The Gilbert H. Kneiss V&T Collection
Text: Hart Corbett

Gil Kneiss was President of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society but he also became Assistant to the President of the Western Pacific Railroad. He was instrumental in saving old locomotives and equipment from many railroads which were being abandoned and scrapped during the late 1930s, especially in Nevada. Due to Gil's influence with the railroad President, all this saved equipment was stored in the Western Pacific roundhouse in West Oakland, CA, from the late 1940s to about 1970. The equipment then was moved to Sacramento over a couple of years, where it became the core of the displays at the California State Railroad Museum. If it weren't for Gil, the CSRM would not have that equipment. Included were three V&T engines: #12 "Genoa", #13 "Empire", and #21 "J.W. Bowker".

One of Dad's Kodachrome slides shows who I believe to be Gil Kneiss speaking at the ceremony just outside the Carson City passenger station, This was just after the excursion train had arrived from Reno. Unfortunately, Gil died prematurely sometime in the 1950s.

In 1946, when I was a Cub Scout [for younger kids not old enough to be a Boy Scout], my mother was a "Den Mother" who organized activities for a "Den", which was one of several in a troop of Cub Scouts. Sometime that year, she made a phone call to a company in Oakland, of which a family member was an owner, and our Den went on a field trip to this company. On a lot adjacent to the company headquarters, a 20 foot tall solid wooden fence completely enclosed the area. Two big gates were opened for us and there in front of us was all the equipment which Gil Kneiss had saved before the U.S. entered World War II. It had been stored there for the duration of the war. We Cub Scouts (maybe 8 or 10 of us) were allowed to walk among, on, and through the interiors of all that was there, chaperoned by a company official and my mother. It was fascinating! This is what first "hooked" me on the old railroads of the West. I was 9 years old.

The equipment later was moved to the Western Pacific roundhouse, where I would check on it periodically starting around 1958 until it went to the CSRM restoration shops. My wife and I could walk freely among all the equipment as long as we didn't touch anything.

The book "Bonanza Railways" by the late Gilbert Kneiss, originally published in 1941 by the Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. Each chapter of the book is about a different early-day railroad in either Nevada or California. Chapter 3, which is 30 pages long, is about the V&T and is titled "Steel Coils Around the Comstock". This book was perhaps the earliest railroad history book for rail fans -- it certainly is the earliest in my collection.

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