Nevada Central Railroad

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Nevada Central Railroad
Locale Battle Mountain - Austin, Nevada
Dates of operation 1879–1938
Track gauge 3 ft (914 mm)
Headquarters Austin, Nevada

The Nevada Central Railroad was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad completed in 1880 between Battle Mountain and Austin, Nevada. The railroad was constructed to connect Austin, the center of a rich silver mining area, with the transcontinental railroad at Battle Mountain.

However, by the time that the line was finished, the boom was almost over. Major silver production ended by 1887, although there was a slight revival later.


Austin was founded in 1862, as part of a silver rush reputedly triggered by a Pony Express rider, William Talcott whose horse kicked over a rock. By summer 1863, Austin and the surrounding Reese River Mining District had a population of over 10,000, and it became the county seat of Lander County. In 1871 the Manhattan Silver Mining Company had consolidated most of the claims. The company grew to have a lot of influence in the area and its secretary M..J. Farrell was the state senator for Lander County. Farrell set out to fix the lack of a railroad with a controversial project, approved only after a bitter debate in the 1874 legislature, overriding the Governor’s veto. The legislature authorized Lander County in 1875 to grant a $200,000 of its bonds as a subsidy to build a railroad, a time limit of five years was set to finish the project. The Nevada Central Railroad wasn’t even started until 4 ½ years later, Anson Phelps Stokes the grandson of the founder of the Phelps Dodge Corporation and a partner in the mining company came to town. With Stokes involved he brought in General James H. Ledlie, a former Union officer in the Civil War. The crews went to work desperately, only to bring the line within 2 miles (3.2 km) of the Austin town limits with less than a day left before the deadline. An emergency meeting of the Austin Town Board extended the town limits by two miles and the last rails were laid just minutes before the deadline. The line from Battle Mountain to Austin was 92 miles (148 km). Nevada Central was only profitable as long as the mines at Austin were operating at full capacity. By the middle 1930's most of the mines that generated traffic at Battle Mountain were shut down and boarded up and the NCRR had passed into receivership for the last time in 1938.

Remaining Equipment[edit]

Emma Nevada at the Orange Empire Railway Museum.
  • The Emma Nevada once named "Sidney Dillon" numbered 2 is an 1881 Baldwin Locomotive Works 2-6-0 "Mogul" 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge steam locomotive purchased by Disney animator Ward Kimball and his wife Betty for their backyard "Grizzly Flats Railroad" in 1938. Originally built for the short line Nevada Central Railroad connecting Battle Mountain with Austin, the beautifully restored locomotive features Kimball's own artwork on the cab and headlight and was finally fired up in 1942. Complaints of Kimball's neighbors because of the coal smoke forced Kimball to sideline the locomotive in 1951 and operated his railroad with a small 0-4-2T locomotive. Kimball, one of the Orange Empire Railway Museum's founders, donated the locomotive to the museum and it can be seen today in the museum's "Grizzly Flats" car barn.

North Pacific Coast Railroad No. 12 Sonoma (From California Railroad Museum Website)

The Sonoma is one of three locomotives built in 1876 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works of Philadelphia for the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge North Pacific Coast Railroad. Although documentation of its early service-life is scarce (there are no photographs showing the Sonoma in service on the North Pacific Coast, for example), the engine is believed to have initially pulled both passenger and freight trains along NPC's eighty-mile line between Sausalito and Duncans Mills.

The railroad always faced financial difficulties and by the end of 1879, for specific reasons unknown, the Sonoma was sold to the Nevada Central Railroad. The Nevada Central ran a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge line connecting Austin, then Nevada's second largest city, with the Central Pacific Railroad at Battle Mountain.

Nevada Central renamed the locomotive General J. H. Ledlie and renumbered it NC No. 5. It performed mixed duty as a yard, construction, and road engine. When the bankrupt company was abandoned in 1938, the engine was still in service. Acquired by Nevada Central General Manager J. M. Hiskey, the 4-4-0 was loaned to the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society's Pacific Coast Chapter.

On December 15, 1938 the Sonoma was taken to the Southern Pacific shops in Berkeley, where it was extensively repaired and restored to an "old-time" appearance. By February 18, 1939, the Sonoma had been outfitted to resemble Central Pacific's No. 60 Jupiter for its appearance in the re-enactment of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, part of the daily performance of Cavalcade of the Golden West at the Golden Gate International Exposition, on San Francisco's Treasure Island. The following year the Sonoma participated in the Exposition's revised presentation "America! Cavalcade of a Nation."

In October 1940 the Sonoma completed its service on Treasure Island and was placed in storage in the San Francisco Bay Area where it remained until moved to the California State Railroad Museum in 1977. The engine was donated to the Museum in 1978 by the J. M. Hiskey family.

The Sonoma has been restored to its as-built appearance, utilizing Baldwin drawings and specifications. It pulls a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge passenger train in the Museum's Great Hall.


California Railroad Museum

  • Brown, Michael J. (2010). Nevada Central Narrow Gauge Railroad.