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‘Rail City’ is still the ‘Rail City’
by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist
Oct 16, 2009 | 1077 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<a href= mailto:dreid@dailysparkstribune.com>Tribune/Debra Reid</a> - "Conductor John" Hartman explained the history of the Houston Club Car built in 1911 by the Pullman Company. Hartman, guardian and promoter of the Sparks railroad display,  hopes to have the train open to the public for the upcoming Hometowne Christmas festival.
Tribune/Debra Reid - "Conductor John" Hartman explained the history of the Houston Club Car built in 1911 by the Pullman Company. Hartman, guardian and promoter of the Sparks railroad display, hopes to have the train open to the public for the upcoming Hometowne Christmas festival.
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Thanks to Sparks Mayor Geno Martini, the iconic nickname for the town — “Rail City” — will continue to be the official moniker for the city of Sparks.

In standing up for the long-standing slogan of his hometown, Martini was following in the footsteps of good friend Reno Mayor Bob Cashell who, not long ago, shot down the goofy “A Little West of Center” tagline that the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority was trying to lay on the area.

Now that “Rail City” has been promised eternal life and “The Biggest Little City in the World” is official for the sister city to the west, it is time for the collective minds at the RSCVA to either come up with something to describe the northern Nevada area or — as my fellow columnist David Farside has suggested — initiate a nationwide and/or worldwide contest for a slogan to replace “America’s Adventure Place.”

Many decades ago, there was a move afoot to create a world-class railroad museum in the city of Sparks. Since the railroad actually brought Reno and Sparks to life in the first place, the rich history of the rails going over Donner Summit and connecting the country with a main artery from coast to coast is a compelling story in and of itself. And, since the National Tourism Authority has listed history as one of the top tourist draws, it would give even more credence to such a project. It could be built like the RR Museum in old town Sacramento, Calif., but on a much grander scale. With the high-tech video and other embellishments available today it could rival any such attraction in the world. The newly opened V&T railroad from Carson City to Virginia City could be included in such a project and the Rail City could serve as the locomotive force for the entire promotion.

While a goal of having 200 days of special events in Sparks is a laudable one, it looks like it will take a very long time to be brought to fruition. Weather would be a very significant factor in trying to achieve the 200-day goal since most of the successful special events in this area are held outside and sunshine is a key ingredient.

Two of the great tourist draws in the western United States are Hoover Dam and the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. The story of the building of Hoover Dam is well presented just outside Las Vegas and the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal shots at President John F. Kennedy in 1963 is one of the most riveting exhibitions you will ever see. You can even stroll behind the fence on the grassy knoll and marvel at how easy it would have been to hit a target such as the presidential limo — as many conspiracy theorists have suggested.

Another treasure trove of history that has all but been ignored by the RSCVA is “the liveliest ghost town” in the west, Virginia City. The Queen of the Comstock reeks with history but you see little in the way of packaged tours that include a ride up the Geiger grade to marvel at the city that has retained the same mystique that it had when its mining fortunes built San Francisco.

Even old Fort Churchill is a magnet for history buffs from all over the world and the fictional Ponderosa Ranch of TV’s “Bonanza” fame was first on the list for tourists for many years when it was open at Incline Village — especially tourists from the Far East.

If such a “focus on history” program could ever be inaugurated here there are two individuals who could provide all of the research and information needed — and they are not high-priced consultants from faraway places. Their names are Eric Moody and Phil Earl, both retirees from the local Nevada Historical Society. The NHS itself is also a vault of historic information at its location on the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, just north of Fleischmann Planetarium.

In addition, recently retired state archivist Guy Rocha has an encyclopedic memory of Nevada history and his knowledge is backed by voluminous records in his former office building in Carson City.

In totality, Nevada — particularly northern Nevada — has one of the most interesting histories of any state in the nation. You had your miners, your cowboys and Indians, your railroad workers, your ranchers, your stout Italian farmers, your gamblers, your divorcees and just about anything else you could imagine. It is little wonder that at one time Reno was known worldwide as “The Paris of the West.”

As is often said, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. That may be the rationale for the RSCVA to be continually looking elsewhere for advice on how to market this marvelous area.

There is a forest of opportunity here.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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‘Rail City’ is still the ‘Rail City’ by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist


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