V&T faces new millennium with confidence
“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Now that the new millennium is upon us, and all of the frenzied speculation and dire predictions have dwindled to a mere murmur, it is time for us to reflect on the wonderful prospects associated with the New Year.
Construction on two important and long-awaited transportation projects is scheduled to commence in 2000 – the northern leg of the Carson City Bypass and the crossing of the Overman Pit, the most formidable physical challenge facing the reconstruction of the V&T Railroad.
Although the future is always inscrutable and hard to predict, the fate of the reconstruction project is less uncertain in many ways than was the fate of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad at the dawn of the 20th century. I suspect that Nevadans in December of 1899 were eying the next 100 years with the same incongruous mixture of excitement and trepidation that we experienced in the months leading up to the year 2000.
In The Silver Short Line, a history of the V&T by Ted Wurm and Harre Demoro, the authors observe that the railroad “faced the twentieth century with uncertainty…. As the new century began, Nevada was in the midst of a change. Agriculture nourished by irrigation was becoming successful. So was the cattle industry. Under the urging of ranchers and businessmen in Carson Valley. .. the V&T management on Sept. 10, 1905, broke ground for a 15-mile extension southward into the rich agricultural region around Gardnerville over a right-of-way donated by H.F. Dangberg Land & Live Stock Company. The road was completed in June of the following year and the first passenger train ran into the newly founded town of Minden on Aug. 1, 1906. There had been plans to terminate at Gardnerville, but the asking price for the necessary land was prohibitive and Dangberg offered land a mile near Carson. The offer was accepted and the town of Minden was born.”
Although the transportation of agricultural goods helped to infuse new economic life into the operation, the innovation and indomitable spirit that gave birth to the railroad in the 1870s was slowly waning. Plans to extend the line into Alpine County, Calif., were devised and then abandoned. A proposal to electrify the route between Reno and Minden, using a third-rail system, was considered but soon rejected. Management had deserted Virginia City and in July of 1900, the road’s main office was moved to Carson City and all of the property of the original operating company was sold to a new corporation. Although D.O. Mills and H.M. Yerington were still evident in the affairs of the short line, “the old guard was fading” and so too was the long-term viability of the Silver Short Line.
“Like the cable cars of San Francisco, which remained static as the world changed around them,” reflect Wurm and Demoro, “the V&T’s activities seemed timeless.”
Although it was this changeless quality that led to the V&T’s demise in the 1900s as it tried to compete, unsuccessfully, with more modern forms of transportation, it is this same enduring characteristic that will guarantee its success as a tourist railroad as we enter the 21st century.