Steamed: After seven years, Engine 29 back on the Virginia and Truckee tracks |

Steamed: After seven years, Engine 29 back on the Virginia and Truckee tracks

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
Karen Woodmansee/Nevada Appeal

VIRGINIA CITY – For the first time since 2001, a black cloud of smoke snaked its way through Gold Canyon from Virginia City, followed by a low, haunting whistle.

Engine 29 puffed down the historic Virginia & Truckee tracks to Gold Hill, carrying tourists from one historic town to another and then bringing them back.

The Virginia and Truckee Railroad, owned by Bob Gray and his family, finally got the old 1916 steam engine back on the tracks after pulling it back in 2001.

Tom Gray, son of Bob, who bought and reopened the historic line in 1975, decided to give the engine a rail test Saturday and Sunday.

“It went OK, but we’re just trying it out,” he said.

The first group to ride included members of the Historical Society of Dayton Valley and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad Historical Society, who had attended a presentation by Kevin Ray on the progress of the railway’s extension to Carson City.

Other tourists were pleased with the steam engine.

Jeff and Irma Kacmar of Folsom, Calif., said the smoke from the stack got in their face a little bit, but they enjoyed the Old West atmosphere.

“The little train robber skit was great,” Irma Kacmar said of the gunfighter group that was hired to “rob” the train during some of its runs.

Leo Warjabedian of Reno said it was good to see the steam engine back, but admitted he was a little nervous when the engine slowed down in the tunnel.

“That’s one place where you don’t want to get stuck,” he said.

Dignitaries from the Reno Rodeo were on the train Sunday as well.

Susan Sutton, executive director for the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority, said the return of steam has brought much excitement back to the Comstock.

“When the train comes down the track, people come out to look at it,” she said. There’s such pure excitement in the town when they hear that whistle.”

Gray said all federal inspections had been done, although the Federal Railroad Administration can spot check anytime.

“They want to make sure we’re safe, and we are,” he said. “We’ve had 33 seasons without an accident or an injured passenger.”

The steam engine had to be removed from the rails after the 2001 summer season due to stricter regulations and extensive repairs, Gray said.

“A steam engine is like a woman,” he said. “Cranky, ornery and needs a lot of attention.”

Gray said an axle was replaced, wheels were reset and a new fuel box and new bearings were installed.

On Monday, the bearings were being worked on and the engine oiled. Worker Jared Bissen spent the day in the shop underneath the train, in a pit designed like a giant oil-change station for steam engines.

Engine 29, built in 1916 by Baldwin Locomotive Co. in Philadelphia, was put in the shop back in 2002, at the behest of the Federal Railroad Administration. FRA officials required more work to be done on the engine, which Gray said was needed anyway.

The locomotive is an oil-burning steam engine. On top of the engine is a sand trap that feeds sand to the wheels to provide traction.

The tender stores 4,000 gallons of water, which is heated to 380 degrees for the steam that powers the train. At 2 p.m. Monday afternoon, it was still hot from the last Sunday evening run.

Two new heated passenger cars with restrooms will join the steam engine and the railroad’s two open passenger cars.

The cars, to be named the “Virginia City” and the “Gold Hill” are 68 feet long and about the same age as Engine 29. Right now they’re in Green Bay, Wis. Gray hopes to bring them to Virginia City next month.

Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or call 881-7351.