The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society held the Silver State Rails 2014 Annual Convention in Nevada from June 6 through June 8. I was pleased to participate as a new member of the society. A group of over fifty members embarked from Las Vegas upon a bus tour of a portion of the state to visit the sites of some no-longer existing railroads as well as a comprehensive tour of Nevada Northern Railway, the well-preserved facilities in Ely of an original railroad that has been operating for over a century.
Rhyolite, a ghost town in Nye County about 120 miles north of Las Vegas, near the present town of Beatty, provided the first stop on the tour. Rhyolite was founded as a mining camp in 1905 with the discovery of gold. By 1907 the population had increased to about 5,000. During its boom years, three railroads served the community, providing passenger, freight, and ore hauling capabilities. Only the train station for the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad (LVTR) still stands. Though surrounded by protective fencing, and slowly deteriorating, the building reminds the visitor that Rhyolite must have been quite successful until the mines played out around 1911. By 1920 the town’s population had dropped to almost zero.
Goldfield, the county seat of Esmeralda County, 45 miles north of Beatty, was the second stop of the group. Goldfield boasted a population of over 20,000 in 1906, and at that time was the largest city in Nevada. Gold production continued at a diminishing, but productive, rate until about 1940. Some mining still exists in the vicinity, but the 2010 census showed a resident population of only 268. The same three railroads that served Rhyolite also reached Goldfield. No structures remain, but some foundations and ruins indicate where significant activity once occurred. An effort is underway, as this photos shows, to rebuild an engine shed there.
Tonopah, approximately 30 miles north of Goldfield, became the next stop of the convention goers and a return to Nye County. Tonopah is the county seat and currently has a population of about 2,500. “The Queen of the Silver Camps,” as the town’s nickname proclaims, was a major producer of silver. Both silver and gold mining took place between the turn of the century and about 1920. During this time the three railroads that ran through Rhyolite and Goldfield also provided service to Tonopah. The Tonopah Historic Mining Park, situated on the original claims that led to the mining boom of 1900, served as the group’s third stop. Here, we got to see how the mines operated.
From Tonopah, the bus headed east across the central part of Nevada en route to Ely, where the convention would hold its meetings and tour the Nevada Northern Railway. That visit will be the subject of my blog next week.