Wednesday, September 17, 2014


…from the Pre- to Recent History tour of Central Nevada and Utah

There was a time in our not-too-distant past when a railroad was the ideal means to get people and stuff wherever the people or the stuff needed to be.  After the rails tied our coasts together in 1869 until about the beginning of the Second World War, hiring cheap labor to grade a roadbed, toss down some ties and hammer steel ribbons into place proved to be both economical and efficient.  Good for the country and really good for the merchant/banker/capitalists who fronted the operations. 

Once the initial line of Union/Central Pacific was complete, short lines spurred off in all directions linking timber, minerals, cattle, produce and people to the main line.  Other routes simply started some somewhere and ended somewhere else, never quite hooking into the cross-country right-of-way.

Perhaps that was the case with the Tonopah and Tidewater.

Tonopah, Nevada, to the casual passer-through, appears to be just a threadbare small town at the intersection of two desolate US highways out in the middle of a barren collection of rock outcrops, dried lake beds and sage.  Back in its hey-day, however, when early mineral extraction drove the economy, rails were necessary to move ore to mill.

Dad was a desert rat.  High Schooling in Barstow, California, after an unsuccessful half semester at the University of California, Berkeley he took a job laying steel on an extension of the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad.  “Tampin’ ties on the T ‘n’ T,” as he called it. 

“I never belonged at Cal,” he said.  “I was just a kid from the desert who didn’t know much of anything.”

The year was roughly 1938.  Dad and a gang of others were employed to hammer spikes into wooden ties advancing the rail line toward its goal.  Until the war came along.

One day, the gang boss called a halt and soon, the newly laid rails were pulled and shipped out on the diminishing line.  The war effort.  Munitions.  It was as if the railroad was a serpent that had to devour itself.

What is left is a graded right-of-way – one that, 80 years later – is slowly dissolving into the desert floor.
 Although there appears to be nothing left – you have to look hard to even spot the raised gradient – along its path one can find, rusted cans, flinders of wooden ties, iron scraps and spikes – feebly rusting spikes – half buried in a busted gravel ballast…

…spikes possibly driven by my old man.



Information on the Tonopah and Tidewater may be located at:

When in Tonopah, consider, as did Jack Dempsey and Teddy Roosevelt, staying at the historic Mizpah Hotel. While you’re at it, enjoy a little Cline Cellars (Sonoma County, CA) wine with dinner.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press

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