Booze, Broads, or a Railroad
Eureka-Nevada Railway - 1918
In 1918, the war to end
all wars was raging in Europe. Americans, for the first time, were chewing
pencils trying to wade through their first income tax return. Then, John
Sexton, manager of the Eureka-Nevada Railway, dumped a problem into the
collective laps of Eureka County Liquor Board members.
Eureka, just a hoot and a holler and then
some south of Elko, was a typical Nevada town with its share of saloons
and, to put it nicely for mixed company, bawdy houses. Sexton's crews were
working in town on railroad repairs and, by golly, he wasn't going to allow
his men to spend their hard-earned wages on booze and soiled doves. Always
tight-fisted with railroad money, he wanted his men, shall we say, to work
their butts off for their pay and not spend it on sinful pursuits.
Never one to wallflower-it-out, he rolled
up his sleeves and snorted into Eureka with steam pouring from both ears.
He bluntly told the Liquor Board that he would cease railroad services
to the town if they did not close the bars and those other unmentionable
places of corruption.
Standing, ramrod-straight, he advised them,
"I will make no effort to run any trains until the people of Eureka stand
in with us and clean up. If the saloons are left running we will have nothing
but turmoil. Let the saloons lay off six months or a year and then, by
petition, if they promise to be halfway decent, they may be permitted,
if you see fit, to pollute the laboring man further." Available records
do not tell what Eureka officials did. Usually, fiery John got his way
but it is doubtful that the did in this instance.
The Elko Independent editor voiced
a different point of view saying that it was time Eureka and Sexton parted
company and added that half a dozen motor trucks could make the trip faster
than what he (Sexton) sees fit to call a "train."
Continuing, the Independent scribe
accused John of doing great harm to Eureka by his "willy-nilly, fly-by-night
operation of his four coffeepots and eight or ten baby express wagons."
Not yet finished with Sexton, the Independent
chief recalled that the narrow gauge magnate once refused, in 1917, to
operate the road because he felt the government didn't pay enough for hauling
mail. Only an order from the Nevada Railroad Commission persuaded him to
agree to run at least one train daily.
The little railroad had a rocky beginning.
Started in 1873 and constructed in fits and spurts, the 84-mile narrow
gauge (three feet wide) road began at Palisade and terminated in Eureka,
the booming lead capital of the world, in 1875. At Palisade the Eureka
and Palisade Railroad connected with the Central Pacific Railroad (later
the Southern Pacific and today, Union Pacific).
When Eureka mines began to peter out, so did
business for the little railroad. Combined with too many floods which washed
out miles of track, the E&P went steadily downhill.
By the time Sexton took over as manager, the
company had changed hands several times and was renamed the Eureka-Nevada
Rain or shine, washouts or not, the railroad
had an exceptional talent for not being able to run trains, even in good
weather. Although the company made at least a small profit during most
of the Sexton years, declining revenue, more washouts, and paved highways
spelled doom for the tenacious upstart of a railroad. On July 1, 1938,
Eurekans celebrated the last run.
Today, more than sixty years after the tracks
and ties were removed, obvious traces of the roadbed can still be seen
next to the highway in Pine Valley between Carlin and Eureka.
Oldtimers claim they can still remember Sexton
snorting like one of his engines, chugging over people and towns. You have
to admire the old guy for turning a profit, no matter how small, on a railroad
that lasted longer than it should have with obstacles that bankrupted and
closed many other railroads in Nevada.
June 18, 2001
©Copyright 2001 by Howard Hickson. Permission to
use is given but, if any portion or all of this article is quoted, proper
credit must be given.
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