CARSON CITY (AP) — The Glenbrook — perhaps the most viewed locomotive in Nevada history — roared to life for the first time in 88 years this week in Carson City.
“This is, indeed, an important day in the annals of railroad preservation, for Nevada and the nation,” said Peter Barton, administrator of the Nevada Division of Museums and History, just before white steam rose above the boiler and black smoke from the stack of the historic engine.
Perhaps best known as the train that graced the front of the Nevada State Museum for four decades — a favorite artifact for thousands of school kids, railroad buffs and visitors — it has been at the Nevada State Railroad Museum since 1982.
The museum’s shop crew, headed by chief maintenance officer Chris DeWitt, spent years restoring the locomotive, piece by piece, to get it back to operational condition and on Wednesday, the biggest hurdle to date was cleared as the engine was fired for the first time since 1926, passing a key safety inspection.
For DeWitt, it was a milestone moment in a 31-year effort to see the locomotive restored. The restoration of the original boiler was a four-year project.
“It’s basically the end of my career,” he said. “I couldn’t retire until it was finished because I was the guy who took it apart. It’s just a really nice feeling to finish something.”
Over the next 60 days, he said, the finishing touches will be put on the locomotive in order for it to be ready to run for National Historic Preservation Month in May.
“Now we have to put the cab on it,” he said. “It’s painted and ready to go. There is lot of little stuff that has to get bolted back onto it. I told Peter Barton, in no uncertain terms, we’ll have it completed and ready for show in 60 days.”
The crew will also have to complete a narrow-gauge track on the grounds of the Nevada State Railroad Museum in order to run the locomotive, which started its life when the Comstock Lode of Virginia City needed vast supplies of timber.
Railroad historian Wendell Huffman said the Glenbrook was built in 1875 for the D.L. Bliss’s Carson & Tahoe Lumber & Fluming Company to haul lumber from the mill in Glenbrook Cove near the shores of Lake Tahoe up Spooner Summit to the flume that took it to the Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s lumber yard south of Carson City.
It ran the line until 1899, when the Bliss family moved it via barge across Lake Tahoe to Tahoe City, where it became part of the Lake Tahoe Railway & Transportation Company, hauling passengers and freight between Truckee and Tahoe City.
In 1925, the railroad and much of its equipment was sold to Southern Pacific, but the Bliss family kept The Glenbrook.
“They wanted to preserve it, but the problem was they just didn’t know how to do it,” Huffman said. “No one was preserving locomotives in those days.”
In 1937, the family sold the Glenbrook to a railroad in Nevada City to be used for parts, but after the Nevada State Museum opened in 1943, the Bliss family bought it back and donated it to the museum.
“It was the first railroad artifact set aside for preservation at the museum,” Huffman said.
Visitors, particularly school kids, took great delight in being able to climb aboard.
From 1943 to 1982, it sat outside the museum — the former U.S. Mint — before being moved to the Nevada State Railroad Museum.
“Almost every week, someone will come in here and say they played on it,” Huffman said. “It was the most visible locomotive in the state.”
Barton and DeWitt said a 2009 grant from the Reno-based E.L. Wiegand Foundation provided the financial resources to ensure the restoration could be completed.