V & T Historical Narrative
With the August 1872 completion of the 31-mile Carson City to Reno extension, Carson City became midpoint on the line and the desirable location to develop a more expanded V. & T. shop facility. Flat open space for the railroad's yard, station and shop facilities was readily available in the county seat and state capitol at Carson City. The site for the V. & T.'s Carson City shops was selected several blocks north of the railroad's mail line through Carson City. The actual building was located on blocks 15 and 17 of Vanwinkle and Proctors Addition straddling what later became known as Fall Street. The west end of the building on block 16 was acquired on September 14, 1871 by William Sharon from local civil engineer, former State Assemblyman and later Ormsby County Surveyor Horace H. Bence. Sharon acquired the east parcel, block 17, on July 5, 1870 from local attorney and Nevada Attorney General Robert M. Clarke. The last required parcel for the building itself was purchased from P. C. Lander of San Francisco effective December 10, 1872. Deeds covering property for the turntable site and spur track leads off the main line to Virginia City were recorded from 1870 to 1873.
Correspondence and records of the famous Virginia & Truckee Railroad abound and the outgoing letterpress copy books of V. & T. General Superintendent and later Vice-President Henry M. Yerington document many of the early decisions and the progress regarding construction of the main shop building. The Yerington Papers are among the significant Nevada research collections held by The Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkley. By October of 1873, the design for the facility was well conceived by the V. & T. and the major unresolved questions were the actual stone material, the contractor and the roof. Writing on October 31, 1872 to V. & T. President William Sharon, Yerington reported:
"Have had an examination made of the stone for building purposes that lies up near the tunnel. Although it would make a splendid building I am led to believe that its not easy to work & would cost us more for the proposed Machine Shops that if procured from the State Prison quarry. I have had inquiries from several stone masons as to cost of putting up the building -- we delivering the stone -- and ... find Curry's figures to be a trifle less than asked by others. Please advice me what to do ... for its a pity to lose this fine weather & Curry as well as other parties wish to go ahead at once."
Colonel Abram or "Abe" V. Z. Curry was one of the early influential citizens of Eagle Valley. Born in 1815 in Ithaca, New York, 1858 found him in western Utah. Curry is credited with laying out the town of Carson City in September 1858 and is reputed to have said "There isn't a stone building in Carson City that I did not erect". A prominent local contractor and early builder, Curry discovered that extensive sandstone deposit near Carson City at the present State Prison and eventually developed the property into an over 60 acre quarry supplying most of the substantial stone buildings in the community. Curry was warden and contractor for the Nevada Territorial Prison from 1862 to 1864. Territorial Assemblyman 1862 - 1863 and Senator 1863 - 1864, Ormsby County Surveyor from 1866 to 1868, Superintendent of Construction of U. S. Mint at Carson City 1866 - 1869, and Superintendent of the Mint 1869 - 1870. Curry's last job as a major local contractor was the construction of the V. & T.'s mammoth Carson City shops using sandstone blocks from the Nevada State Prison Quarry. Construction of the building began in November 1872 and was completed in July 1873 in time for a grand Fourth of July Ball in 1873. On October 19, 1873, Curry died at the age of 58. His funeral was the largest held to that time in Carson City; the U. S. Mint at Carson City ceased operations for the day out of respect for its first superintendent. Curry is buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery at Carson City.
With ground broken on November 9, 1872, construction of the new shop building progressed through the winter of 1872 - 1873. On January 17, 1873, H. M. Yerington wrote to William Sellers & Company of Philadelphia to quote on machinery for the new shop structure:
"We are putting up some pretty extensive machine shops." Encloses 17 item "List of Machinery for the Machine and Car Shops of the Virginia & Truckee R. R."
Sellers was for decades a major supplier of railroad and machine shop equipment and ultimately proved low bidder on the largest single order of new machinery for the V. & T.'s Carson City shop.
Affectionately dubbed "Currysburg" by Carson City Daily Appeal, the mammoth 180 x 322 foot shop complex was carefully constructed by a corps of Chinese working under the direction of Colonel Curry. In January 21st letter of Darius O. Mills in San Francisco, Yerington commented:
"As requested, I beg to hand plan of our new Machine & Car Shops, Foundry, Round House & also section of roof so as (to) enable you to see the quantity of Iron girders required, in event of it being decided to use these in place of wooden rafters. I also enclose copy of letter from Mess. Huntington & Hopkins relative to corrugated iron, which fully explains itself. Please advise me as soon as you decide what is to be done so I may write Huntington & Hopkins and if wooden rafters are to be used that I may order these. Business continues to be very lively with us."
In March 1873, Yerington ordered an additional 15 machines from Sellers and forwarded to Mills a drawing of the machine shop roof as designed by V. & T. Chief Train Dispatcher Harry Hunter. The entire arrangement of the tools, machinery and interior configuration of the new shop building was the responsibility of V. & T. Master Mechanic John William Bowker at Virginia City. Bowker, the V. & T.'s third master mechanic, was an innovative railroad machinist; he was responsible for all of the road's shop facilities and shaped to a large degree the short line's early equipment roster. Held in high regard by the railroad's management, Yerington named V. & T. Locomotive No. 21 -- The Virginia City switch engine -- The "J. W. Bowker" in honor of the distinguished master mechanic. Unfortunately, the honor evidently went to the shop superintendent's head as he was caught entering the new Carson Shops full of whiskey on afternoon in July 1875. Yerington promptly discharged Bowker from his $250 per month job and the namesake locomotive was renamed "Mexico". The original 1875 Baldwin locomotive "J. W. Bowker" is among the equipment on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Sacramento.
In a follow-up April 11, 1873 report to D. O. Mills, Yerington remarked:
"... a portion of the corrugated iron arrived here today for the roof. Curry is doing his work right along & all seems to be progressing very satisfactorily."
Nearing completion of the structure in June 1873, Yerington ordered a 54-foot turntable from Sellers and the main shop boiler and heater from H. J. Booth & Company's Union Iron Works in San Francisco. Booth had successfully built the railroad's first three steam locomotives in 1869.
On July 4, 1873, a gala ball was held in the car shop section of the building to celebrate Curry's completion of the building construction. A coat of sizing was applied so that whitewashed walls would not rub off on the festive attire of the guests. The celebration boasted lobsters, terrapin, truffles and unlimited champagne and was attended by everyone from Governor on down. The July 3, 1873 issue of the Carson Daily Appeal took note of the preparation for the ball:
"As before noted, the apartment of the new Railway shops selected for this festive affair is that which is to be occupied by the car builders. This room is 65 feet in width by 163 feet in length. Its walls are white as new fallen snow -- made so by successive coats of white wash; and there is neither a pillar nor a post to obstruct the view from one end to the other. Some idea of the magnitude of the room itself may be gathered from the following single fact relative thereto: There are not less than 50,000 feet of lumber employed in the construction of the floor. Of course this includes foundation timbers, (which rest on solid masonry) sill and everything else. The flooring is three inch planks, firmly spiked to the timbers beneath; and Curry has had these stout planks all planed nicely, and the whole surface of the floor will be so leveled and smoothed as that the fantastic toe may never encounter the slightest obstacle to its triumphant progress.
" A gala V. & T. ball continued annually for at least five years although its location and date frequently changed.
Machinery for the new shop continued to arrive during the summer of 1873 and V. & T. shop forces were kept busy setting-up the new machinery between routine repair work in the shops. J. W. Bowker moved his office from Virginia City into the new shop building and was still supervising machinery installation in November 1873. In a November 12, 1873 letter to Mills, Yerington remarked on a recent visit to the new shops by Central Pacific Master Mechanic Andrew Jackson Stevens:
"Three days ago Mr. Stevens, Genl. Master Mechanic of the C. P. was here and examined the shops very thoroughly. He said they were complete & knew of no better ones on the continent. He said the tools were the best he ever saw and was really pleased with the whole institution.
“Owing to a labor strike and, according to Yerington, "...in consequence of his (Curry) doing better work than the contract called for," it was discovered a month after Curry's death that the contractor had reportedly lost $4,000 on the job and had died leaving his financial affairs in disarray. In April 1874, the V. & T. made a cash settlement of $2,000 with Mrs. Curry and Mr. Rice to help cover Curry's outstanding debts. The entire shop complex cost Yerington considerably more than the railroad had originally estimated. While Curry's construction of the stone walls was only slightly over budget, the V. & T.'s expenses for the iron roof, floors, doors, engine pits, drainage, water machinery and freight charges substantially exceeded the original estimate. In a December 8m 1873 letter to Mills in Paris, Yerington commented:
"There is however a great consolation in knowing that our shops, tools &c are complete, more hardy & perfect than any on this coast by far. This month we are doing all our own work except making castings; those we are getting from Fulton Foundry. Bowker is delighted and says next month will show very conclusively what he can do in the way of saving. In consequence of the facilities offered by the shops we are cutting down wages of machinists, getting rid of over time &c and from the limited chance we have had from testing we are doing our work much cheaper than under the old way & using less men."