Many years ago there were a couple of monthly pulp fiction magazines entitled “Amazing Stories” and “Fantastic Adventures”. While they were pricier than the ten-cent comic books of that era, they featured many outstanding writers, such as Ray Bradbury. The main theme of both publications was of a sci-fi nature. One of the most intriguing subjects that many of the stories were based upon was that of time travel.
This past Memorial Day I had my first time travel adventure. It was a trip to the past as I took the historic V&T Railroad on a 12-mile trip from Carson City to Virginia City. The main vehicles of time travel back over a century and a half are by the authentic railroad passenger cars and steam locomotive. The twelve mile trip took slightly over an hour, which meant that we travelled at the leisurely pace of 10 mph. After leaving the East Gate Depot, which is located off Hwy 50 east of Carson City, the locomotive made an almost complete circle in order to get out of the Carson Canyon and crossed the overpass over Hwy 50. On the first loop there were excellent views of the Carson River.
Once past the heavily industrialized area of Mound House, the rails travelled in almost a straight line up to the initial horse-shoe curve which was followed by a short, straight run to Tunnel No. 2. The narrow tunnel, with under one foot of clearance on either side, plunged the train into stygian darkness. Exiting the tunnel, the train navigated the sharpest horse-shoe turn of the trip and wandered westerly in a loop to Tunnel No. 4, which is slightly north of Gold Hill. From there it was a straight shot to the depot in Virginia City.
Two interesting things about the depots in Eastgate and Virginia City are the facts that they are wheelchair accessible and in two entirely different ways. At Eastgate there is a three-tiered ramp leading up to the first passenger car. The back-and-forth ramp is constructed much like the waiting-line structures in Disneyland. At Virginia City there is a short motorized elevator for entry and egress.
At the start of the trip we were confronted by a couple of cowboys dressed in authentic Western regalia. In addition there was quartet of similarly garbed women in period dresses. At Eastgate there was a well-stocked gift shop of V&T caps and other articles of clothing. Once aboard we were amazed at the spacious nature of our coach, which was built in 1912. We were fortunate enough to have the most forward seats which feature comfortable wicker cushions and seat backs that can be rotated so that passengers do not have to ride backwards on the return trip. The large windows afford easy viewing of the many deep chasms and gorges between the numerous hills and mountains of the Virginia Range. Also, most of the historic mines are very close to the railroad route. Several bands of wild horses, a few scattered deer and an occasional coyote are often seen during the trip. On the upper leg of the ride, I would recommend sitting on the right side of the car for the best viewing. As luck would have it, our perch was right under the nose of Conductor Dave, clad in authentic costume, who gave us a running commentary for a solid hour. His spiel was only interrupted by the constant blowing of the locomotive whistle, which high-pitched sound reminded one of the “mournful sound of the outward bound”.
Another interesting sight from the window on the right side is a multitude of dirt roads that crisscross the area below. The most interesting relic that we noticed was the Pioneer Cemetery at Gold Hill. It appeared to be in a state of permanent disarray.
The V&T Railway runs from Mother’s Day through the summer and is capped by the Polar Express train ride during the Christmas season. Visitors are able to obtain an informative six-page, full-color brochure that gives more specific information.
The train ride itself rises some seventeen hundred feet in elevation on the short trip but nowhere is the grade more than 2.5%. The route meanders much like a river as it wends its way around the mountains.
In its heyday the V&T ran from Virginia City to the Truckee River in Reno, hence the name. On the run from Virginia City to Carson City, the train carried ore to the mills along the Carson River and on the return trip carried supplies and lumber to the mining town. At one time it was the most profitable railroad in the country.
During my college days I passed by the statue of John Mackay many times and was surprised to learn on the V&T trip that at one time he was the richest man in America.
Tickets are limited. For information and to purchase tickets go to the V&T website: vtrailway.com or call (775)291-0208.