Virginia & Truckee McKeen Motor Car No. 22

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The Virginia & Truckee Railroad introduced its express passenger train between Virginia City and Reno in 1872. Cabooses, which carried passengers on freight trains, provided accommodations at other times during the day. In 1906, the new branch line to Minden was completed. Passenger service was provided by a mixed passenger and freight train from Carson City.

It soon became apparent that additional passenger service was desirable. However, the addition of a steam train for exclusive passenger service was too expensive. As a result, in 1910 the V&T purchased a 70-foot gas powered McKeen motor car. This provided additional passenger service twice each day between Minden and Carson City. Passenger service was soon extended to Reno.

The McKeen Motor Car Company of Omaha, Nebraska, was one of the most successful of the early motor car manufacturers. It was organized under the sponsorship of E. H. Harriman of the Union Pacific Railroad. The motor cars featured ultra-modern skin-stressed steel construction, dustproof porthole windows, and the distinctive knife-nosed wind-splitter front. They were available in standard 55- or 70-foot lengths.

The McKeen Car was rebuilt in the company’s shops in 1932, to create expanded mail and express space reflecting the reduction of passenger service on the line. The car was then placed in service between Reno and Minden and made one round trip daily. The car made its last run in September 1945.

In 1946, the body was sold and used as a diner. Al’s Plumbing Supply, in Carson City, later acquired it for use as office space. In 1996, the McKeen motor car was donated by Al Bernhard of Al’s Plumbing Supply to the Nevada State Railroad Museum for restoration. The project took several years as the trucks and mechanical components were scrapped years ago and had to be refabricated from scratch.

A diesel-hydraulic drive was used in place of the original gasoline-mechanical system. On May 9, 2010, the restored car made its debut at NSRM, 100 years to the day it arrived for service on the V&T in Carson City. On October 17, 2012, the McKeen motor car was designated a National Historic Landmark.

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