Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Nevada's House of Rails
For railroad buffs, the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City is truly one of the state's treasures. The museum offers everything from restored engines and rolling stock to reconstructed historic buildings.
While the museum is devoted to the history of all of the state's railroads, its focus is on the railroad that has for many years captured the imagination of many—the Virginia & Truckee Railroad (V & T).
Much of the museum's collection of engines and cars are historic V & T equipment, which was purchased in 1974 from Paramount Pictures. The studio had bought them in 1937 from the V & T, which was just about ready to fold.
As a result, unlike a lot of 19th century rail equipment, which was scrapped when no longer needed, these pieces were preserved and used in the movies, then later restored by the museum.
Walking into the open, bright interior of the museum is a chance to view important pieces of the state's rich rail history. During its years of existence, Nevada has been home of about 69 major and minor rail lines.
The first engine you encounter in the museum’s main building is the Inyo (#22), a wood-burning 1875 Baldwin 4-4-0 locomotive. This beautiful, classic piece of equipment was one of five of its type purchased by the V & T in the 1870s to pull passenger cars from Reno to Virginia City.
The Inyo, also called the "Brass Betsy," because of its elegant brass trimmings, ran for more than 50 years. It was sold to Paramount and appeared in a number of movies, including "Union Pacific," in 1938 and "The Virginian," in 1946. Its last star turn was in 1965, when it appeared in the "Wild, Wild West" television show.
In 1969, it was refurbished as Central Pacific Railroad engine #60 (the "Jupiter") and taken to Promontory, Utah, to be used in a National Park Service display dramatizing the centennial of the driving of the golden spike that signaled the completion of the transcontinental railroad.
Finally, in 1978 (Nevada purchased it in 1974), the old train was moved to Carson City, where it was restored and repainted in its original colors.
Behind the Inyo is V & T Caboose No. 9, built in 1873. Originally a 22-passenger car, the No. 9 was rebuilt as a coach for 60 people in 1891, and later used a crew car. Like the Inyo, it was sold to Paramount and appeared in many films before being retired in the late 1950s.
In 1971, Nevada purchased the caboose, which needed extensive restoration because of its deteriorated condition. Today, the No. 9 is a magnificent wooden car, painted the distinctive yellow color of the V & T.
Beside the No. 9 is Coach No. 4, which is the oldest piece of V & T equipment in the museum. Built in 1872 in San Francisco, the coach was one of the original 16 passenger cars bought by the railroad.
Coach No. 4 is an elegant creation. The interior is accented by laurel, redwood and maple woods and boasts elaborate brass lamps and overstuffed chairs. Like its neighbors, the No. 4 was sold to Paramount and appeared in many films.
On an adjacent track is another marvelous old engine, the Dayton (#18). While it has a certain resemblance to the Inyo, the Dayton is one of the rarest locomotives in the museum's collection. It was built in 1873 by the Central Pacific Railroad in Sacramento and is one of only two of its type still in existence.
Like the others, the Dayton was sold to Paramount, and, like the Inyo, was used at the Promontory Point centennial in 1969 (it was repainted as Union Pacific Railroad No. 119).
Other items on display in the museum, include V & T Engine No. 25, V & T Flat Car #162 (built in the railroad's Carson City shops in 1891), red Caboose No. 3, from the Nevada Copper Belt Railroad, which operated in Yerington (not all of the museum's collection is V & T stuff), and a 1917 fire truck that once served in Battle Mountain.
Another popular piece in the museum’s collection is the Joe Douglass, a narrow gauge locomotive built in 1882, and used on the Dayton, Sutro & Carson Valley Short Line Railroad.
The Joe Douglass may be one of the smallest engines you’ll ever see. This mini-locomotive, which seems to be half of the size of a standard engine, was used to shuttle cars of ore between the mills that once operated along the Carson River.
One of the museum’s operating locomotives is No. 8, built in 1888 for the Denver, Texas & Fort Worth Railroad. After hauling loads for several decades, it was leased to 20th Century-Fox in 1938 for the film, “Jesse James,” and later bought by the movie company.
The engine appeared in several other movies including “Sentimental Journey” and “Scandalous John. In the 1980s, it was used in Nevada during the filming of the made-for-TV production of “The Gambler” with Kenny Rogers.
A couple of years ago it was acquired by the state railroad museum to provide steam powered train rides, which it does several times per year.
The museum’s wall exhibits include an amazing collection of 1/2-inch scale models of nearly every locomotive used by the V & T, which were built over a 16 year period, a railroad photo show, and a fine collection of 19th century lithographs of Nevada communities, including Fort Churchill in 1860, Carson City in 1875, and Ely in 1872.
The museum also has a nice exhibit describing the role of the Chinese in constructing western railroads. Be sure to check out the reconstructed Chinese Joss House, which served as a community center and place of worship.
In the summer months, you can also tour the maintenance shops, behind the main museum building. Inside you can view other historic rail equipment, including several boxcars and coaches (mostly non-V & T stock) awaiting restoration.
Near the front of the museum building, you can find the restored Wabuska depot, a rail worker cottage, and a reproduction of a 19th century square "board and bat" water tower.
During summer weekends, rides are offered on a special diesel motorcar. Additionally, on selected weekends and holidays, such as July 4th and Labor Day, the museum offers rides on the No. 25 and No. 8.
The Nevada State Railroad Museum is located at 1280 South Carson Street in Carson City. It is open daily 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and there is a small admission charge. For more information, call 775-687-6953.