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Virginia & Truckee Railroad steam train ride, August 7, 2021

Virginia City, Nevada, home of the Virginia & Truckee R.R. Tourist Train

Photos and Report by Carl Morrison
Comments welcomed at

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Left, Reno during Hot August Nights is just 21 miles to Virginia City, Nevada, to add a visit to the Virginia & Truckee R.R. (right) to your trip plans.

After visiting the Hot August Nights Classic Car and Music show for a couple of days, we moved to Homewood, California, on the northwest shore of Lake Tahoe, California.  From Lake Tahoe we drove 27 miles over Mount Rose to Virginia City, Nevada, a little over a hour's drive. 

The first round-trip ride to Gold Hill, a 35-minute ride behind steam locomotive No. 29, is at 10:30 and we arrived a few minutes earlier.  I walked into the ticket office and picked up our media tickets to ride.  I learned at this time that a cab ride would be involved, which is a highlight of anyone interested in steam trains.

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Left, our Tesla Model 3 transportation to the Virginia City's Virginia & Truckee R.R. office, center.

The ticket envelope has their Holiday Trains listed.

You can get single trip rides, or ride all day!

Fred checks out an authentic looking early Ford truck.


We could hear No. 29 steaming up to the office for the first run.

Virginia & Truckee 29

The V&T 29 is a Baldwin consolidation type 2-8-0 locomotive.


She was built in October, 1916 for the Louisiana & Pacific Railway as their Number 252. It was sold to V&T in 1977. The locomotive has been named "Robert C. Gray. She was taken out of service around 2001 and was overhauled until 2009 where she returned. Her current FRA steam ticket will last until 2024, where she will go back in for repair. She is currently operational on the longer trains to Carson City, while a diesel does the shorter runs to Gold Hill. She wears the bottom half of a SP 5 chime and the top half of a NP 5 chime, giving her one of the most beautiful whistle sounds in the world. Rizzoli Locomotive works often test out their whistles on V&T 29 and V&T 18 (ex. McCloud).

  • V&T 29 was not the first steam locomotive to run on the reconstructed V&T railway. It was actually V&T 28 (NSRM 8-Ball). She was joined by a Feather River Line Prairie type (no longer operational) and McCloud #18 (currently being restored), a 2-8-2 which starred in Water For Elephants.
  • V&T 29 has appeared in America by Rail Part 1 and GSRJ. It also played a brief appearance in the song- Legends of the Rails.
  • It originally built for the Longview, Portland and Northern Railway as No. 680.
  • Restored 2001–08. Named "Robert C. Gray".

For our first ride to Gold Hill and back, we chose to sit in this former wooden caboose.

The conductor said the current government COVID rule about masks was up to the passengers.  As you can see, some wore masks and some did not.

A second caboose and an open car made up the consist behind the tender and No. 29.

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The Conductor was the narrator of the trip.  Since we backed down to Gold Hill, his job was to watch the tracks ahead for obstacles and stop the train with the valve under his right arm if needed.

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The conductor's switch and view of the route.

Rolling stock along the trip

Diesels power some of the trains.  Plans are to re-establish the longer trip to Carson City and run Steam 4 days and diesel-lead trips 3 days a week.

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Evidence of past mining near Gold Hill

Since we had just been to Hot August Nights classic car show, it was hard not to notice the '55 Ford wagons along the way.

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As we approached the highway 341 overpass, the conductor mentioned that the steel uprights did not meet the bridge base.

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Heading south to Gold Hill

Heading into Gold Hill, the turn-around spot of the 4-mile 35-minute round trip. 
Some detrained for lunch in Gold Hill and would catch the next train back.  There are overnight accommodations in town as well.

Around the bend with highway 432 crossing and Gold Hill Station on the right.

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Gold Hill Station

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Left, bell from former firehouse.   Right, there were many of these heavy-duty benches around the railroad's property.

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Ore chute and bays for loading into oar cars.

Picking up steam heading back uphill to Virginia City Station, passing Gold Hill Station.

Whistle and steam as we cross highway 432 through Gold Hill, heading back uphill to Virginia City.  Open car passengers enjoying the ride.

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Back through the tunnel.  Guests from Palm Springs and Reno enjoying the ride.

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The conductor pointed out the shops along the way back to Virginia City.

Fred talked with the conductor between rides as I headed forward to my first steam cab ride.


No. 29's oil tender as I walked forward for my cab ride.  I thought monochrome was timely for this 1916 Baldwin masterpiece.

Tyler handing up drinks for Fireman, Ed, and Engineer, Brian.

Ready for the second run to Gold Hill on this Saturday in August.

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The Crew - Tyler, Ed (Fireman), and Brian (Engineer).  (Click on any photo above for a larger copy)

iPhone panorama of the cab from my location, sitting on the sand box.
 They are facing toward the rest of the train because the run to Gold Hill is in push mode with the conductor in the caboose watching the track ahead.

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I asked Tyler what his job was and he said, "I ring the bell!"  His dad is an Amtrak engineer.  Engineer Brian on the right.

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Ed warned me that the plate between the locomotive and tender (under my feet) would move and sometimes lift a bit, so be careful. 
I took the selphie to prove to my doubting rail friends that I really did get an envied cab ride in a steam locomotive.

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Ed dipping sand from the sand bin, left, and pouring it into the firebox, center and right, to clean the flue of accumulated soot from the oil burning boiler.

Heading back down to Gold Hill on my cab ride.  My view of the tender, steel caboose, open car, and wooden caboose. 
The bay window on the side of the caboose is a good place to photograph the locomotive when you are a passenger.

Detail shots from inside the cab of Locomotive No. 29
(Click any photo for larger image; click Back in the browser to return to this page.)


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Right, Tyler ringing the bell approaching the station.

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Virginia City & Truckee RR rolling stock inventory


After our steam train rides, it was time for lunch up in town.

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We enjoyed the Firehouse Grill last year, so had a BBQ sandwich, potato salad and Dr. Pepper again this year up in town.  By the only pine tree on C street.

A walk around old Virginia City, Nevada.

Virginia & Truckee R.R. Ticket Office up in town.


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The ticket seller works for the railroad, but doesn't get to ride.

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Virginia City, Nevada, has a covered boardwalk in front of most stores which makes it look vintage 1860s.

History of Virginia City and Gold Hill, Nevada:

Virginia City was known as the Queen of the Comstock, the internationally famous mining district. Founded in 1859, the settlement was the focus of a gold rush and within a year, it became the region's largest community, a status it maintained in Nevada into the 1890s. Virginia City was incorporated under the Utah Territory in 1861.

Early in their history, Virginia City and its southern neighbor, Gold Hill, grew until they met at a place known as the Divide. Smaller Gold Hill was working class compared with Virginia City's elegance. Together, they were a dynamic center of industry, technological innovation, social diversity, and cultural sophistication.

Residents named Virginia City for early miner James "Old Virginny" Finney. Gold Hill describes the mound of earth where miners found a rich deposit of gold.

Mount Davidson—originally Sun Mountain—dominated the Comstock. Virginia City clung to its slope with an elevation of more than 6,000 feet. Runaway wagons were a daily occurrence on its steep streets. Virginia City's commercial thoroughfare led to a southern descent to Gold Hill with hairpin turns known as Greiner's Bend. This community built on a slant earned the nickname "Slippery Gulch" for its often muddy, precipitous main street.

Virginia City's reputation grew with the tons of rich ore produced over two decades of affluence. Wealth attracted people from throughout the world. Initially, North Americans dominated the Comstock, but soon every continent sent representatives. By 1880, a third of Virginia City was Irish. Cornish immigrants preferred Gold Hill. Virginia City's Chinatown numbered over 1,500 at its height in the early 1870s and was one of the nineteenth century's largest Asian communities in North America. Among the many groups, African Americans, Native Americans, and speakers of Spanish also had a presence.

Most Virginia City and Gold Hill residents prospered as wage earning miners, business owners, or by filling diverse economic niches during the flush time from 1859 to 1880. The central focus, of course, was always the mines, whose steam engines and stamp mills roared with a constant din. Because water always threatened to flood depths that reached 3,200 feet, pumps operated constantly, requiring three, eight-hour shifts of miners. Workers continually filled the streets, either leaving from or going to work.

From the Ophir and Mexican at the north end of Virginia City to the Yellow Jacket and the Crown Point in Gold Hill, Comstock mines won fame nationally for their wealth, attracting investors to the stock market. Miners quickly capitalized on the affluence, becoming the first in the West to unionize. With governmental support, mine owners resisted the 1863 union demands. Workers subsequently made certain that only pro-labor candidates won elections. Their union strengthened, Comstock miners won a four-dollar minimum for an eight-hour shift, making them the highest paid industrial workers in the nation.

Although Comstock mining companies prided themselves on safety, these were dangerous places, and it was a rare week without a funeral procession for someone killed underground. The worst incident occurred on April 7, 1869 when fire broke out at the Yellow Jacket Mine's 800-foot level. Perhaps more then forty miners died. The exact number remained undetermined because many were never recovered.

Residents could attend theaters ranging from comedy clubs to opera houses, or they could select from diverse saloons offering food, target practicing, billiards, gambling, luxurious settings, or ethnic camaraderie. Intrepid souls ventured into Chinatown for exotic medicines, foods, or for its opium dens.

At its height, a thriving red light district included nearly two hundred prostitutes, but the vast majority of Comstock women were respectable and often married with children. By 1880, about one third of Virginia City and Gold Hill were under the age of eighteen. The school district strived to offer the best education possible. The monumental Fourth Ward School opened in 1877, offering space for one thousand students. For six decades, the institution was a source of pride for its commitment to excellence.

Notables who won their start in Virginia City included Samuel Clemens who first reported as Mark Twain for the Territorial Enterprise. George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst, founded his economic empire with Comstock ore. The Bank of California with its leaders William Ralston and William Sharon dominated Nevada's economy in the 1860s and early 1870s. John Mackay and James Fair became nationally famous as great silver barons. William Stewart, a lawyer, argued the famed Single-Ledge Case that settled ownership claims on the Comstock. As a U.S. Senator, he played a pivotal role in the development of the 1866 National Mining Law including its important 1872 amendment. Today, this legislation still governs mining in the United States.

Other residents of note included Philipp Deidesheimer, inventor of the famed square-set timber method. Richard Jose, an orphaned Cornish immigrant who sang for handouts on the streets of Virginia City, earned international renown as a performer. Father Patrick Manogue, builder of the magnificent St. Mary in the Mountains Catholic Church in 1876, became the Sacramento bishop of an expansive western diocese. Albert Michelson left Virginia City for Annapolis and eventually won the Nobel Prize for his optics and his measurements of the speed of light. Newspaper publisher Joseph Goodman, who gave Samuel Clemens his start as a writer, took his own place in history by cracking the code of the Mayan calendar. Gold Hill gave Nevada its first native-born governor with Emmet Boyle.

Together, all the Comstock towns experienced periods of prosperity and depression. Economic collapse in the 1880s was particularly hard on Gold Hill, but a dwindling Virginia City continued to exist, in part due to a metamorphosis that occurred after the premiere of the television show Bonanza in 1959. In 1961, the National Park Service listed the Comstock as the Virginia City Historic Landmark District, one of the nation's largest. Over one million tourists visit Virginia City annually..

Current route of the Virginia & Truckee R.R.

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There were enough people on the streets in period dress to make some interesting vintage-looking black and white photos.




Poster for sale in town.
Do you think the names are authentic?

Mural on the Wells Fargo Building


Some vehicles from Reno's Hot August Nights taking place at the same time.

1959 Chevrolet

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A couple of US Highways I have intimate knowledge of - Hwy. 50 Paul Clifford and I drove from west coast to east coast in 2004.
Hwy. 395 Paul, Fred and I have followed from So. California to Reno many years to Hot August Nights.

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After a great day in Virginia City, we took Mt. Rose highway back to California.

Thanks to the Virginia & Truckee R.R. management for a terrific day riding their steam train.


Virginia & Truckee R. R. Home Page:

PBS' Great Scenic Railway Journeys — V&T Segment on Youtube:


Back to the trip report to and from Virginia City in a Tesla Model 3.

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