Riding the V&T without the smoke and ash

My wife's sister and her children were visiting from out of town last weekend and we went up to Virginia City to ride the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. I was surprised to see a diesel engine pulling the train.

Conductor Hoyt Schoonover told passengers the steam engines were undergoing a $2.5 million refit and would not be out until 2004.

The work is being done in the V&T's engine barns in Virginia City.

Steam engines all around the nation are out of commission while they are retrofitted to meet federal requirements after a July 2001 steam tractor explosion killed four people at an Ohio fair.

The ride was fine, but nothing quite compares to the feel of smoke and ash coming out of that old engine as you run through the line's only remaining tunnel.

Those with a taste for steam can get a fix in Carson City at the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

Little Noah Jennings celebrated his fourth birthday there last weekend, surrounded by his friends, and museum volunteers.

"It was a great party," said his father, Tod. "They had a bouncy house and everything. Anyone can have parties there, they just have to sign up."

Tod says the boy loves getting dressed up in his train clothes and riding the rails. The Appeal carried a photo of Noah in full regalia guiding the engine about two weeks ago.

Tod, 44, retired from the military in 1997 and has just completed his teaching degree and will be student teaching this year. Wife, Stacy, just took over as director of the Ethics Commission.

Tod was born in Yerington and his family moved to Carson City when he was 6. After he graduated from high school, he joined the service.

On Tuesday, Tod took Noah to Portola, where the boy got to drive a big diesel train.

Tod is also involved in building a cover for the Merci Train boxcar at the railroad Museum. The Forty and Eight organization has donated $5,000 and is working with museum volunteers on a cover for the boxcar, which arrived in Carson City from France in 1949.

The French gave a box car to each of the then 48 states as a thank-you for the Liberation.

Each box car contained a wedding dress, stuffed animals, books, pottery, metal toys, smoked glass art pieces, barrels, ceramics, ash tray helmets, a barometer, post cards and statues, among other things.

"A lot of it was distributed, but some was kept at the state museum and it is there now."

There is a small display including some of the items at the Legislative Building just right of the guard's desk as you enter. According to the note with the display, six million French families donated items to fill the box cars. Money is being raised to restore the car and build the cover over the top.

Best wishes to Arley Backlund, who is quietly celebrating his 72nd birthday today with his family.

Arley had a heart attack last weekend on the golf course and got home on Wednesday. Daughter, Kaitlin, and his two sons are with him on this special day, along with my thoughts. Saturday he was feeling quite chipper.

Previously thought a confirmed bachelor, Nevada Magazine editor David Moore gave it up last weekend on the beach at Lake Tahoe and married Barbara Peck. The happy couple has been on their honeymoon, but Dave is expected back in harness at the magazine on Tuesday morning.

Someone told me squash bugs are harmless, but I know my zucchini didn't find them so.

I was wondering why my zukes, which are usually plentiful, hadn't done anything in the two months they were in the ground. I saw the bugs, but I'd had a lot worse around very successful pumpkins. After a little research, I learned squash bugs suck the juices out of various forms of squash. According to the California Department of Agriculture, there isn't much you can do about squash bugs except squash them.

After cleaning them off the plants, suddenly I have blooms and fruit and everything is growing in the garden again.

The Appeal has hired Ray Estrada to take over as city editor. He will be at my old extension, 215. Rumor has it I'm taking the late Alan Roger's old extension, 402. We'll see how it goes. In the meantime, you can still leave a message at the old extension, or with pretty much anyone at the paper. I check my kurt@tahoe.com e-mail regularly, so feel free to drop me a line if you have an item.

Kurt Hildebrand is former managing editor of the Nevada Appeal. Reach him at 881-1402 or e-mail him at kurt@tahoe.com.


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