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On this day in 1898, papers were filed incorporating a narrow-gauge railroad to connect Lake Tahoe with the CPRR in Truckee…maybe. That is, they were indeed filed as noted in this news item, but it was for the second time, and that’s not all you didn’t know about the little shortline known as the LTR&TCo.

 

Duane L. Bliss, mastermind of many commercial ventures in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin, gets a great deal of credit for his savvy plan to build a luxury hotel at Tahoe (Tahoe Tavern) served by its own railroad. However, further sleuthing reveals that this wasn’t D.L.’s plan after all. In fact, the idea was already 20 years old when Bliss began the project of building it. Here’s the first mention I’ve found of the Truckee-to-Tahoe railroad idea:

The first route mentioned in this clipping was essential to the development of the Comstock, and opened for business on December 7, 1871 as the Virginia & Truckee Railroad. As for the other proposed route, no one had yet figured out how to make any money with it, and some years passed before the idea surfaced again.

Though the legal way had been cleared, more years passed before the notion of a Sierra shortline, with one terminus in Truckee and the other up for grabs, was revived:

Two years later, SP was mulling over the prospect of a branch line, but the operative word was still IF – not WHEN.

Five months later, the project was beginning to sound a bit more inevitable:

Another two and a half years passed, during which time SP failed to make a move. Was access to Tahoe City always to be via stagecoach? Meanwhile, the newly-formed Donner & Tahoe Railroad Company completed the initial stage of its plans to connect Truckee with points north and south of the Transcontinental route. Could construction of the Tahoe City route be far behind?

Yes. The glimmer of hope for a Truckee-to-Tahoe City railroad offered by this item proved groundless.

Three years later, a cluster of railroad bigwigs organized a junket to the high country, but waxed noncommittal regarding any personal involvement in a Truckee-Tahoe railroad.

Of course by this time, the Comstock and the timber industry that had supported it were in their death throes, and D.L. Bliss had already set in motion his plan to transition his operations from lumbering to tourism. In the early weeks of 1897, he finally made known his plans, incorporating (according to the Sacramento Daily Union) under the name Truckee & Lake Tahoe Railroad Company. If you have been paying attention, you will notice that this is 22 months prior to the incorporation clipping that began this account.

As for the Directors named in the 1897 item, D.L. Bliss is a familiar name, though his son W.S. Bliss and his brother-in-law W.D. Tobey (spelled wrong in the article) are not so notorious. As for I.L. Requa and M.L. Requa of Oakland, they were father and son, both of whom figured prominently in the early history of the West. In 1899, Isaac L. Requa was President of the Central Pacific Railroad. The following year, his son Mark was named receiver for the failed Eureka & Palisade railway. He later served as the general manager of the Nevada Northern railway and was an officer in the California Republican party.

This would seem to be a solid lineup of knowledgeable Directors, but to return to the 1898 item, we find that the roster has grown to seven Directors, with the Requas replaced by N.K. Master (about whom I have learned nothing) and F.I. Kendall, a San Francisco realtor and capitalist. Two more Bliss sons, C.T. and W.D., have also been added, giving the family a majority interest in the new railroad. Since your eyes are by now rolling back in your heads, here is an abbreviated family tree, so you can keep them straight:

 

To further confuse the issue, this 1899 item gives the original five as Directors:

Referring to my notes from an Inventory of Bliss Papers held by UNR Special Collections, we see that the seats on this Board continued in a state of flux in the first few years following its incorporation:

One reason for these upheavals was that in order to ensure the success of the new railroad, several competitors had been strongly encouraged to leave the market, and one (Truckee & Tahoe Stage & Livery Company) had sued the LTR&TCo. Though the suit was settled out of court, it appears to have been a factor in the resignation of F.I. Kendall and William Singer (where did HE come from?).

So now here we are in the closing months of the nineteenth century, waiting for a train. A good idea that has languished on the back burner for nearly three decades will now require only the toil of men and beasts to make it into reality.

This account is only an abbreviated prologue to a tale that could easily fill a book. But at the risk of putting our readers to sleep, we will pause here and save the rest for another day.

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Today in Tahoe History – December 18

  • Jerry Blackwill

    Your photo shows one of the narrow gauge locomotives on track that has three rails on the right of the image. The narrow gauge can go down the middle and side rail. The wider rails are used by the standard gauge equipment.


    • Carol Van Etten

      Jerry, I know you have good knowledge of railroad lore, and appreciate your insight. I don’t know the date of this photo, but as per your info, I would guess it to be about 1925, when SP got approval to retrack. Thanks for your comment!