With Spring on the way, it’s a good time to plan some outdoor adventures. For this edition of Day Trips, we’ll be hitting the rails for some steamy adventures.
Folsom Valley Railway
Located in Lions Park, the Folsom Valley Railway has been delighting kids of all ages for over 50 years. When the railroad was built in 1970, its first locomotive was the “Cricket”. This engine, a 12” gauge 4-4-0, was built by the Ottaway Amusement Company of Wichita, KS. It was purchased and modified by Erich Thomsen, who put it to work at Tilden Park in Berkeley. It ran for nearly 20 years until it was purchased for the Folsom Valley Railway in 1970.
The railroad runs on nearly a mile of track, and the trip takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete. The train makes two complete loops at each end of the line, allowing for nice views of the engine in action.
Ownership of the Folsom Valley Railway changed hands in 1978, and again in 1991 when it was purchased by Terry Gold. He has added two more engines to the collection. In 2007, an Atlantic 4-4-2 was added. This 4000-pound oil-fired steam engine is 16 feet long and was completed in 1949. In 2019, a diesel-electric locomotive, the “3002”, became the third engine in Folsom Valley’s lineup.
Running such a short-line is big work. Replacing all of the wooden ties took six years to complete. Old steam engines require constant maintenance, and the occasional overhaul. Just firing up the boilers to operating pressure takes two-hours. It truly is a labor of love.
Owner Terry Gold celebrated his 30th year of operation in 2021. Prior to purchasing Folsom Valley Railroad, he worked at Magic Mountain and Disneyland, where he learned about running a theme park. Also, he is a professional photography instructor who offers classes by appointment, after the train closes down.
Located in the Folsom Lions Park, next to the Folsom Zoo, a trip to the Folsom Valley Railway is a pleasant way to spend a day.
For more information, visit: http://folsomvalleyrailway.com
Virginia & Truckee Railroad – Virginia City, NV
When gold and silver were discovered on the slope of Sun Mountain in 1859, the rush to the Comstock Lode was on. Soon thereafter, Virginia City sprung up. By 1869, the population reached 7000. Getting supplies to this many people, 1600 feet up the side of a mountain, presented some logistical challenges. Virginia City, Gold Hill and Silver City relied on teamsters and their oxen-powered wagons for all their goods.
The V&T Railroad was completed in less than a year. When it opened in 1870, it covered 21-miles from Carson City, and had so many curves that it made seventeen circles on its climb to Virginia City. The route passed through seven tunnels and crossed a 500-foot-long wooden trestle in Gold Hill.
At its peak, the railroad carried 400,000 tons of freight a year, using 361 cars and 22 locomotives. In 1871, a route to Reno was laid, connecting the V&T to the Transcontinental Railroad. It’s said that the V&T carried as much silver ore from the mines, as the weight of all of its rolling stock and rails. This success earned the V&T the well-deserved nickname: “The Queen of the Short Lines.”
By the early 1900’s, silver production and the population had declined significantly. Service from Virginia City ended in 1938. Passenger service between Carson City and Reno continued until 1950.
Robert C. Gray, a passenger on the final 1938 Virginia City run, decided to revive the V&T for tourism. In 1976, the Virginia and Truckee roared back to life. Eventually, service to Gold Hill was restored in 1991.
Over the course of the next decade, interest in rebuilding the line to the Carson River began to gain steam. In 2009 the first passenger service from Virginia to Mound House was restored, for the first time in 70 years.
The V&T operates this expanded route seasonally, beginning in Spring. The trip to Virginia City takes 90 minutes. Along the way passengers will be treated to panoramic views of the valleys below. Wild horses and mule deer are abundant as they graze the pinion-covered hillsides. A round-trip ticket includes a 3-hour layover in Virginia City, so you’ll have plenty of time to visit the local saloons, restaurants and shops.
If you’d rather enjoy an abbreviated ride, the V&T still operates short excursion runs to Gold Hill and Back. At 35 minutes, this option is great for younger passengers.
For the more adventuresome, rail-bike rides are available through Brunswick Canyon along the Carson River. These electric-assisted pedal cars are perfect for those who want a more active experience.
For more information: https://vtrailway.com/