Virginia and Truckee Railroad Shops, Carson City Nevada
By 1865s the initial output of the Comstock Lode had dwindled to a trickle. Virginia City experienced its first decline, and many of its inhabitants left to seek new fortunes elsewhere.
What had actually happened, and what was guessed at by a few shrewd business men, was that the major lode, the "Big Bonanza", was yet to be reached. In addition, the tailings and slag heaps surrounding Virginia City contained much low assay ore in them. This ore had heretofore been discarded because it was too expensive to cart in wagons down to the reductions mills on the Carson River, near Dayton.
Among the few men who gauged the situation correctly was William Sharon, Virginia City representative of the powerful Bank of California. He persuaded Darius Ogden Mills, President of the bank, that what was needed was a railroad to run from Virginia City down to the mills on the Carson River, taking the hithertofore unprofitable ore to the mills on the downgrade run, and returning with timber to shore up the tunnels of the mines as they penetrated ever deeper to the bonanza under the slopes of Mt. Davidson.
To aid in the operation, Sharon acquired for the bank, generally through foreclosure, the seven largest of the Carson River Mills, These were organized into the Union Mining and Milling Company.
By 1868, the Nevada legislature had given a charter to the railroad, and financing had been arranged. Early in 1869, work began on grading, and by the end of the year the railroad was operational, though it did not reach Virginia City until early in 1870. The next year, 1871, a line was run to Reno, to connect with the Southern Pacific and consequently with the world beyond. Upon completion of the line from Virginia City to Carson City, the price of transporting wood was lowered from a third to a half of the cost the year before. During 1870, a two mile extension of the line was run from Carson City to reach the end of Yerington's flume, to expedite the shipping of timber to Virginia City, By 1874, when the Big Bonanza was tapped, the railroad was running 100 cars a day, taking ore down the hill and lumber back up. So great was the traffic that new rails had to be put down between Virginia City and Carson during that year.
The first shops of the V. & T. were in Virginia City, but by 1872, Superintendent Yerington was urging that the proposed new shops be located in Carson City. Construction began in December of that year, and by July 1873, work was far enough along on the building to host a "grand ball." This, the "fete champetre" of July 4th 1874 was perhaps the most momentous "event" assoicated with the building. The brainstorm of A. Curry, the founder of Carson City and builder of the shops, the ball was described "the broadest, longest, steepest and biggest-round of any ball that was ever held in Carson or anywhere else in the Great American Basin-unless it might have been a Morman dance, in a godly way, in the Great Tabernacle at Salt Lake City...Mr. Ralston and his fellow excursionists were there to represent grand cash and broad guage (sic) capital, and the most humble and unpretentious employes of the railroad of which he is a principal owner were also there; and the while the Governor and other State officers gave dignity and tone to the affair, the sovereigns did not fail to 'shake a fut wid Fanny there'."
After its grand opening, the shops settled down to a more routine existence.
The 1878-79 Bishop's Directory of Carson City mentions that the V. & T, R.R. "has at Carson a mommoth railroad building, built of stone and iron, which embraces a machine shop, round house foundry, and car manufactory."
Darius Ogden Mills was persuaded by the railroad's general superintendent, Henry M. Yerington that a man of his position should have a private car. The Pullman Company gave a $35,000 estimate for constructing such a car, whereupon Mills instructed Yerington to have the Carson shops rebuild one of the regular passenger coaches for the purpose. The shops performed the transformation for only $2,500 and the result was good enough for Yerington himself to appropriate it for his ovn use when it was not being used by Mills.
It has been said that the Carson Shops of the V. & T. could "fabricate anything from a cotter pin to a mine hoist". The V & T. shops not only took care of their own, but built machinery for industries and repaired locomotives for other railroads throughout the area. On May 23, 1878, Superintendent James Crawford of the Carson City Mint arranged for the V. & T. shops to cast a new iron arch on the first of the mint's coin presses. The V. & T. proudly put one of its shop plates on the press, and charged the mint $800.00. The job was finished on September 21, I878. Both the press and the V. & T. identification are now on display at the Nevada State Museum, formerly the Carson City Mint.
The bell of the Methodist Church at Carson City was cast at the V. & T. foundry, but was found to be faulty. It would always crack in extreme changes of weather. After the sixth recasting the bell was perfected. In August l88l, the bell of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Carson City was recast in the V. & T. shops.
In 189O, the shops manufactured a 30 foot flagpole, topped with a ball and star, for the school at Dayton, Nevada.
The shops gradually began to curtail their work, both for the V. & T. and for others, during the early and mid-twentieth century. The outside shop profits for fiscal year 1902 were $10,000.00. In 1936, the paint shops were closed after the death of the paint foreman. In July 1938, the foundry closed for good, and by 1943, the machine shops had retired and sold some 35% of their equipment. The cessation of activity in the shops was symptomatic of what had been happening to the V. & T. itself in the years since the "Big Bonanza."
The natural corollary of any boom is a bust, and by l879 a less than 1/5 of the tonnage of 1875 was being shipped on the V. & T. In the 1890's the railroad ceased paying dividends, a far cry from the $100,000 monthly profits divided between Mills, Ralston, and Sharon in 1873.
During the slack mining periods, the V. & T. made a profit on its excursion business. On March 18, 1897, the Corbett-Fitssimmons fight was held in Carson City, and the participants, as well as practically all of the dignitaries who witnessed the fight, came by way of the V. & T.
In the early 1920's increased mining activity in Virginia City once more made operations profitable, but after 1924, deficits were again reported. The pattern was not to change this time.
Ogden Mills, Jr. acquired full control of the V. & T. in 1933 and personally kept the line running until 1937, when he died. In 1938 the railroad went into receivership and in 1941 the rails to Virginia City were pulled up and sold for scrap. The profits from sale of the scrap helped keep the railroad solvent for a few years, but in 1950 the I.C.C., after extended hearings approved abandonment of the line.