The 150th Anniversary of the Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad
The completion of the transcontinental railroad in the spring of 1869 changed America forever, dramatically reducing the time and cost for people and goods to move across country and accelerating the western expansion of the Industrial Revolution.
In May 2019, the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City unveiled a major new exhibit: “The Transcontinental Railroad: What a Difference it Made.” The exhibit was in place for the May 10 sesquicentennial of the Golden Spike Ceremony at Promontory Summit in Utah.
The centerpiece of the new exhibit is the only railroad car still in existence that was at Promontory the day the railroads came together – a milestone day in the history of the country.
“Before the railroad was completed, it had taken six months to go by sail around the horn because the Panama Canal didn’t exist at that time,” said Wendell Huffman, Curator of History at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. “It took four months to go by stagecoach. Now, with the completion of the railroad, you could do it in seven days.”
The meeting of the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and Union Pacific Railroad from the east culminated May 10, 1869 with the driving of the ceremonial golden spike by Central Pacific President Leland Stanford. The car that carried Stanford, other Central Pacific officials, and the golden and silver spikes to the ceremony, was known as “The Commissioners’ Car.”
A few years after Promontory, it was sold to Nevada’s V&T Railroad for use between Reno, Virginia City and
Carson City and in 1878, and converted to a passenger car known as “Coach 17.” It remained in operation for many years until hard financial times fell on the Comstock and the V&T. By 1937, the V&T sold much of its equipment to Hollywood film companies.
Coach 17 was used in a number of movies, including the 1924 John Ford film, “The Iron Horse,” a silent film telling the story of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. Other included “Jesse James,” “Centennial Summer,” and the Elvis Presley movie “Love Me Tender.”
For many years, it sat on a movie lot outside Malibu, Calif. In 1972, it was sold to Short Line Enterprises for continued movie service. It was used in one of Kenny Rogers’ “Gambler” movies and made its final Hollywood appearance in Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider.”
In 1988, Coach 17 was purchased by the State of Nevada. Today, the car has been stabilized and is kept in
a state of “arrested decay” where it serves as a time capsule of railroad history. It is the oldest piece of rolling stock in the museum’s collection. This exhibition will be the first time it has been displayed for the public.
The museum exhibit will also feature the V&T locomotives Inyo and Dayton, both of which have been used in film and exhibitions to portray the locomotives present at Promontory in 1869.
The Jack and Marge Gibson Collection
The Jack and Marge Gibson Collection consists of 15 ½” scale models of Virginia & Truckee locomotives and one of motorcar No. 22. These models were created by George Richardson in the 1960s. In 2015 they were purchased by the children of long-time museum supporters Jack and Marge and donated to the museum as a memorial to their parents. Most of these models—the 12 in cases 1, 3, 4, and 6—represent the equipment used by the Virginia & Truckee in the 20th century, though some of those locomotives survived from the boom years of the Comstock. The others—the models in cases 2 and 5—are of locomotives that were disposed of earlier.
Altogether, the Virginia & Truckee had 29 locomotives, so half of the entire roster is represented here in models. Of the 14 “missing” locomotives, twelve were 2-6-0s. If these, nine were Baldwin 2-6-0s, two were Booth 2-6-0s, and one was a Danforth 2-6-0. The other “missing” locomotives were the first no. 25 and the second no. 5. In addition to motorcar no. 22, the V&T had two other motorcars, the no. 24 and the no. 99.
Motor Car No. 401
Motor Car No. 401 was built in October 1926 by the Edwards Railway Motor Car Company of Sanford, North Carolina for the Tucson Cornelia and Gila Bend Railroad. It is their “model 10” and cost $10,465.
The TC&GB operated the car daily between the Phelps Dodge copper mine at Ajo, Arizona and the Southern Pacific connection at Gila Bend. As built, the car had a seating capacity of 30 passengers, but in 1928 two rows of seats were removed in response to dwindling demand, and the bulkhead was relocated to its present position. The car originally had traps and gates on its rear platform, which were apparently removed about this time. In 1943 its original Continental Motor Corp. 100 HP gasoline engine was replaced with a reconditioned engine from a white truck. The radiator had to be moved forward to accommodate the larger engine. With the advent of good highways and reliable automobiles, the TC&GB discontinued passenger service on December 31, 1947. By that date the car had had logged 783,053 miles. It continued to see occasional use until being finally retired at the end of 1955.
Check out the Timetable to get your ride.
Can’t make it to the museum? Check out the audio tour of our Sesquicentennial Exhibit here. Also, you can find us with on our app. Search for “Nevada State Museums” in the Apple App Store or on Android.