By Heidi Bethel
Steeped in rich locomotive history, the Sierra has long been crossed with railroad tracks and dotted with depots. During your visit, explore the popular transportation of centuries past with a few fun outings. First, let’s review a quick history lesson.
In the late 1800s, the Nevada-California-Oregon railway began construction of a track that would move passengers, parcels, livestock and supplies along the West Coast. Some historians believe this helped put Reno on the map and it didn’t take long to see the transformation it had on the Biggest Little City. Throughout it’s time, the depot here has seen its fare share of dramatic evolution including a rebuild following fire in 1889. Today, you may enjoy a great brew and tasty bite at The Depot Craft Brewery Distillery. thedepotreno.com
Fast forward about a century to the controversial ReTRAC project where two miles of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks running through downtown Reno were successfully lowered into trenches — freeing up the congestion on major streets where even ambulances would have to wait for passing locomotives. During the hefty renovation that left the Reno Southern Pacific Railroad Depot on the National Register of Historic Places, many significant artifacts were uncovered including an unknown basement at a masonic lodge and old pedestrian tunnel no longer used. Visit the depot to view the famous 1980 WCTU water fountain, an old cistern used by the fire department, Native American works of art, and several bottles dating as far back as the 1860s. While you’re there, take Amtrak’s California Zephyr to Truckee and back — this is a great way to experience a little more of the area without the rental car! amtrak.com
Traversing from Carson City to Virginia City, the V&T Railroad is yet another iron horse success story. In the 1860s, the state’s first legislature considered the railroad that helped deliver the rich silver and gold deposits found in Virginia City to the masses. In its prime the railway saw 30-to-45 trains operating daily, but by the turn of the century and with a severe mining decline it became a steady passenger transport service. Now folks can ride full steam ahead on various themed rides including a wine train, scenic mills and mines tours, and more. vtrailway.com
In downtown Reno, at Idlewild Park not only will you find a great spot with miles of walking trails, the rushing Truckee River, a rose garden and tons of playthings for the kiddos, you’ll also spot a fun train ride perfect for the littles and their people. reno.gov
If you’re looking for even more railway history, visit the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City. Here you can see the actual Virginia and Truckee Railroad #27, which was the last new locomotive purchased by the V&T Railroad. And peruse the scale model exhibit with many miniature replicas of the trains of yesteryear. nvculture.org
Hop aboard Reno/Tahoe’s booming train history scene and tell the conductor that Getaway sent you!