California's V&T Engines

Over its 80-year history, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad ran a grand total of 29 locomotives across its tracks. Most of them were sold for scrap after they had outlived their usefulness, but a few still survive to today. Those that do survive are with us only because they were sold to Hollywood studios in the 1930s and used in films, or passed on to other organizations that kept them off the scrap heap long enough for their historical signifigance to be recognized.

Out of the original 29 engines, only nine still survive. The Nevada State Railroad Museum here in Carson City has four of them; there is also one at Old Tuscon Studios, one in Pennsylvania, and three at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Since I went to the Sacramento museum in December, I was able to bring back these pictures of Carson City’s wayward children, those three locomotives being held captive by our neighbors to the West.

#12 Genoa

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The Genoa was built by Baldwin in 1873. It was one of the fastest V&T engines, and a favorite of the train crews back then. Declining business led to the Genoa being retired in 1908, and sitting in storage for the next 30 years. The V&T got rid of it in 1939, and it spent some time touring the country as a display engine. The Genoa finally ended up in the hands of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, who in turn donated it to the state of California to be used in their new railroad museum. It’s theoretically still in operable condition, though it hasn’t been steamed up since 1979.

#13 Empire

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The Empire was built at the same time as the Genoa, so in a way they’re sister engines. Like the Genoa, it operated on the V&T until the early 20th century, but then it was sold to the Pacific Portland Cement Company of Gerlach, Nevada and used in their yards. Eventually it ended up back with its sister in the care of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society. They cosmetically restored it, and moved it into Sacramento’s new museum building in 1981.

#21 J. W. Bowker

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The little J. W. Bowker was built in 1875, two years after its compatriots in Sacramento. It was put to work as a switching engine, working in the Virginia City yards. In 1896 it was sold to the Sierra Nevada Wood & Lumber Company, hauling lumber at Lake Tahoe. After that it became a movie train, appearing in the film “Union Pacific”. And then, like the others, it ended up with the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society and formed the core of the California State Railroad Museum’s collection. Unlike it’s larger cousins, though, the J. W. Bowker doesn’t get a place of honor inside the main display hall. It’s still on display in the open-air Central Pacific Railroad Passenger Station next door, where it’s been for 30 years now.

So those are the three engines that should be in Carson City, but instead are just a couple of hours away in Sacramento. It’s unlikely they’ll ever end up back here where they belong, so it’s good to know that we can go visit them whenever we have a free weekend.


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