets of the town which perched precariously near the peak of Sun Mountain, now known as Mount Davidson, when the Silver Kings reigned at the height of their power. Fortunes which have never relinquished their powerful places in California economics were extracted by Fair and Mackay from the lower levels of the Virginia City mines.
“The V&T sent more than 30 trains a day to the one-time silver capital of the world where scarcely 600 people live now amid fading relics of past glories.
“The railroad’s prosperity waned as the once seemingly endless supply of silver dwindled. Normal freight and farm product kept it rolling, however, until fleet trucks and paved highways struck the death blow.”
To be continued.