V & T Historical Narrative
On the heels of every boom is a bust and the periodic rise and fall of the economy of Nevada and eastern California was quickly reflected in not only the V. & T. Railroad's business but also outside shop orders. Nevada business hit its low in the early 1890's and remained at near depression levels until the early Twentieth Century mining boom. With revenues derived from short-lived business resurgence in Tonopah and southern Nevada, a new Virginia & Truckee Railway Company was incorporated in Nevada on June 24, 1905 to purchase the predecessor company and to construct a 15.28-mile branch south from Carson City to Minden, Nevada. This branch offered transportation facilities to a growing agricultural and grazing district and resulted in substantial new revenue to the railway until a surface highway was constructed between Reno, Carson City, and Minden in the years 1921 - 1922. Known today as U. S. 395, the concrete highway completely paralleled the V. & T. between Reno and Minden and ultimately was the cause of the railway's red ink operations beginning in 1923. Prior to that time, the Virginia & Truckee was the only efficient means of transportation for freight, mail, express and passenger between these Nevada communities.
During the teens, twenties and early thirties, the number of outside work accounts decreased and the remaining clients were either local or successors to long time customers. A listing of Master Mechanic Charles J. Rulison's circa 1908 - 1935 major outside shop work accounts is found in a separate section. As foremen of the shop departments died or retired, their shops were closed. Outside shop orders dwindled and the Virginia & Truckee's own major servicing was handled by the nearby Southern Pacific Railroad shops at Sparks, Nevada. In 1936, the paint shops were closed after 46-year veteran V. & T. Master Car & Locomotive Painter Joseph P. Castle died on April 18, 1936. The foundry department closed in July 1938 and by 1943 the machine shop was also closed and over 35% of the equipment sold. Much of the original machinery was disposed of for scrap during the major World War II scrap drives or was sold for pennies on the dollar to the Purdy Company and A. D. Schader for possible resale.
During 1932 - 1937, Ogden L. Mills, one of the railway's major stockholders, personally loaned the short line nearly $95.000 to help balance operating deficits. Revenues continued to decrease and the V. & T. was forced to enter voluntary Federal receivership on April 27, 1938. Solid corporate status was not established again until January 18, 1946 under the financial direction of the late Major Gordon A. Sampson. In 1937 the railroad began selling capital assets to meet monthly working capital obligations. Eventually, dozens of the line's historic locomotives, passenger cars and freight equipment were sold to Hollywood studios for use in major motion picture productions. The existence of the majority of Virginia & Truckee equipment today is due in large part to pre-war equipment purchases by the southern California motion picture industry. The disappearance of Comstock traffic and the caving of several wood-lined tunnels ushered in the closing of the original 21-mile Carson City to Virginia City main line in 1938. The rails were removed and sold late in 1941 and the resulting $52.000 revenue was applied as working capital on routine maintenance which had been deferred for over a decade.
For the 20-year period from 1928 - 1947, the V. & T. had a net income deficit of $440,605.75 by U. S. Interstate Commerce Commission accounting practices. As early as 1932, officials of the Virginia & Truckee seriously considered total abandonment of the railway in the wake of annually mounting losses. In a December 1948 study, consultants to the railway proposed a new and more efficient steel machinery shop in place of the 1873 shop building whose
"... roof trusses are in bad shape, need repairs; roof is all rotted out in spots due to age, smoke and weather action, too large for any operation of company; impossible to keep warm in winter at any reasonable cost."
Once housing railroad equipment for serving from throughout the west, the final years of the Carson City shops saw only three pieces of non-V. & T. equipment -- Verdi Lumber Company Shay No. 11, Nevada Copper Belt Railway Motor Car No. 22 and finally Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg's private car No. 100 "The Gold Coast". Pushed inside the shop building during inclement weather, "The Gold Coast" was actually too large for the building and the doorways of track No. 5 had to be enlarged to accommodate the circa 1905 wooden business car. These late 1940's notches for "The Gold Coast" roof line were visible on the two track No. 5 doorways of the shop building. While a far cry from the gala July 4th balls of the 1870's, the car shops were cleared for one last party as several hundred rail enthusiasts assembled during the California-Nevada Railroad Historical Society V. & T. excursion trip on May 29, 1949.
After 80 years of continuous operation, the Virginia & Truckee finally succumbed to the increasing competition of highway traffic; the V. & T.'s last official revenue train operated on May 31, 1950 between Reno, Carson City and Minden.