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Riding Nevada’s bonanza rails

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Climb aboard the Virginia & Truckee Railroad to take a ride back to the bonanza days of Nevada’s Wild West. Hear the moaning sound of the steam whistle. Smell hot oil touching steel rails. Feel the sway of vintage carriages.

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The hour and a half ride transports time travelers from Carson City to Virginia City, Nevada. Once in Virginia City, you’ll have three hours to wander down dusty, wood plank sidewalks while exploring historic storefronts, museums and churches. Then it’s all aboard for the return run to Carson City.

On the ride, the puffing engine rolls through dark tunnels, past Silver City and Gold Hill. Looking at the ruins of formerly prosperous mines tumbling down the barren hills, it’s hard to believe 40 wood-burning trains once covered this route each day. It’s also hard to imagine these scrubby hills filled with enough gold and silver to make a dozen millionaires in the late 1800s. In those days, the V&T Railroad earned its keep hauling ore from the mines to Silver City and Carson City where ample water could be found to process the loot.

Your ticket to ride

Today’s rail carriages date from 1914 and 1917. They have been lovingly restored, though some of the original wicker seat cushions show wear and tear. Overhead, brass coat racks sport old-time luggage (before wheels were added) and hat boxes for traveling ladies.

If you’re planning to ride the Virginia & Truckee, here are a few tips.

First, allow extra time to find the station outside Carson City. Everyone in my group took at least one wrong turn, even following their GPS devices. A detailed map comes in handy. Ask for one at your hotel or B&B.

For the best views during your ride, sit on the right side when you’re facing the engine and headed to Virginia City. You have the chance of spotting wild mustangs, a mountain lion (rare) or coyote (we did). The rugged landscape has been filmed in scores of westerns.

Check the online train schedule carefully if you’re a big fan of steam. The V&T operates both steam (Saturday, Sunday) and diesel (Friday) engines. A shorter route between Virginia City and Gold Hill runs daily in season. See www.vtrailway.com.

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