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Nevada \ Austin City Railway

Austin City Railway.

T he Nevada Central Railroad's southern connection at Ledlie (Clifton) served to connect the road's terminus up a short grade to the town of Austin Nevada and the Manhattan Company Mines. The Austin City Railway was built in 1881, 3' Gauge, and ran 2.8 miles into the town on heavy 7.5% grade, with curves as sharp as 40 degrees, and a few switchbacks added in. In March of 1880 the Nevada Central had reached Clifton situated at the foot of the hill up to Austin. Stages and Teamsters were charging outrageous rates for the short haul up road so the local banker and Manhattan Mine superintendent Alan A. Curtis fought back. He applied for and was granted a Right of Way by the Common Council of Austin from the Nevada Central yard to a point within Austin.

Work began on May 31, 1880 at the N.C. yard, up the hill, and along the town's Main Street to the Manhattan Mill in upper Austin. Rail and tie were purchased from the Nevada Central. By August, the road was completed to the town's International Hotel. In October 1880 the road was in operation using mule teams of 11 animals for power (for one car). At this time the grades were considered beyond the ability of steam power. Reconsidering the power issue, the road ordered its first locomotive from Baldwin. The locomotive arrived in May 1881 bearing the name "Mules' Relief" and was taken on a test run May 30, and returned to the N.C. Shops for minor adjustments. The next day the town turned out for a second test run up the hill. June 17, 1881 became opening day with Austin becoming the first Nevada town with its own steam railroad.

Shortly thereafter a freight depot was established in town just east of the courthouse and an engine house (still standing) at the east end of town. The road typically ran 1 or 2 car trains on the grade. August 19, 1882 was the day of disaster for the little road. Track repair was being done during daylight hours forcing freight movement to be done at night. "Mules' Relief" was running with defective steam breaks, relying on the hand brake only and on the last trip of the evening, just before 6am that brake failed. The locomotive gained speed down the grade and flew off track down near the "Citizens Mill" near the base of the hill landing at the edge of a cliff with the woodwork smashed, steam blowing off, and the unfortunate engineer crushed beneath the wreckage. 16 Mules were required to move the locomotive to the Manhattan Mill shops and a month of repair work to right the locomotive.

Operations were straight-forward and consistent with "Mules' Relief" periodically was pressed into service on the Nevada Central Line to haul picnic trains. The line ran with a gradual tapering off until the line's demise in 1889 due to the reduction of mining activity in the Austin district.

Myrick, David F. Railroads Of Nevada and Eastern California: Volume 1. Berkeley: Howell-North Books, 1962. ISBN 978-0874171938.
Farrell, Mallory Hope. Nevada Central: Sagebrush Narrow Gauge. Forest Park: Heimburger House Publishing Co., 2010.

Revised: August 27, 2015

Reference Material Available Online:

Newspaper Clippings.

Motor House Fire - Local paper's account of engine house fire..
Reese River Reveille. Feb 3rd, 1887.

Locomotive Information.

"Mules' Relief" - Color and Decoration Study by Randy Hees. PDF icon1.1 MB
Contains reference material to illustrate what the locomotive looked like as built by Baldwin.


Collected Austin City Railway Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Nevada \ Austin City Railway
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