Washington Street Rails Then and Now


Here is V&T Engine #27 pulling a train down a dusty Washington Street in the year 1938. For nearly 80 years, from 1872 until the rails were pulled up in 1950, the daily trains from Reno ran down this street on their way to the Carson City Depot, which still stands today at the corner of Carson and Washington Street.

The route from Reno was mostly through wide sagebrush plains and agricultural pasture land. After passing through the Washoe Valley, the line reached Lakeview at the same place as the modern-day highway. Then the train slowly climbed down Duck Hill, following the roadbed that can still be seen scarring the side of the hill. It traveled south for a way through the Eagle Valley, passing by the future site of the WNCC campus, until the tracks reached the outskirts of Carson City. There, at about the site of present-day Ormsby Boulevard, the mainline turned east onto Washington Street and rolled right through town, right past people’s houses and backyards. Most of the time the train had to share right-of-way with buggies or, in the later years, cars. Here in this photo you can see a car trying to keep its distance from the great iron horse as it makes its way to the depot.

Washington Street wasn’t the only one that had rails running down it. Caroline Street, one block to the south, had its own line, used chiefly for freight traffic. Trains on that line would rattle the windows of the Governor’s Mansion. And once the branch line to Minden opened in 1906, another set of tracks followed Stewart Street south out of town, stopping first at the Indian colony and then crossing into the Carson Valley. But these tracks on Washington Street were the mainline. Whether you were going to Bowers Mansion for an excursion, going to Reno for business, or connecting to the Central Pacific Transcontinental Railroad for a trip to New York, your journey always started underneath the poplars and elms of Washington.


Today the rails and trains are gone from Washington Street, all but forgotten. The tracks were pulled up in 1950, the year the V&T stopped operations. For many years the railroad hadn’t been making any profits, and some days there would only be one single passenger on the Reno-to-Carson run. In the end, the railroad was put out of business by the very cars it had to share the road with here on Washington Street.

After the rails were pulled up Washington Street became a major thoroughfare, one of the widest streets on the west side. Very few remnants of the V&T days still remain. The huge trees that used to shade the street on the left side of the picture have given way to the Washington Street Station building, formerly the Golden Spike Casino, which casts a different kind of shadow on the street. The fences and weeds were replaced by curbs and sidewalks, and the dusty street itself was paved.

One thing that still remains from the past is the house on the right. All the trees and the neighboring houses are long since gone, but that one structure remains surrounded by a sea of asphalt. It is the home of Capital Jewelers.

And of course Engine #27 is still around. It is one of only nine V&T locomotives that were spared the scrap heap. It no longer runs under its own steam, but it has been restored to look just like it does in the “Then”, and it’s on display at the State Railroad Museum just a couple of miles away. The V&T itself is in the process of being reborn as a tourist railroad running between Carson City and Virginia City, although the route to Reno isn’t going to be resurrected. So there will probably never again be rails running down Washington Street, as there were for 80 years.

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