"Can you build a railroad from Virginia City to the Carson River?" This was William Sharon's provocative question to I.E. Jones, the Virginia City mining district's leading surveyor in the late 1860s.
As history clearly demonstrates, the answer was an affirmative, "Yes."
Following is the next installment from the Sacramento Bee's 1950 series of articles on the V&T Railroad.
"Previously a series of charters had been granted to prospective railroads by the territorial legislature but none got beyond the talking stage.
"One of these, granted in 1865 to to J.W. Woodruff, was picked up by Sharon. Although he had no intention of using any more of his or the bank's capital than necessary, his search for funds to finance the project was limited to Storey, Lyon and Ormsby counties in Nevada.
"Ormsby and Storey counties, intrigued by Sharons' promises of swollen tax rolls, donated $200,00 and $300,000 respectively while Lyon pledged $75,000 which it retracted when news leaked out no practical route could serve the eastern area.
"Sharon solicited the aid of mine owners by telling them one flat car could haul as much timber as three heavily loaded wagons and argued he could cut their timber costs from $29 to $21 a ton.
"Jones completed the survey of his route in January 1869. It called for a descent of 1,575 feet and an average grade of 2 percent. Curves along the proposed road formed an aggregate of 17 full circles and caused at least one Reno newspaper to remark Sharon would get double use from his locomotives. They would push one end while pulling with the other.
"Rails were ordered from Liverpool, England. Fifteen thousand tons of iron, which would be used if needed, were contracted for from the Central Pacific and ground was broken for a 600-foot tunnel in American Flat early in February.
"Meanwhile four clever Irishmen, John W. Mackay, James G. Fair, James L. Flood and Jack O'Brien devised a plan to consolidate the mines into a block which would rival the Bank Ring's power. Disastrous fires in the Yellow Jacket and Belcher mines closed two of the richest shafts temporarily, starving the bank's mills.
"Sharon, knowing the failure of the mills would mean a financial catastrophe for the whole Pacific Coast as well as the bank, threw 1,600 men into the job of preparing the roads for the rails. The V&T, destined to become the world's most powerful short line, was due to be finished in record time.
"Early on the morning of Sept. 28, 1869, Hume M. Yerington, superintendent of the new road, drove home the first spike which had been hammered from pure silver. Trouble followed almost immediately."
To be continued.