“Work Has Started” blazed the over-sized headline of the Record-Courier on September 29, 1905. There were no exclamation points, but you could feel the excitement.
Ground had been broken the day before on the V&T rail line destined to link Carson City to Carson Valley. Three crews were hard at work, the article reported, with as many as 400 men soon be employed on the 15.28 mile undertaking.
It had been a long time coming. A rail line into Carson Valley had been talked about as early as 1876. The gold strike at Bodie in 1879 fueled even more talk of a railroad running south. A bond issue to fund such an improvement was briefly considered in 1892. But nothing had materialized until the V&T’s earth-moving began in the fall of 1905.
The local mood was understandably upbeat, with promoters eagerly awaiting the railroad’s boost to the Valley’s industry and agriculture. Until now, wagons and mule teams had been the only option for freighting. Entrepreneurs were hopeful that the faster, more efficient rail line would expand the market for the Valley’s produce and encourage the establishment of local factories, woolen mills, tanneries and other industries.
And even bigger prospects were ahead, some locals contended. The steel tracks would “undoubtedly be extended across the mountains, via Alpine,” to connect with the Santa Fe line at Stockton, the newspaper confidently proclaimed. V&T General Manager H.M. Yerington, too, was said to be eager to push the railroad another 150 miles south of Minden, to facilitate commerce in the ‘previously untapped country’ of Esmeralda and Mono Counties. Antelope Valley businessman T.B. Rickey was reportedly spinning grand plans to raise sugar beets, counting on the railroad’s extension further south to boost his venture.
When the line was first being laid out of Carson, it wasn’t yet entirely clear where the terminus of the new rail line would be – at least according to the stories in the local newspaper. In truth, however, there never really was a question. Much of the land for the rail extension had been made available by H.F. Dangberg, Jr. and the Dangberg Land and Livestock Company, which was busily developing the town of Minden. Thus Minden, and not Gardnerville, was as far south as the new V&T line would go.
The newly-laid tracks got a quiet test run on June 12, 1906. Three weeks later, on the Fourth of July, a celebratory debut journey was made, carrying some 500 eager passengers from Carson City, Virginia City, and Reno. This “special” consisted of five passenger coaches plus two flat cars and departed from Carson City. Its arrival at Minden was delayed for a few hours thanks to a recent heavy thunderstorm, which had washed out about ten feet of rails. But at 10:45 a.m. it successfully steamed into Minden, where a freight platform and temporary depot awaited. The Record-Courier of July 6, 1906 carried the happy story; the same issue, not coincidentally, also shared news that Minden’s official town plat had been presented to the Board of Commissioners and approved.
The first regularly-scheduled train to steam into Minden would chug into the station at 11:30 a.m. on August 1, 1906, and consisted of a passenger coach, an express coach, and two freight cars. Nevada Senator H.F. Dangberg, Jr. and Edward Boucher Yerington, Secretary of the V&T (H.M. Yerington’s son), were both aboard for this inaugural journey. The train’s arrival was greeted at Minden by a throng of locals who’d assembled to witness the event. The Douglas County Creamery wasted no time making use of the new railroad line; it shipped a load of butter north on the train’s return leg to Carson.
When completed in early September, the Minden depot-slash-warehouse was 32 x 60 feet in size, with a covered platform wrapping around the building’s perimeter. All told, the wooden building had cost about $3,200. It sat beside the tracks, of course, and just across the road from what locals know today as Francisco’s restaurant.
Unlike passenger facilities, which the V&T painted yellow, the Minden depot was painted a deep red, the signature color for “combination” depots handling both freight and passengers. The Dangbergs had initially planned to build a hotel at the end of the line, with a lobby that could double as a waiting room for passengers. When the hotel hadn’t materialized by 1909, the V&T’s general manager added a 16 x 28-foot waiting room just south of the depot.
The first railroad agent at Minden was a gentleman named ‘Herb’ Coffin, who gamely took up residence in a tent until a permanent agent’s house could be completed. Over the coming decades, a total of a dozen agents would eventually serve in that post. The small yellow house designated for the agent’s residence sat not far away, on the opposite (east) side of the tracks.
For its first four or five years, the V&T ran just one train a day on the Minden route. The cars would leave Reno at 8:30 a.m., arriving in Minden at 10:30 a.m., and departing again at 11:35 a.m. for the return leg of the journey.
The railroad, of course, instantly became one of the Minden’s biggest bragging rights and attractions. Today’s Highway 395 was dubbed ‘Railroad Avenue’ on the town’s early map. For horse and buggy travelers, County Road was the main thoroughfare that connected Minden and Gardnerville — until May 1916, that is, when the Dangberg Company scraped its new road south as far as the Springmeyer Ranch. The new roadway wouldn’t be paved, however, until 1920.
From its launch in 1906 through about the mid-1920s, the V&T extension was a thriving concern. It was popular, of course, with passengers heading to Carson City or Reno. But it also did a booming agricultural business, hauling hay, hides, farm produce and other goods. Ranchers quickly embraced the train as a cost-effective way to haul sheep and cattle to Valley pastures, and to ship fattened animals to market.
In the late 1920s, however, two separate developments began eroding the railroad’s profits. One was the catastrophic crash of ’29 and the Great Depression that followed. The other was the advent of motorized trucking, which began to dominate the freighting industry. By September 1936, the V&T was hurting, and in 1938 it went into voluntary receivership. With Interstate Commerce Commission permission, it abandoned its 21-mile rail line between Carson City and Virginia City in June 1941.
The company managed to emerge from receivership in January 1946, following World War II. But by early 1949, it was again in financial difficulty. It again petitioned the ICC for permission to close the remaining 46 miles of line between Reno and Minden. That abandonment permission was finally granted on April 19, 1950. The V&T’s final day of operation was set for May 31, 1950.
Some say the old Baldwin Engine Number 26, which had long plied the Minden route, committed “suicide” in despair. In service since 1907, Number 26 burned in a tragic fire at the Reno roundhouse on May 1, 1950, only weeks before she was scheduled to make her final Minden run. With her cypress wooden cab completely burned away and her metal parts warped, she was consigned to the scrap yard.
A substitute engine, therefore, made the final run to Minden: Number 27, a Baldwin locomotive built in 1913. She was treated to a farewell rifle salute and a bugle rendition of ‘Taps’ as she steamed away from the Minden station house on May 31, 1950. Luckily, Number 27 can be found at the Nevada State Railroad Museum today.
On September 29, 1950, exactly 45 years to the day from the newspaper’s first happy announcement of the ground-breaking for the V&T’s Minden line, the Record-Courier pronounced it “Only Memories.” The steel rails, weighing 56 pounds apiece, were yanked from their ties and sold to a junk dealer in San Francisco. The large red depot was bought by William Graunke, and moved down the street to sit behind a brick warehouse/mill that Graunke owned in Gardnerville, to provide additional storage. But in late November, 1966, the old depot was dismantled, board by board, its storage capacity “no longer as valuable as the space it occupies.” Graunke’s old brick warehouse, too, would come down four years later, in November, 1970, the victim (as the Record-Courier put it) of “non-use and increasing taxes.” Its 90,000+ bricks were salvaged, though, and likely made their way into innumerable building projects around the valley. Today, a car wash occupies the spot.
And as for the old yellow V&T agent’s house? Well, according to historian Wynne Maule, it was moved to Gardnerville to become a residence. But at first, its new location was a mystery to us. Thanks to help from history friends and the magic of the internet, we recently discovered where the agent’s house stands today! Tune in for our next story and we’ll share the answer to that “history’s mystery.”
Grateful thanks to railroad historian and V&T expert Stephen Drew for his kind assistance with this story! Many thanks, also, to Linda Reid for information about the depot’s later years and the Graunke warehouse.