The Dayton, Sutro and Carson Valley Railroad was a historic short line mining railroad that ran in the Dayton Valley in the late 1800s. The railroad was built to efficiently move ore from tailing piles in the foothills to a company stamp mill in Dayton. It started as a horsedrawn railway, then later upgraded to steam locomotives, although its roster of equipment was always quite small. It shut down about the year 1900 after 30 years of operation.
While the name might seem misleading today, in the 19th century, “Carson Valley” referred to the Carson River valleys and canyons extending all the way from today’s Carson Valley in Douglas County through Churchill Canyon east of Dayton. From humble beginnings, the Dayton, Sutro and Carson Valley Railroad eventually went from old town Dayton to the Carson Valley Mill, which was located in Dayton Valley in the vicinity of the present-day Mark Twain neighborhood.
The railroad was purchased from Fred Birdsall by Joe Douglass of Virginia City in 1882. Douglas then changed the name of the Lyon Mill to the Douglass Mill after himself. He then set about to buy a new locomotive to run on the rails he had bought. Douglass ordered a small industrial locomotive from the H.K. Porter & Co. and named it the Joe. Douglass, also after himself.
Douglass decided to expand the reach of the railroad, and started surveying a line to the town of Sutro, where the Sutro Tunnel had just opened a few years before. He also aimed to reach the Carson Valley Mill east of Sutro, where there were large piles of tailings ripe for the picking. Construction started immediately, reaching Sutro by November and the end of the line at the Carson Valley Mill by February of 1883. Thus did the little railroad live up to the name Douglass had given it when he first bought it, the Dayton, Sutro and Carson Valley Railroad.
The railroad operated for about 15 years after Douglass took over. The Joe. Douglass and its three ore cars would make the trip out to the Carson Valley tailings and back as many as six times per day, trying to keep up with the Douglass Mill, which could process 160 tons of ore every day. They contracted with the V&T Shops for repairs to the locomotive, and at times the Joe. Douglass would find itself riding on a flatbed car into Carson City to be overhauled.
The exact date that operations shut down is not known, but production at the mill tapered off in the last few years of the century, and it might have closed as early as 1896. In 1900, Douglass sold his namesake locomotive to a company in Southern California, which used it in the construction of the Lake Arrowhead Dam. The locomotive then spent several decades on display, and fell into the hands of private owners who restored it to its 1882 appearance. In 1994, Nevada’s smallest railroad locomotive was purchased by the Nevada State Railroad Museum, which now has it on display in Carson City.
This article is by Dayton author and historian Dennis Cassinelli, who can be contacted on his blog at denniscassinelli.com. All Cassinelli’s books sold through this publication will be at a discount plus $3 for each shipment for postage and packaging.