Virginia City Engine Terminal

1870-1873 1874-1875 1876-1878

Historical Perspective
Text: Tom Smith

In planning the construction of the V & T it was determined rather early that some of the most difficult work would be in the area of Virginia City. Besides the huge trestle it would take to cross the Crown Point Ravine, there were four tunnels to be holed through: one at American Flat, two at Gold Hill and one below the Divide.

The plan called for two locomotives to be hauled up the Geiger grade to assist in construction at the Virginia City end, while 3 other engines would handle the somewhat easier grade from Carson on up.

Prior to the arrival of its first locomotive into Virginia City, the V & T built a large building there to be used as a work shop.

Ten days later ...
The month of November, 1869 must have been a whirlwind of accomplishment as track laying, neared completion. On the 14th the TE stated the locomotives Virginia and Carson were running order and operation on a short section of track at the workshop. Only three days later they reported that track work on its way to Virginia City had reached the Ward Tunnel the evening before and was expected to reach the workshop that afternoon. And, by the 20th the GHDN was able to proclaim "the RR is finished and the cars running through to the workshop..."

Eight days later they reported
... the first passenger car of the V & T RR is completed and stands outside the workshop ready for use...

The V & T apparently wasted no time resting on its laurels because the following day, November 29, 1869, the same newspaper reports
...quite a large space graded off near the workshop... for a turntable, engine house, new work shop, foundry, etc...

In January, 1870 the first official passenger train passed the recently completed Virginia City Roundhouse on its way from Carson to the new depot on 'E' Street just south of St. Mary's.

Fourteen month later William Sharon announced plans to extend the V & T from Carson to Reno and in July, 1871 ground was broken for that purpose. A month later Locomotive Storey was dismantled at the Virginia City Car Shops to be sent to Reno for service as a Construction Engine.

For the next two years the Virginia City Engine Terminal was a hub of activity while the V & T continued to grow in activity and in size. During these early years Virginia City was home to the V & T's general business office and major car and engine repair facilities. Carson contained only a small 3 stall engine house at the west end of town with facilities to handle only minor repairs.

However with the August, 1872 completion of the Reno Division, Carson City became the midpoint on the line and with its level, open space, became the desirable location to develop a more expanded V & T shop facility. We must keep in mind the rapid growth experienced by the V & T in these beginning years. In 1872 they had 11 locomotives of which 4 were stabled at Virginia, 3 at Carson and the remaining 4 at Steamboat Springs.

So, while tracks were being laid through a new tunnel under St. Mary's to Mill Street ground was being broken for a shop facility in Carson that would prove to be a rival to the Central Pacific's Sacramento Shop.

The big Bonanza of February, 1873 would continue to provide the Virginia City Roundhouse with a high level of activity for the next several years. But when the Carson City Engine House and Shop were completed and Master Mechanic John William Bowker and his crew left Virginia City in the fall of 1873 they took with them the status of major engine and car repair facilities of the V & T RR.

In 1874 the V & T appears to have embarked on a rebuilding program for its Virginia City Roundhouse and Yards. In January they laid all new rail in the yards and during spring or summer, removed the small cluster of buildings at the read of the car shops and build a new and larger Blacksmith Shop.

In September, they replaced the turntable and build a new and substantial machine shop the following month.

In the early part of 1875 the V & T developed plans to enlarge the old 4 stall Roundhouse to 8 stalls. But 1875 was a tumultuous year in V & T history. January broght a stock market crash and major snow storms and slides. In February they started work on the 1,940 foot combination spur and obtained bids on putting the C & C spur which later would become known as the Virginia City low line. The Chollar switch and side track were put in during the spring and in August the Bank of California closed its door and Ralston committed suicide. In October, Virginia City would fall victim to what would forever more be known as the "Great Fire".

If all that went before it didn't serve to alter the V & T's plans for rebuilding its Virginia City Terminal then the fire certanly did. All effort was directed on rebuilding the Passenger and Freight Depots lost in the blaze. Business boomed as the needs fore more and more supplies grew. Freight piled up at the Old Depot and Gold Hill as well. Most of it was outdoors and subject to the elements.

By the time attention was again directed to the Engine Yards, things were not the same on the Comstock. The earlier 1875 plans called for 4 stall addition on the west side of and adjoining the original Roundhouse. This is believed to be the first phase of an eight stall replacement for the original Roundhouse whereby they would tear down the old building and replace it with a twin of the new Roundhouse. This 1875 plan was only partially realized with the completion of that first 4 stall addition in the fall of 1876. But by then the tide had turned on the Comstock and further expansion was no longer necessary.

Photos courtesy of the Special Collections Department, University of Nevada, Reno


May 19, 1869 Large quantities of lumber passed through town for Railroad construction. (Territorial Enterprise)
August 4, 1869 A 24' x 78' building being erected for Foundry and Repair Works. (Territorial Enterprise)
October 17, 1869 Locomotive #4, Virginia passed through town today. Tender passed yesterday. (Territorial Enterprise)
October 26, 1869 Car shop in place with twelve to fifteen workmen setting up locomotive No. 4 Virginia. (Territorial Enterprise).
November 5, 1869 96' x 24' Car Shop in operation on knoll at south end of town. (GHDN)
November 8, 1869 Two wagon loads of locomotive parts passed through to the workshop. (Territorial Enterprise)
November 14, 1869 Locomotives running on short section on track at shop.
November 16, 1869 Mail Line Rails reach Car Shop.
November 17, 1869 Open house at workshop. (Territorial Enterprise)
November 20, 1869 Railroad complete to workshop. (Territorial Enterprise)
November 28, 1869 First passenger car comes out of shop. (GHDN)
November 29, 1869 Large space graded for Roundhouse, Turntable, Foundry and new Workshop. (GHDN)
November 29, 1869 New passenger car makes first roundtrip, Virginia to Carson.
December 21, 1869 Second passenger car placed into service.
December 22, 1869 Construction begins on Roundhouse. (GHDN)
January 5, 1870 Roundhouse roofed in and cut complete.
July 11, 1870 Timetable #1 in effect.
August 1870 Original Depot built at end of line at St. Mary's.
January 1871 Caboose 5 & 6 built at the Car Shop and put in service.
August 1871 Locomotive #3 Storey dismantled at shop for use as Reno construction engine.
September 1872 Article refers to Parke and Bowie and Hale and Norcross having a Coal Dump south of the Roundhouse.
October 2, 1872 Timbers ordered for Bumbers in Yard area. (Document)
November 1872 New rails laid from Roundhouse to Mill Street.
March 29, 1873 Parke and Bowie no longer hauling from Roundhouse Dumps.
April 7, 1873 Telegraph Office installed at Roundhouse. (VEC)
June 10, 1873 Chollar Tailing Trestle constructed over V&TRR Tracks. (VEC)
July 1873 New Carson Stone Engine House opens.
November 12, 1873 J. W. Bowker and crew move operation to Carson leaving one foreman and two men at the Car Shop in Virginia. (VEC)
December 22, 1873 Small Winter House built for switch tenders in Virginia City.
January 13, 1874 New steel rail laid in Virginia Yards.
June 10, 1874 New 20' smoke stacks added to Virginia City Roundhouse.
June 13, 1874 New rails laid in yard area from mail line to roundhouse. (VEC)
June 20, 1874 Electrical phenomena at Roundhouse.
July 20, 1874 New Blacksmith Shop built.
September 26, 1874 New Turntable on stone foundation completed.
October 12, 1874 All offices, telegraph station, water tanks & outhouses being newly painted. (VEC)
October 25, 1974 New and substantial machine shop built in Virginia City. (VEC)
November 12, 1874 Car shop repaired.
December 25, 1874 Yerington suggests naming the new Virginia switch engine after master mechanic Bowker. (HMY/DOM)
March 1875 Plans prepared to enlarge Roundhouse to eight stalls.
March 5, 1875 Locomotive Virginia replaces the Lyon as Virginia Switch Engine. (VEC)
May 5, 1875 New side track being extended beyond site of new Chollar Shaft for purpose of building a Turn Table. (VEC)
May 9, 1875 Laying tracks at tunnel for Combination Mine.
June 13, 1875 Locomotive Bowker ran into turntable pit due to misplaced switch.
September 15, 1875 Fire occurs in roundhouse smoke funnel. (VEC)
January 12, 1876 New Water Tank and Turntable installed.
March 15, 1876 Old UM&M Ore Dump in cut opposite roundhouse ready to fall. (HYM/DOM)
May 4, 1876 News article mentions stairs going up west wall of roundhouse cut.
September 5, 1876 Yerrington requests new roundhouse. (HMY/DOM)
September 13, 1876 Construction begins on new Virginia Roundhouse. (Territorial Enterprise)
October 14, 1876 The new Roundhouse completed except for smokestacks (4 more stalls).
November 6, 1876 Bricks ordered for roundhouse (pit/turntable?) from Callahan & Burke. (Document)
November 14, 1876 Wire fence installed around roundhouse.
1878 Cupolas removed from old roundhouse.
April 4, 1881 V&T RR stables located on the divide are being closed.
December 29, 1890 New iron turntable installed and operating.
January 31, 1912 Repairs to turntable & roundhouse at Virginia City (Ama Diary)
1914 Car shops gone by this date. (Photograph)


 Trackage History

MAIN LINE MP 51.0 Roundhouse Yard on Blocks 211, 212, 213, 231 and the Elliot Tract #69.  
  Nov. 16, 1869 Main Line Rails reach Car Shop.  
YARD TRACKS MP 51.2 Trackage to and around Turntable in 1875. 1,850 Feet
  Nov. 14, 1869 Locomotive running on short section of track at shop.  
  Nov. 29, 1869 Space graded for roundhouse and turntable.  
  Jan. 13, 1874 New steel rail laid in Virginia Yards.  
    SPUR 'H' Turntable Lead 483 Feet
    SPUR 'I' Storage Track 320 Feet
    SPUR 'J' Car Shop Track 462 Feet
    SPUR 'K' Blacksmith Track 373 Feet
    SPUR 'L' Loading Platform Track 283 Feet
    Turntable Storage Track (later years) Approx. 70 Feet
  SPUR 'M' Combination Side Track 1,940 Feet
  Mar. 22, 1875 Grading nearly completed.  
  Apr. 18, 1875 Ward or Julia Tunnel being widened by 9' for switch.  
  May 1, 1875 Track extended beyond shaft for purpose of turntable.  
  May 14, 1875 Rails reach halfway point. Grading required three fills, four cuts and three culverts.  
  May 20, 1875 Rails completely laid.  
  Virginia City Low Line 5,350 Feet
  Jul. 15, 1875 Petition submitted for right-of-way.  
  Aug. 11, 1875 Right-of-way granted.  
  Aug. 24, 1876 Grading begins.  
  Oct. 4, 1875 Yerington reports track will be done by end of month.  
  Oct. 25, 1876 Rails at halfway point.  
  Nov. 23, 1876 Cars running over C&C sidetrack.  
  On site of Julia Mine in later years. 720 Feet



V. &T. R. R. Employees

As listed in the 1873 - 1874 V&T Railroad Directory specifically identified with Roundhouse.

Bowker, J. W. Master Mechanic   res. 208 South D.
Cook, J. Blacksmith Round house  
Day, J. W. Machinist Round house  
Dorsey, J. C. Clerk Round house res. Carson
Healey, Wm. Helper Round house  
McArthur, P. Foreman Round house bds Noyes Restaurant
Myers, C. Mechanic Round house  
Southerland, J. Foreman Car shop  
White, H. Laborer Round house  
Williams, T. H. Watchman Round house  

Employees as listed in the 1873 - 1874 V&T Railroad Directory not specifically identified with Roundhouse.

Beaird, A. J. Laborer  
Brady, Thomas Laborer  
Brown, H. A. Watchman Sutton Ave nr B
Christie, Andrew Watchman res. 24 North Howard
Connor, Wm. H. Master Boilermaker  
Conroy, Peter Laborer res. north west corner E and Mill
Crowley, C. Blacksmith  
Cummings, Benj. A. Carpenter  
Davis, T. S. Laborer  
Fisher, M. Machinist  
Fitzegerald, J. Blacksmith Helper  
Fulton, J. Blacksmith  
Henry, W. R. Laborer bds. 207 South D.
Higbee, Benj. L. Watchman north east corner F and Union
Judd, Frank Boilermaker bds. Ashland House
Kelly, Alexander Laborer  
Knapp, D. W. Telegraph Operator res north east corner C and Taylor
Krege, Geo. Blacksmith's Helper bds Ashland House
Landgraf Jacob Machinist  
Lee, T. E. Carpenter  
Malley, Peter Machinist  
McCall, John Laborer  
McDevitt, P. Blacksmith Helper bds 207 South D
McIntyre, John Laborer  
McIsaac, John Laborer  
McIver, John Watchman  
McKenny, W. Yardmaster res 24, South E
McKinney, David Yardman res at Depot
McLaren, D. Laborer  
McNulty, John Boilermaker bds Ashland House
Montford, Louis Carpenter  
Morrison, Kenneth Watchman, Old Depot  
Myers, Henry Laborer  
Nolan, Con. Laborer bds Oro House
Norton, Michael Blacksmith Helper  
Osborn, C. W. Laborer  
Quinn, C. Laborer  
Reed, Frank Laborer  
Riedhinger, E. Carpenter  
Risher, John J. Laborer  
Roberts, J. H. Blacksmith Helper  
Rolling, D. M. Machinist  
Rourke, Thos. Telegraph Operator res 154 North D
Ryan, Thomas Laborer  
Ryan, William Laborer  
Sharason, Joseph Laborer  
Sisk, Thomas Foreman res 63 South F
Sparks, Joseph Master Blacksmith  
Stone, R. Carpenter  
Sullivan, Charles Laborer res 192 South B
Sullivan, Dennis Blacksmith  
Taylor, George Carpenter  
Teasland, George Laborer res at Depot
Thornton, Owen Laborer res 210 South B
Tompkins, Jos. Boilermaker bds Ashland House
Tulley, John T. Carpenter res 159 South B
Wallace, R. H. Boilermaker  
West, Charles Laborer 15 South E
Westerman, R. Blacksmith  
White, Charles A. Yard Master res 24 South E
Wiley, Thomas Laborer  
Woolie, Thomas Boiler Maker  
Zimmerman, J. Laborer  
Zimmerman, P. Carpenter  



Source of information: Tom Smith.