by Peter Barton
Railfans know Virginia & Truckee Railway locomotive No. 27 as the last new engine bought by the famous Comstock railroad company. It pulled the V&T’s last regular train in 1950, was a fixture in Virginia City for over two decades, and now restored, resides at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City. And today, visitors can see V&T locomotive No. 29 on the revived V&T operating on the revived railroad between Virginia City and Carson City. So, was there a V&T locomotive No. 28?
As a matter of fact, there was.
When Bob Gray commenced operation of the new V&T in 1976, he wanted it to have a steam locomotive. Accordingly, he contracted with Short Line Enterprises, a southern California railroad equipment leasing company, to provide an engine. The locomotive they delivered to Virginia City was a 4-4-0 built in Patterson, New Jersey in 1888 for the Denver, Texas & Fort Worth, then being built from Pueblo, Colorado to Texas. From late 1907 until 1945, this engine had been No. 8 of the Dardanelle & Russellville, a coal-hauling short line in northwest Arkansas.
Sidelined by the depression in 1935, No. 8 would undoubtedly have been scrapped had it not been repaired for service in 1938 for the filming of Jesse James, staring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda. Subsequently, the old steamer was sold to Twentieth Century-Fox and taken to Los Angeles. Short Line Enterprises bought the engine from the studio in 1971, and they continued to call it No. 8. After a thorough reconditioning, No. 8 was shipped to Virginia City to inaugurate service on the new Virginia & Truckee Railroad. Out of respect for the “retired” numbers used by the original V&T on their locomotives, Short Line’s No. 8 was assigned No. 28, the next unused V&T number in the company’s historic roster.
As it happened, the No. 28 only pulled trains at Virginia City for one season. In 1977 it was moved to Jamestown, California to haul excursion trains and show off in movies. However, in 1987 it was returned to Nevada to what was then the Virginia & Truckee Railroad Museum in Carson City (now the Nevada State Railroad Museum), where Short Line Enterprises was restoring old equipment under contract to the State. The following year, after being reconditioned, the No. 8 (restored to its old Dardanelle & Russellville number) was sold to the museum. For twenty years it was the museum’s key operating steam locomotive, used in regular service to spare the historically significant V&T locomotives in the museum’s collection.
Unfortunately, age and service took its toll on the old engine and it was retired in 2008. No. 8 is thoroughly worn out, and it is unlikely it will ever steam again. However, curious visitors to the museum can still visit the 128-year old locomotive, which played a brief but important role on the V&T.