Nail holes on a railroad car, witnesses to history

Suffrage in Nevada will be remembered with a railroad car that took part in it and with an all-female steam engine crew.
Published: Aug. 14, 2020 at 7:08 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - February 7. 1920, Governor Emmet Boyle signed a bill adding Nevada as the 28th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. Surrounding him lawmakers and suffragists who had worked long and hard to secure women’s right to vote.

Nevada women had already won the vote in state elections six years earlier and in 1916, prominent Eastern suffragists had included Reno on a nationwide speaking tour, then riding the Nevada’s V & T Railroad to Carson City to call on the governor seeking his advice and continued support.

“People from the East on the'16 train, they came out here to see how we’d done it,” says Mona Reno of the Nevada Women’s History Project.

Two years later, the legislature--in special session--had voted to ratify the Amendment.

The Virginia and Truckee Railroad added a couple of special cars for the run from Reno to Carson City to carry those who wanted to be there for the signing ceremony.

“Women were so excited that the fastened a 40 foot banner on the outside of the car--a highly polished car of the V&T with 79 brass nails,” notes the Women’s History Project’s Patti Bernard.

The railroad’s enthusiasm for the event didn’t include defacing one of its coaches and, to the dismay of the suffragists, the banner was removed in Carson City and apparently lost to history.

Bernard and Reno would be the first to tell you history has largely been written by men, often to the exclusion of women. It’s been the goal of the Nevada Women’s History Project to correct that imbalance.

So, as the centennial of the 19th Amendment was approaching they began researching this event, discovering in the process that the cars used for that trip were in the State Railroad Museum’s collection as was the engine--Number 25--that pulled them that day. And--all evidence indicated--the car that carried the banner was Number 17.

This aged coach has been maintained in a state of “arrested decay” by the museum for good reason. It was the car that carried the golden spike and Nevada’s silver spike to the completion of the transcontinental railway at Promontory Point, Utah in 1869. Had it also been witness to this other historical event 51 years later?

“We thought OK, let’s see if that story can be established,” says the museum’s director Daniel Thielen.”When we went out to car 17 we found the nail holes that made the railroad so angry. They’re still there.”>

It’s validation of the museum’s decision not to restore the car. Replace old weathered wood with new, you lose history in the process.

It’s also now added a visible connection to that moment 100 years ago when Nevada added it’s support to a sea change in the nation’s political history.

Saturday, Engine 25 will once again be pulling passengers holding special tickets around the track, reenacting and celebrating that event and making a little history in the process. This will be perhaps, the first time anywhere a steam engine has been piloted by an all-women crew.

And, in a political year, from the perspective of a century past, it’s a timely reminder of what other women accomplished 100 years ago.

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