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Nevada \ Dayton, Sutro & Carson Valley Railroad

The Dayton, Sutro and Carson Valley Railroad.

By John Barnhill

O riginally a horse drawn strap iron line, this road was first constructed in 1869 by Fred Birdsall to serve his tailings mill at Dayton. The line tapped the tailings in Gold Canyon. For just over ten years this half mile long line served its purpose with the mill putting out and average of 300 tons daily with and average of 50,000 tons a year. At some point during this period the company took on the name of Lyon Mill & Mining Company.

In 1881 it was decided to build a new two mile line from the mill to a connection with the Carson & Colorado Railroad. Several spurs and a small engine house were also constructed. The new line was completed by June at a cost of approximately $15,000. In July several short flatcars arrived, followed by a locomotive purchased second hand that had previously been used by the Baynes Sound Colliery Company. The little 8-ton Baldwin 0-4-0T received the name “Ernie Birdsall” arrived on July 11th. That night the people of Dayton were invited to an excursion over the line to celebrate.

In October a second 0-4-0T locomotive named "Fred" arrived from H.K. Porter. The small engine house was enlarged to accommodate both locomotives. With two locomotives on hand the line was now ready for continuous service.

Fred Birdsall soon shifted his interest toward a different project, the San Joaquin & Sierra Nevada Railroad. He sent his track boss, Captain P. Daily to oversee construction at Woodbridge, California early in 1882. The "Ernie Birdsall" and atleast one piece of rolling stock were also sent across the Sierra Nevadas for the project. The mill in Dayton was shut down and the “Fred” sold to the Towle Bros Lumber Company where it became their locomotive #3.

April 26, 1882 one J.M. Douglas purchased the remains of the Lyon Mill & Mining Co and soon renamed it, the railroad becoming the Dayton, Sutro and Carson Valley RR. Shortly thereafter a new 0-4-2 locomotive named "Joe Douglas" arrived and construction of a six mile extension to the tailings of the Carson Valley Mill near Sutro was began. The first loads made the trip in mid Jan. of 1883. The line basically followed that of the previous from the connection with the C&C to the mill. It then continued on past the old Reservoir Mill down a 2% grade and across the race to the old Rock Point Mill. Crossing Deadman's Cut it took a slightly northerly curve and a two mile tangent across Sagebrush Flat. The last two miles ran just a few hundred yards south of Sutro along the edge of the hillside to the tailings.

Trains usually consisted of three 10-ton loads and five or six trips were needed when the mill was running at full capacity. This continued on until some time in 1896 or just thereafter though no records of its demise are found. The final locomotive, the "Joe Douglas" is the only surviving loco from this operation and now resides at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City.

Revised: November 7, 2017.

Reference Material Available Online:


Collected Dayton, Sutro & Carson Valley Railroad Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Nevada \ Dayton, Sutro & Carson Valley Railroad
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