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Nevada \ Carson & Colorado Railroad

Carson & Colorado Railroad


Corporate Ownership.
Carson & Colorado Railroad
(Virginia & Truckee Railroad)
1880 - 1900
Southern Pacific Railroad
(as Carson & Colorado Railroad)
1900 - 1905
Nevada & California Railroad
1905 - 1916
Southern Pacific Railroad
1916 - 1960

Station List - 1883
Mound House
Fort Churchill
New Boston
Soda Springs
Junction (Filben)
    - Candelaria
Bishop Creek

Last Updated: Apr 11, 2020

As the fabled Comstock boom began to wane, the management of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad took interest in recent silver strikes to the south of the Comstock Lode near Candelaria. These remote strikes relied on slow and costly wagon-teams to haul silver and gold ore to mills. A narrow-gauge railroad they believed, would provide an economical transportation system for bringing ore to the mills they owned along the Carson River.

Incorporated on May 10, 1880, the Carson and Colorado Railroad (C&C) was projected to reach the booming district of Candelaria, 100 miles to the south. It was hoped the railroad would eventually reach the Colorado river and the railroad bore the name of the two rivers it would have connected.

Construction began on May 31, 1880 at the Virginia & Truckee Railroad station of Mound House, Nevada. Construction transformed a lonely stop on the V&T into a transfer point between the two lines. In the early years it was proposed to add a third rail from Mound House to the mills along the Carson River, allowing ore cars to travel directly to the mills, however this was never completed. The V&T purchased a special flat car for moving locomotives from Mound House down to Carson City where they could be worked on at their massive stone shops.

By the end of September, grading crews reached the northern end of Walker Lake, they reached Hawthorne in October. October also saw the beginning of track construction at Mound House. On October 27th locomotive 1, Candelaria, was put upon the track at Mound House. Once in service it was the sole locomotive on the railroad until 1882. By November 30 seven miles of track, through Dayton, had been completed. These first seven miles were the steepest on the railroad, reaching a 3.5% grade down the canyon near Dayton.

At Dayton the railroad crossed the Carson river and followed it as far as Fort Churchill, where it turned south toward the Walker river. It established a depot at Wabuska located north of the town Greenfield (also known as Pizen Switch or Mason Valley). The growing town changed its name to Yerington in April 1, 1894. It is believed this was encourage Henry M. Yerington to extend the C&C south into their town.

On April 7, 1881 the rails reached Hawthorne, on the southern end of Walker Lake, some 100 miles from Mound House. Hawthorne was founded by the railroad to be a division headquarters. The railroad auctioned lots at the townsite. It also constructed passenger and freight depots, a unique dual engine house, and shops. Hawthorne was an overnight stop for trains headed to the Owens Valley. Stage connections were made to the boom towns of Aurora and Bodie. Hawthorne became the county seat of Esmeralda County in 1883.

The first terminus of the railroad was Belleville, reached in December 1881. The mining camp was established in 1873 and was site of two reduction mills operated by the Northern Belle Mining Company. Beyond Belleville construction of the railroad was handled through two new companies, the Carson & Colorado Railroad Second Division, which constructed the track from Belleville to the state line, and the Carson & Colorado Railroad Third Division which constructed from the state line to Hawley (now called Keeler).

Two miles south of Belleville the railroad began construction of a branch to the mining camp of Candelaria. The track pushed up the canyon to Candelaria with grades reaching 2.26%. Construction was handled by 130 men, 100 of which were Chinese. The first train rolled into Candelaria on February 28, 1882. From Candelaria ore was shipped in 4-wheel dump cars from the Northern Belle Mine down to that company’s mills in Belleville. Just beyond the Northern Belle ore dump on the C&C was an ore chute owned by the Mount Diablo Mine.

Mixed train descending Montgomery Pass ca. 1886.

The railroad reached Benton station in California during late 1882. The train to Benton arrived on January 17, 1883. Ten days later regular passenger and mail service began from Mound House to Benton. In February, the company began receiving ties cut near Mono Lake from Mono Mills and the Bodie & Benton Railway & Commercial Co.

The railroad was built along the eastern side of the Owens River as it continued south, while the populated areas were to the west. Bishop Creek was reached in 1883, located on the eastern side of the river opposite Bishop. That March, Bishop Creek was renamed Laws after Robert C. Laws, the superintendent of the railroad.

On the eastern shore of Owens Lake the railroad reached Hawley, today known as Keeler, was reached in July 1883. The Inyo Development Company was established by D.O. Mills and Henry M. Yerington to extract soda from the lake. The extracted mineral was shipped on the C&C.

While the first year of operation turned a small profit, plans to extend the railroad further were shelved in the late 1880s. Shortly after reaching Candelaria the mines began to play out. The population of Candelaria dropped from 750 in 1880, to only 160 in 1900.

In early 1900 Collis P. Huntington met with D. O. Mills to begin negotiation of purchase. On March 1, 1900 ownership of the railroad transferred to the Southern Pacific Railroad. Two months after the sale to the SP, Silver and gold discoveries at Tonopah, Nevada and later discoveries in Goldfield, Nevada in 1904 inflated traffic to levels unheard of even during the Comstock boom. To meet the need for equipment, the SP transferred narrow gauge equipment from their other narrow-gauge lines: South Pacific Coast Railroad, and San Joaquin & Sierra Nevada Railroad (operated as part of the Northern Railway). The Tonopah boom provided Southern Pacific with a return on its investment.

In 1904 construction began on the Tonopah Railroad which connected with the C&C at Tonopah Junction, south of Sodaville, which was station on the C&C closest to Tonopah where wagons had previously transferred goods from freight cars. The Tonopah Railroad was built to 36in gauge allowing trains to reach Tonopah directly.

To alleviate the bottleneck of transloading freight from standard gauge cars to narrow gauge at Mound House, the northern 140 miles of the railroad to Mina, Nevada was converted to standard-gauge in 1905. The Southern Pacific formed a new subsidiary, the Nevada & California Railroad to build a standard gauge connection from Hazen on the Fallon Branch, to Churchill, where it joined the original C&C mainline. The C&C itself was then merged into the N&C. After 25 years, the Carson & Colorado was no more. A decade later the Nevada & California Railroad merged into the Southern Pacific itself.

The railroad was still called the Carson & Colorado by some and affectionally known as the “Slim Princess” in later years. Portions of the line were abandoned in the 1930s and the 1940s, and narrow-gauge operations ceased entirely in 1960. Today a portion of the original C&C line continues operation as part of the Hazen branch of the Union Pacific. Trackage from Churchill to Wabuska. From Wabuska to Thorne the line is owned by the U.S. Government but operated by the Union Pacific.

Revised: April 15, 2020.

Reference Material Available Online:


Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge: Shangri-La is a state of mind.
Trains magazine's first online feature article Published: Friday, August 21, 2009


Collected Carson & Colorado Railroad Photographs.

Collected Nevada & California Railroad Photographs.

Collected Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Railroad Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge - Owens Valley, CA, January 11, 1960 by Hart Corbett.

A Life Wasted Chasing Trains - SP Narrow Gauge by John West.
Scenes captured during 1959-1960, including 4-6-0 #9's final run on August 25th 1959.

Equipment Rosters.

Carson and Colorado Freight Cars 1881 - 1900.
Compiled from notes curtesy: Brian Norden, Randy Hees, Kyle Wyatt and State Railroad Commission Reports.


Route of the Carson & Colorado Railway circa 1900 for Google Earth.
By Andrew Brandon

Route of the Southern Pacific (Narrow Gauge) circa 1916 for Google Earth.
By Andrew Brandon

Route of the Southern Pacific (Narrow Gauge) 1930 - 1960 for Google Earth.
By Andrew Brandon


Virginia & Truckee Railroad Tonnage Blotter Journal, 1881; pages 26-32 PDF icon 2.6MB
Courtesy: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.
These final pages of this ledger contain blacksmith shop time records for the Carson and Colorado Railroad, including: "Fifty New Cars (Not Including Trucks)", "Trucks for four new cars" and "Four trucks for 2 New Hay Cars"

Southern Pacific MOW department Common Standard drawings. Revised: Dec 1 1978. PDF icon 316MB
Courtesy: Nevada County Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum.
This 278 page book contains many SP Common Standard drawings, including trestles, switches, signs and more. Many drawings date back to the early 20th century. These drawings will be useful for modelers and historians alike. Digitized by PacificNG.Org in November 2020.

Paint Reference.

Color referenece card for Carson & Colorado Freight Equipment 1881 - 1900 by Randy Hees and Andrew Brandon. PDF icon 1.0MB
Paint samples taken from the remains of Carson & Colorado Boxcar/Reefer #344.

Carson & Colorado Railroad: Flat Car #102, circa 1883 by Andrew Brandon. PDF icon 1.4MB
Illustration of a Detroit Car Works built 22' flat car.

Carson & Colorado Railroad: Box Car #303, circa 1886 by Andrew Brandon. PDF icon 1.3MB
Illustration of a La Mothe patent tin-sided box car.


Carson and Colorado Railway.
A 501(c)3 non-profit group dedicated to the resoration and operation of former Southern Pacific narrow gauge #18.

Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Historical Society.
Dedicated to the study of the Southern Pacific narrow gauge lines and their predecessor roads.


Inventory of the Carson and Colorado Railway, 1887-1916.
California State Railroad Museum Library

Nevada \ Carson & Colorado Railroad
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