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Nevada Central Railway

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This page was last updated on June 1, 2014.

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Overview

Nevada Central Railway was built between Battle Mountain (on the Central Pacific) and Austin (Clifton), Nevada. It was completed in February 1880 as a 3-foot narrow gauge railroad.

Union Pacific purchased control of the road in June 1881 was part of a grand scheme to built its own line across Nevada, and to tap the booming mining business of central Nevada. The mining boom soon collapsed, and in October 1884, Union Pacific allowed the Nevada Central to default on its interest payments, forcing the road into bankruptcy.

It was during this brief period of Union Pacific control in 1881-1884 that one of the most unique locomotives in the Western United States was added to UP's roster of steam locomotives. Built as American Fork no. 1 in July 1872, the small locomotive was a failure on the American Fork line and was sold in December 1873 to the Eureka & Palisade Railroad which was being built between those two towns in central Nevada. The E&P was completed in October 1875, and the locomotive remained in service until it was sold to the Nevada Central in October 1879. The locomotive was used for the construction of the Nevada Central, but being a small design, was soon demoted to yard switching service as soon as larger locomotives were delivered. After Union Pacific took control in mid-1881, the locomotive was moved to the Utah & Northern, which UP also controlled, and by December 1882 was in service in U&N's yard at Spring Hill, Montana, which in 1889 was renamed as Lima, Montana. The locomotive was renumbered to U&N no. 296 in 1885, but was not included in an inventory of locomotives in September 1887, meaning that it was out of service, and had likely been scrapped. (Read Garrie Tufford's essay about this unique locomotive -- published in Western Railroader, Issue 627, October/November 1998.)

After Union Pacific lost interest in the fortunes of Nevada Central Railway, it was reorganized in 1888 as the Nevada Central Railroad.

Timeline

February 1875
The Nevada legislature authorized Lander County to grant a $200,000 bond, as a subsidy to build a railroad north from Austin to Battle Mountain, Nevada, a distance of 93 miles. To receive the grant, the railroad was to be completed by February 1880. (Myrick, Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Volume 1, page 66)

April 1, 1878
Nevada Railway was incorporated. No work was started or completed due to lack of funding. The company had been organized in San Francisco on March 25, 1878. A survey was completed by July 1878. (Myrick, Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Volume 1, page 66; Robertson, Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, The Desert States, page 150)

September 2, 1879
Nevada Central Railway was incorporated.

September 3, 1879
Construction of the grade was begun. "Grading now well under way." (Railway Age)

September 1879
Utah Eastern number 1 was built as Bath & Hammondsport Railroad number 2, named "Jonathan Robie"; sold in September 1879 to Nevada Central Railway number 1, "Battle Mountain"; to Utah Eastern Railroad number 1 in 1880 (retained number 1 in 1885 UP System numbering); vacated in April 1891, scrapped

September 15, 1879
Nevada Central Railway took ownership of the former Nevada Railway. The new company had the same officers, but the funding came from Anson Phelps Stokes, grandson of the co-founder of the Phelps-Dodge copper empire in Arizona. Stokes was an investor in the Manhattan Silver Mining Company, the source for much of the new railroad's traffic. (Myrick, Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Volume 1, page 67; Robertson, Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, The Desert States, page 150)

October 1879
Nevada Central purchased a small locomotive from the Eureka & Palisade Railroad. The E&P had purchased the small locomotive from the American Fork Railroad in late December 1873 for use during the road's construction, going to work in April 1874 after being refurbished in CP's Carlin shops. No. 1 (1st) was sold to Eureka & Palisade RR in about December 1873; sold to Nevada Central Railway in October 1879; sold to Utah & Northern in about December 1882; scrapped in about May 1886.

October 21, 1879
The first ten niles of rail were laid.

November 3, 1879
The first train was operated, for a distance of 20 miles. (Railway Age reported in its issue for October 30, 1879, that "Chief Engineer Bridges telegraphed us will open 20 miles on Monday, November 3, 1879.")

December 11, 1879
Railway Age reported that 35 miles were open for business.

February 9, 1880
Construction was formally completed, just minutes before the expiration of a subsidy from Lander County, Nevada. (Salt Lake Herald, August 13, 1880)

(Myrick includes an account of the rapid construction schedule, 93 miles in six months, needed to complete the railroad in time to qualify for the $200,000 bond. During the last 30 days during January 1880, the track was laid over frozen ground, with no ballast.) (Myrick, Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Volume 1, page 67)

February 24, 1880
Operation began after final ballasting and more spikes were driven.

September 12, 1880
In an item on the Utah Eastern, now being built, it is noted that "The rails to Park City, engine and ten cars have been secured from the Nevada Central Railroad." (Salt Lake Herald, September 12, 1880)

October 23, 1880
Nevada Central sold two locomotives, 10 flat cars, and one caboose, along with 25 miles of rail, to Utah Eastern. Nevada Central numbers 1 and 3 became Utah Eastern numbers 1 and 3. (Pitchard)

November 3, 1880
The Utah Eastern was reported to have purchased two locomotives and 11 cars from the Nevada Central, with the equipment set to arrive in Ogden from Nevada on October 29, 1880. (Deseret News, November 3, 1880, citing the daily issue of October 29, 1880, "today")

December 5, 1880
Utah Eastern 2-6-0 number 3, actually its second locomotive, was received at Echo, formerly Nevada Central number 3. (Salt Lake Daily Tribune, December 8, 1880)

June 16, 1881
The Nevada Central Railway was reported to have been sold to Union Pacific Railroad. Two Baldwin 2-6-0 locomotives were built in April 1881, and arrived on the Nevada Central in June and July 1881. They were named "Dillon" and "Clark", for Union Pacific officers Sidney Dillon and S. H. H. Clark.

Maury Klein wrote in "Union Pacific: The Birth Of Railroad, 1862-1893" that the Nevada Central was purchased as a possible connection with three separate companies that used the Salt Lake & Western Railway name for one (or all three) of three reasons. First was to extend Union Pacific interests across Utah, Nevada and California in competition with Denver & Rio Grande, which had completed its line from Colorado to Ogden and Salt Lake City in May 1881, and was making noises of extending its line to California. The second was to use the Salt Lake & Western project to control the expansion of Jay Gould, and his Texas & Pacific line and other railroad companies, as pawns on his chess board for control of western railroads and their traffic. The third reason was simply to compete with the Central Pacific and to allow Union Pacific direct access to railroad traffic to and from California. (Salt Lake & Western was only completed in Utah, in May 1882, between Lehi on the Utah Southern, and the Tintic mining district, 53 miles to the south. No further work was done on either the Salt Lake & Western in either Nevada or California.)

January 10, 1883
Utah & Northern received three locomotives from Nevada Central, which would be used as switchers at different stations along the line. (Ogden Standard, January 10, 1883)

Garrie Tufford wrote in his essay about the small locomotive named "Onward" that it was used to build the Nevada Central in 1879 and 1880. After other larger locomotives arrived, the little locomotive was overhauled, emerging in August 1881. Union Pacific took control of Nevada Central in June 1881, and very soon the locomotive was sent to Utah & Northern, which was also controlled by Union Pacific. Tufford noted that in December 1882, the locomotive was in use as a yard switcher at U&N's station at Spring Hill, Montana. (Tufford, "William Mason's ONWARD", in Western Railroader, October/November 1998 issue, number 627) (Read Garrie Tufford's essay) (Spring Hill was a station on the Utah & Northern, and according to the book "Montana Place Names" was renamed Lima in 1889.)

October 1884
Due to reductions in both mining activity, and shipments of mining ores from other districts, Union Pacific lost interest building a line across Nevada, and allowed the Nevada Central to default on its interest and bond payments. The company declared bankruptcy in October 1884. (Hilton, American Narrow Gauge, page 442)

May 4, 1887
"The Nevada Central branch was then taken up. This road is ninety miles long and was built on the expectation of the development of Nevada. It was acquired by the Union Pacific in 1881 or 1882, and about the first thing Adams did as president was to throw this road overboard, as he could see no future for it. Phelps, Stokes & Co. of this city [New York City] furnished the capital to build that road, and when it was bought by the Union Pacific its cost price was charged to expense account. 'I was at a loss to know why we had the road, and I made inquiries about it of S. H. H. Clark, general manager of the Union Pacific. When I closed it up it was in debt to the Union Pacific $650,000. It never paid more than expenses.' Adams had carefully investigated the matter and could not find that any of the money of the Nevada Central had gone to anyone connected with the Union Pacific. Gould had a grand scheme of developing an active railway system west of Omaha, St. Joe and Kansas City, by which deliveries were to be made to roads running to Chicago and St. Louis." (Deseret News, May 4, 1887, testimony of Charles Francis Adams during the investigations of Union Pacific and other roads that received federal funding.)

(Charles F. Adams was president of Union Pacific from June 1884 to 1890.)

March 1, 1888
Nevada Central Railroad was incorporated.

After its 1884 bankruptcy, the original owners of the Nevada Central prior to Union Pacific ownership, the Stokes family, took back ownership and reorganized the company as the Nevada Central Railroad in 1888. (Hilton, American Narrow Gauge, page 443)

August 1, 1888
Nevada Central Railroad took ownership of the former Nevada Central Railway.

August 15, 1888
Nevada Central Railway was dissolved.

December 19, 1888
"Nevada Central Railway, which has been in the hands of a receiver for some time, has, by order of Judge Sabin, of the United States District Court for Nevada, been delivered to Nevada Central Railroad Company." (Deseret News, December 19, 1888)

February 5, 1900
Nevada Central was rumored as being considered by Huntington as a connecting line between Central Pacific in central Nevada, and Southern California, connecting with Southern Pacific at Los Angeles. The distance was reported as being 300 miles shorter. The Nevada Central was 93 miles of narrow gauge line that could be converted to standard gauge. (Deseret News, February 5, 1900)

1924
Nevada Central Railroad purchased a locomotive that had been built in 1879 as Utah & Northern no. 13. It was renumbered to U&N 17 in 1885; vacated and sold in September 1888 to Salt Lake & Fort Douglas 17, renumbered to Salt Lake & Fort Douglas Railway number 2 by November 15, 1888; to Utah Central Railway number 2 in 1890; out of service by late 1893, vacated by 1897; to Glasgow & Western Exploration Company for their Golconda & Adelaide Railway in late 1898 to early 1899, named "Pearl"; to Nevada Short Line Railroad number 1 in 1914; to Nevada Central Railroad number 6 in 1924; sold for "preservation" in 1938; stored until moved to California State Railroad Museum; restored to its Nevada Short Line appearance. (This is the only known preserved Utah & Northern locomotive.)

January 31, 1938
All operations ended on the Nevada Central Railroad. The railroad operated 92.3 miles of line between Austin and Battle Mountain, Nevada, a station on the Southern Pacific-Western Pacific shared mainlines in central Nevada. The federal ICC had authorized the abandonment on December 20, 1937; all carload traffic was embargoed on December 31, 1937, and all operations ceased on January 31, 1938. Although common carrier operations ended, as well as the railroad's status as a public utility, its physical property was not to be abandoned, but would be sold for its salvage value and disposed of for the benefit of the railroad company. (Public notice dated January 10, 1938, signed by General Manager J. M. Hiskey; courtesy of Ron Hook by way of an email dated May 31, 2014)

Sources

Encyclopedia of Western Railroad History, The Desert States, by Donald B. Robertson (Caxton Printers, 1986), page 150

Union Pacific: The Birth Of Railroad, 1862-1893, by Maury Klein (Doubleday & Company, 1987), page 436

Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Volume 1, by David Myrick (University of Nevada Press, 1990), pages 66-78

American Narrow Gauge Railroads, by George W. Hilton (Stanford University Press, 1990), pages 442-443

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