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Virginia and Truckee Railroad from Virginia City to Gold Hill and Beyond 7/1/2022

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I woke up in Bishop and after we did our Internet, I drove us to Jack's Restaurant where we had an excellent breakfast. After that I drove us north on US Highway 395.

Mono-Inyo Craters. The Mono-Inyo Craters form an elongated, 10.54 mile long chain of lava domes, cinder cones and maars on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada between Mono Lake and Long Valley caldera. The last eruption at the Mono Craters took place about 600 years ago, nearly contemporaneously with the eruptions from Inyo Craters to the south. It formed tephra rings and obsidian lava domes, lava flows and locally extensive ash and pumice layers. The most known crater of the group is Panum crater.

Mono Lake, which is a saline soda lake in Mono County formed at least 760,000 years ago as a terminal lake in an endorheic basin. The lack of an outlet causes high levels of salts to accumulate in the lake which make its water alkaline. The desert lake has an unusually productive ecosystem based on brine shrimp, which thrive in its waters, and provides critical habitat for two million annual migratory birds that feed on the shrimp and alkali flies. Historically, the native Kutzadika'a people ate the alkali flies' pupae, which live in the shallow waters around the edge of the lake. When the City of Los Angeles diverted water from the freshwater streams flowing into the lake, it lowered the lake level which imperiled the migratory birds. The Mono Lake Committee was formed in response and won a legal battle that forced Los Angeles to partially replenish the lake level.

A map of Mono Lake. Next I drove into Bodie State Historic Park on CA Highway 170 which was paved for only nine miles. We paid to enter the park but did not find the railroad station there. Bodie is a ghost town frozen in time, and preserved by California State Parks in a state of "arrested decay". Bodie became a State Historic Park in 1962 and maintains the buildings just as they were found when the State took over the town - but they do not restore the buildings, instead choosing to simply preserve the buildings in their aged and weathered 1880s appearance. In 1859 William (a.k.a. Waterman) S. Bodey discovered gold near what is now called Bodie Bluff. A mill was established in 1861 and the town began to grow. It started with about 20 miners and grew to an estimated 10,000 people by 1880. By then, the town of Bodie bustled with families, robbers, miners, store owners, gunfighters, prostitutes and people from every country in the world. At one time there was reported to be 65 saloons in town. Among the saloons were numerous brothels and "houses of ill repute", gambling halls and opium dens. On a daily basis miners would emerge from the mills and head for the bars and the red light district to spend their earnings. The mixture of money, gold and alcohol would sometimes prove fatal. Newspapers reported that townspeople would ask in the mornings "Have we a man for breakfast?", meaning "Did anyone get killed last night?" Some records show that a "Wm. Body" took a ship from New York, around the horn, to end up in San Francisco. It is not clear if that is the same man who was prospecting near present day Bodie. In any case, the spelling of the name was changed at some point before the majority of the people made their way to Bodie, and it stuck. Today, even though Bodie is down a dusty, bumpy, slow, 13 mile long road off State Highway 395, it is amazing how many people are aware of this once glorious town. There is a story about a little girl whose family was moving from San Francisco to Bodie who, depending on who tells it, wrote in her diary either: "Good, by God, I'm going to Bodie", or, "Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie."

Scenes of Bodie. Disappointed, we departed and were relieved when we reached the paved road again.


Scenes on the way back to US 395. I drove us to Bridgeport and we paid $7.69 a gallon for petrol, a new record. We switched drivers and Elizabeth drove to Gold Hill and as we were making our way through the town, the gates went down.


The train for Gold Hill arrived at that station. Elizabeth then drove the rest of the way to Virginia City and we picked up our two sets of train tickets.

35-Minute Round-Trip Train Ride from Virginia City to Gold Hill

Take a fascinating 35-minute ride back into history over the scenic Virginia & Truckee Railroad. Hear the conductor narrate remarkable stories of the Comstock Bonanza, when the V&T was built, and Virginia City was the richest city on earth, with more millionaires than anywhere else.

Watch for mines and silver ore veins. You will ride through Tunnel4, the last tunnel before Virginia City, one of seven built for the 1600-ft. descent to the valley floor. You will pass by many of the Comstock mine sites including the Gould & Curry, Savage, Hale & Norcross, Potosi, Chollar, Julia, Ward Bullion, East Yellow Jacket, Crown Point, Kentuck, Yellow Jacket, Combination and the Foreman.

Finally, you will stop in Gold Hill , rich in American history where the Comstock Era gold and silver strikes began in 1859. See the train depot, the Liberty Engine Fire Company monument , visit at the 1859 Gold Hill Hotel and see the early Bank of California building and the Maynard Block. Except for the last train of the day at 4pm, passengers can disembark in Gold Hill and visit the Gold Hill Hotel (note: they are currently not serving lunch but are worth a visit any time!) You can then return on a later trip the same day.

Our ride

We started looking around the museum and grounds; the first time either of us had been here.

The Virginia and Truckee station in Virginia City built in 1870.

Chicago Burlington and Quincy caboose 14379 built by the railroad circa 1904 to 1910.

Western Pacific caboose 20041 built by Haskell and Barker Car Company in 1910. It became Western Pacific 764 and later re-numbered to 748. Sold to the Central California Traction Company and became CCT 21. It is one of only five surviving former Western Pacific wood cabooses and one of four surviving former CCT wood cabooses.

Sacramento Northern caboose 1636 built by Pullman in 1906 as Western Pacific outside-braced wooden box car 15672. It was converted to caboose 637 in 1942 and became Sacramento Northern 1636 in 1958, then was on display in Sacramento then trucked to Virginia City where it was restored.

Virginia and Truckee maintenence and right-of-way car 847-0380.

Virginia and Truckee coach 104, originally Southern Pacific 1165 built by Pullman in 1909.

Virginia and Truckee 80-ton switcher 1605, ex. Sacramento Southern Railroad 1605, nee United States Air Force 1605, built by General Electric in 1953.

Virginia and Truckee Combination Car 25, ex. Northwestern Pacific Railroad 37, nee San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad 37, built by Harlan and Hollingsworth in 1888. It arrived on site in 1975 and was used as the Virginia City ticket office from 1976 to 2013.

Norfolk and Western caboose 518524 built by International Car in 1969.

The train returned to Virginia City.

Virginia and Truckee 2-8-0 29 built by Baldwin in 1916 as Louisiana & Pacific Railway Company 252 at Longville, Louisiana. In 1922 it was transferred to Longview, Portland & Northern Railway 680, then to Willamina & Grand Ronde Railway Company 680. In 1954, they merged with Longview, Portland & Northern Railway Co. 680 and in 1977, it was sold to Robert Gray as Virginia & Truckee Railroad 29.

We boarded the train, sitting in the rear coach. Here is a view before we left.

Passing the items we photographed earlier.

View of the Virginia and Truckee shops which are located in the same place as the original V&T shops.

Views of the truck highway (US 143) on the hill. It is closed for three days each year for the Gold Hill Climb, a car race.

The juniper tree, the state tree of Nevada.

Tailings from one of the old mines.

Views of the terrain.

Tunnel 4, the second longest on the line, at 387 feet.

The old toll wagon road to Virginia City, part of the Immigrant Trail.

The remains of Tunnel 3 which is too unstable to have trains pass through it; attempts at rebuilding have occurred but failed.

One of the last active mines along the railroad on approach to Gold Hill.

Remains of the mines are everywhere in this valley.

The end of the trip at Gold Hill.

Looking toward Gold Hill.

An unexpected surprise was Santa Maria Valley 2-8-2 100 built by Baldwin in 1926 for Charles R. McCormick Lumber Company as their 4 at Port Gamble, Washington. In 1942, it became Santa Maria Valley 100 and in 1962, became White Mountain Scenic 100. In 1976, it became Wasatch Mountain Railway 100 before becoming part of the Fred Kepner collection in Merrill, Oregon. In 2021, after Mr. Kepner's passing, the steam engine went to the Oregon Coast Scenic Railway and finally, in 2022, was sold to the Virginia and Truckee. It last ran in 1984 on the Heber Valley Railroad.

A mine on the hill.

The Viriginia and Truckee Gold Hill station built in 1872.

Views on the way back to Virginia City.

Entering Tunnel 4.

Passing through Tunnel 4.

On the return trip.

View of the current Virginia and Truckee shops.

The locomotive takes a curve.

Two more shop views.

A view from where we had just been.

This bridge was used by two mines to dump their ore into a side dumper to the east of the bridge.

The view looking east out into the Nevada desert. We detrained and had plenty of time to take more pictures before our second train ride of the day. First, however, we visited the gift shop and purchased some souvenirs.

Virginia and Truckee 29 between trains. We then walked up to the next street where we knew there was something of interest.

Virginia and Truckee mail-bullion car 13, the only railroad car ever designed expressly for transportation of precious metals. It was built by the Oxford Car Company in 1874. We returned to the station and decided to drive over to the highway bridge that goes over the tracks.

The 4:00 pm train left Virginia City and we caught it at the site of the former Tunnel 5 which was daylighted when the highway bridge was built that we are standing on.

We waited for the train to return to Virginia City.

The train has returned to Virginia City.

Virginia and Truckee 2-8-0 29.

Virginia and Truckee 44 ton switcher D-3, ex. Yuma Valley Railway 3, nee United States Marine Corp switcher built by General Electric in 1943. It arrived in May 2013 and was repainted to V&T colors in July 2017.

Viriginia and Truckee open air car 52 created from Union Pacific caboose 25852 built in 1979.

Viriginia and Truckee open air car 50, created from Western Pacific caboose 680 built in 1916, and a view of Virginia and Truckee 29 pulling backwards. We were in line to board our second train of the day, which was a special train to the middle of the railroad that Elizabeth had seen advertised on Railway Preservation News interchange board. The conductor, Eric, asked Elizabeth to announce that they were ready to board and she very capably said "All Aboard" into the microphone, which made Eric jokingly offer her a job.

On the way to Gold Hill.

On the way out of Virginia City.

At the Virginia and Truckee shops.

Virginia and Truckee 29 taking a curve.

On the way to Gold Hill.

Future tracks for us to ride.

The Gold Hill station.

Looking at the active silver mine.

Virginia and Truckee 29 took a curve.

The bell from the fire house.

Gold Hill station.

Santa Maria Valley 2-8-2 100.

Mines on both sides of the tracks.

Gold Hill graveyard.

A view looking east.

The final part of the Gold Hill graveyard.

American Flat mine.

Donovan siding.

View looking east.

Virginia and Truckee 29 on another curve.

The train reached the siding at Scales.

Looking back the way we came.

The Scales station sign.

The engine ran around the train.

Looking from where we came.

We went a little way east before we changed direction.

Scenes of the way back to the big fill. This ends my coverage of this extra mile trip. We returned to Virginia City and thanked our train crew for the excellent trip then Elizabeth drove us out of town but we stopped before we went too far when we spotted a building.

Virginia and Truckee freight house built in 1877. We drove Nevada Highway 341 which we took back to US 395 and went to Jersey Mike's for dinner. She then drove the rest of the way to Reno where we checked into the Ramada Inn for the next two nights.