Column: When the end came, it came fast for V&T

As John Mackay's fervent plea to "save the mines" echoed through the Comstock, hundreds rallied to the cry and the precious shafts survived. With the help of the V&T, the fire-weary citizens of Virginia City now faced the overwhelming task of resurrecting an empire from the ashes.

Following is the next segment of reprints from the 1950 Sacramento Bee's tribute to the V&T Railroad.

"As the fire died the task of the Virginia and Truckee began. The surface works of the mines had been destroyed with the rest of the city and rebuilding was the order of the day. The little railroad took up the monumental job of hauling up Mount Davidson the materials which would rebuild in 30 days a city it had taken 25 years to develop.

"Food was the first cargo. It was followed by an unbroken stream of lumber, timbers and supplies of all kinds. In addition to its work for the city, the V&T was faced with the task of restoring a tunnel, depot, trestle, switches and several bridges in the city.

"According to William Wright, known to Virginia City as Dan DeQuille, city editor of the Territorial Enterprise, it would have taken a year to rebuild the stricken city if it had not been for the railroad - a year which would have meant ruin for many Comstock mines. For the second time in its short life the V&T had saved the bonanza."

Signs of Disaster

Fire and the Bonanza Kings were not the only hazard which faced the Bank Ring in 1875. For a long time it had been apparent the Ring's resources were spread tissue thin and any tilting of the precariously balanced applecart would head the Bank of California for disaster.

"The beginning of the end for the Virginia and Truckee Railway came in 1875 with the crash of the Bank of California, its creator and financial guardian angel.

"Contemporary accounts claim William C. Ralston pyramided the banks' enterprises into a top-heavy structure, which was bound to crumble.

"His associates, D.O. Mills and William Sharon, raised the money to revive the bank and voted Ralston out of the organization. They began anew with Sharon owning one third of the V&T and Mills two thirds.

"From 1875 until 1886, they poured their energies and finances into the Comstock and watched the once fabulously rich silver ore dwindle in worth.

"They built an extension of the V&T from Mound House to Keeler, Calif., 293 miles away, hoping for a new discovery which would recoup lost fortunes, and after it was built, Mills remarked: 'We either built it 300 miles too long or 300 years too soon.'

"The decline continued. Virginia City sank slowly, then with increasing speed. By 1886, James Fair spoke somberly to Tom Dick, an old friend and one of the oldest teamsters in the road's service.

"'It's time to get out, Tom,' he warned. 'We've got the cream. There's nothing left but the milk.'

"Mills closed and thousands took Fair's advice. Almost overnight, Virginia City's population dropped from 40,000 to less than a quarter of that. Old residents report people left the city by every means possible as fast as they could.

"But Tom Dick, the teamster, stayed as his son did after him. And the V&T stayed with him."

Next week: A special photo retrospection and a report on the commendation of the 50th anniversary of the V&T's last day of service.


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