Carson & Colorado Railroad

Carson & Colorado Route Map by Frederic Shaw

A railroad running south from the Virginia & Truckee was first conceived shortly before 1880 by William Sharon, one of the V&T's founders. Ore was dwindling on the Comstock, and reports from the south seemed favorable. Sharon brought the idea before Darius Ogden Mills, another founder of the V&T that saw great profits. Sharon's proposal would create a link between the Comstock's mills and the Colorado River at Fort Mohave, some 500 miles away, with a spur connecting to Bodie and Aurora. The route was to be built economically, being narrow-gauge, using Chinese workers, and having very few grades. Mills eventually agreed to finance the rail, and the Carson & Colorado Railroad was incorporated on May 10, 1880. Henry M. Yerington, then Superintendent and Vice President of the V&T, served as President and D.L. Bliss served as Vice President. Mills owned two-thirds of the stock, while the rest belonged to Sharon.

Construction began on May 31, 1880. The line began at Mound House, traveling east through Daney Canyon to Dayton, and then on along the Carson River to Fort Churchill, where it turned south toward Mason Valley where it joined the Walker River. By September, grading had been completed to the northern end of Walker Lake and in October it reached newly-created Hawthorne. That month, work began on laying rails and on October 27, Engine No. 1, the Candelaria, was placed on the tracks. Within the next month the tracks reached Dayton, and on March 1 they reached Walker Lake. By this time two more engines had joined the Candelaria; No. 2, the Belleville, and No. 3, the Colorado. On April 7, 1881, rails reached Hawthorne and facilities were built for use as a division headquarters.

From Hawthorne, the plan was to complete the spur to Bodie and Aurora, and continue the line toward Silver Peak and Lida. Neither of those plans were realized, however. Freight haulers from Bodie and Aurora significantly dropped their rates in order to keep from losing their business and simply created a freight road connecting to the C&C. Meanwhile, a C&C planner visited the mines in Cerro Gordo, California, and determined that routing the rail over Montgomery Pass to Owens Valley was a more profitable option than Silver Peak and Lida, and the earlier plans were abandoned. Hawley (now Keeler) was to be the new destination.

In early 1882, the railroad reached Belleville and Candelaria (the latter was connected to the mainline by spur). In the next year, grading was completed over Montgomery Pass and a 247-foot tunnel, the only one on the line, was completed. In January 1883, rails reached Benton. On August 1, the first train finally reached Keeler. Unfortunately, soon thereafter plans to extend the line were discontinued due to the falling price of silver and lack of potential profit. The finished 283-mile line would instead end at Keeler and handle borax shipments from that region. A connection to the south wasn't completed until 1910, when Southern Pacific completed the 'Jawbone Branch' from Mojave, California to the former C&C in Owenyo.

Though at first the line saw promising profits, they were not long-lived. In February 1892, the line was reorganized and renamed the Carson & Colorado Railway, to reduce debt that had accumulated. Sharon had passed in 1885, and the remaining founders had little interest remaining in the C&C, though Mills still retained full ownership. In March 1900, the Southern Pacific purchased the C&C for $2,750,000 - an amount which pleased Mills, though unfortunately for him in May silver was discovered in Tonopah (which was soon followed by the gold discoveries in Goldfield) and the little line became increasingly busy. With increased business, the connection at Mound House became increasingly bottlenecked as freight had to be transferred from the narrow-gauge C&C to the standard-gauge V&T. As a result, Southern Pacific began to convert the C&C to standard-gauge in 1904. In July 1905, the conversion had been completed from Mound House to Mina, and a third rail laid from Mina to Tonopah Junction (where it met the new Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad) for dual operation. Having outlived its purpose as a wood fueling station when locomotives switched to coal, Hawthorne was bypassed in the process.

In April 1905, Southern Pacific incorporated the Nevada & California Railway, and in May the C&C was officially absorbed. Around this time, a new alignment was completed from Hazen to Churchill, effectively rerouting traffic around Mound House and Dayton and eliminating the need to work with the V&T. Service along the older route continued daily, then tri-weekly, and finally weekly, until 1934 when it was finally abandoned (the tracks were removed in 1936). In 1938, the narrow-gauge line was abandoned from Mina to Benton, and in 1943 from Benton to Laws. The Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad was abandoned in 1947, and the nine remaining standard-gauge miles south of Mina were removed in 1949. The final remaining narrow-gauge section from Laws to Keeler continued to operate as the Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge until April 1960.

Today, only 57 miles remain of the railroad from Hazen to Thorne, which became the southern terminus in 1989 after railroad service ended to Mina. The line south of Lux was purchased by the US Army in 1991 and today is only infrequently used to service the ammunition depot in Hawthorne.