Friday, July 14, 2017

The Many Stations of Elko

A Brief Railroad History of Elko, Nevada
Elko, Nevada is a community that was founded in 1868 when the transcontinental railroad was building across Nevada.  The Central Pacific established a station there and soon a town sprung up.  There was plentiful water in the nearby Humboldt River and the land was suitable for small farms and ranches to operate.  Not long after the golden spike was driven in Utah, the Southern Pacific took out a long term lease on the Central Pacific and began operating the railroad as their own.  It wasn't too much longer before the Western Pacific began it's push to the Pacific Ocean and they built their line roughly parallel to the SP from Humboldt Wells (later renamed to simply Wells) across the state to just west of Winnemucca.  During the first World War, the US government created the United States Railroad Administration and took control of the railroads for the duration of the war.  As a result, the parallel lines across Nevada were treated as one route and thus the paired trackage arrangement was born.  After the war, the SP and WP voluntarily entered into a formal agreement that kept this arrangement in place right up until the merger of the WP into the Union Pacific.  The UP after merging the WP continued to honor that agreement until they eventually merged with the SP.  To this day, that arrangement is still used where the northern track (ex-SP) is operated westbound and the southern track (ex-WP) is the eastbound track.  This arrangement meant that both passenger stations in Elko would remain standing and in use until a line change in the early 1980s relocated both tracks a few blocks to the south in order to remove them from the city streets.  Only the Western Pacific depot survives today and is serving a second life as an office building.

The Central Pacific Depot
When the Central Pacific reached the area that is now Elko on December 29, 1868, work halted briefly and a station was established.  It had rooms for 80, a dining room for 112, a billiard room, a bar, and a barbershop.  From what I can find in my research, the station was known by several names: Cosmopolitan, then Chamberlain and finally Depot Hotel.  It was located on the southwest corner of 4th Street and Railroad Street.  The depot was completely demolished by July 1, 1903 and Southern Pacific erected a new depot on the same spot by mid-1904.  The SP had acquired control of the CP effective April 1, 1885.

Original Central Pacific depot at Elko in April 1869.  It was a boarding house,
restaurant, and bar, plus it had a billiard room and barbershop.
The Southern Pacific Depot
When originally built, the Southern Pacific depot was a wood frame building built to one of SP's standard plans.  The following photo shows it in 1912, a mere 43 years after the rails of the transcontinental railroad were laid through the area and only 8 years after it opened its doors.
Eight year old Southern Pacific depot which replaced the Central Pacific depot.
Gone were all the amenities of the CP station since Elko had grown to a full
service city by the time this depot was built and trains were now equipped with
dining and sleeping cars.
Elko in the 1930s.  A lot has changed in 18 years, but the depot still looked
much the same as it did in 1912.
Sometime between the 1930s and 1950, the depot was remodeled with a more modern art deco style.  Here are two photos that show the remodeled depot.  The first photo was taken in 1950 and the second photo is from 1955.

Elko March 11, 1950.  The depot has been extensively remodeled, though
retaining the original footprint.  It's wood exterior has been covered with a
stucco and brick fa├žade and the station signs that were a signature of SP depots
has given way to a modern art deco styled sign over the operator's bay.  The
change in the Elko cityscape is remarkable to say the least.

Elko 1955.  Very little has changed in 5 years with the depot, but there is a
marked change with the Commercial Club behind it.
Then sometime between 1957 and 1962, the Southern Pacific moved the depot from it's original location to a spot roughly 3 blocks east for reasons unknown to this author.  These two photos show the SP portion of the City of San Francisco and the WP portion of the California Zephyr on the night of April 11, 1969 at the new location (compare the background buildings to previous photos and you can see the difference).
City of San Francisco pauses at the SP depot in Elko.  Mel Patrick photo
courtesy of Bob McKeen.
California Zephyr pauses at the SP depot in Elko later that same night.  Mel
Patrick photo courtesy of Bob McKeen.

Visit this website to see several photos of the depot in the 1970s (post-Amtrak):

The Western Pacific Depot
Like the Southern Pacific, the Western Pacific constructed a wood frame depot consistent with company standard plans.  Since Elko was already a well established city by the time the WP arrived in later 1908, a large two story depot was constructed.

Western Pacific Elko Depot as built.  Probably 1930's to 1940's judging by the

In 1958, the Western Pacific looking to rehab the aging structure, removed the second story and installed a new roof and clad two of the four walls in brick, with the other two walls receiving stucco.  This is how the building has remained to this day (with some minor changes to windows and doors).
Front of the WP passenger depot on December 26, 1981.  Photo courtesy of
Ken Rattenne.  Used with permission.

Trackside view of the WP depot on December 16, 1981.  Photo courtesy ofKen Rattenne.  Used with permission.
After the depot was abandoned, a private developer bought the building and extensively remodeled the inside and converted to office space.  I ran into the building owners son during a trip to Elko and learned that during the remodeling, it was discovered that when the second story was removed, the original flooring was left intact and roughly one foot of the walls remain from the second floor.  As far as I know, the 'attic' has never been cleaned and all the original flooring is still in place.  Another interesting note is that during the extensive remodeling, the building was widened by approximately 15'-20'.  The building is largely original, in a sense, but so heavily rebuilt, you would never know it by just looking at it.
A view of the front and trackside wall of the WP depot after it was
converted to offices.  February 2006
The rear and north walls of the depot showing the stucco walls.  February 2006
The Amtrak Shelters
As mentioned before, in 1983, the two mainline tracks through downtown Elko were moved in order to alleviate traffic problems for both the railroad and the city.  At that time, two structures were erected along the relocated tracks to service Amtrak passengers getting on and off at Elko.  Since the station was to be unstaffed, simple shelters were erected to keep passengers out of the weather, reflecting the general decline of passenger service in America, and particularly in sparsely populated northeastern Nevada.

Ribbon cutting celebrating the opening of the newly constructed bypass around
Elko and the opening of the new Amtrak shelters.  October 1983.  Photo
courtesy of Northeastern Nevada Museum.  Used with permission.

Sometime between February and November 2007, the shelters were removed due to vandalism and the occasional homeless person using the buildings as a makeshift home.  In their place were installed bus stop style shelters and benches which is how it can still be seen.

The last time I photographed these structures before being demolished.
February 14, 2007
The replacements.  Not very glamorous for a city that has had 4 different stations
and hosted the world renowned California Zephyr in its life span.
- Matt Liverani


  1. Matt:
    My father was the storekeeper for the WP from 1920 to 1940's, then transferred to Sacramento and finally Stockton. I have my fathers paper archives dating back to 1921, and some photos from 1915.

    1. That is a treasure trove of information, I'm sure! If you are ever interested in sharing any of that with me, let me know at inarevil (at) sbcglobal (dot) net. Thank you for the note!