Reno Traction Company (site)

In the early 1900s, the establishment of an electric streetcar system was a clear sign of a city’s growth as well as faith in its potential for future expansion. There was therefore cause for great celebration on Thanksgiving Day, 1904, with the opening of Nevada’s first streetcar line, a three-mile route between Reno and the newly-founded town of Sparks.

Operated by a group of local businessmen organized as the Nevada Transit Company, the line was constructed in just four months. But the route had been appearing for years on tract maps for the new housing divisions that were rapidly platted after the 1902 announcement that the Southern Pacific Railroad would be moving its shops from Wadsworth to a site east of Reno and building a new roundhouse there.

The initial line ran from Reno’s downtown railway node eastward to Sparks, turning south just before Deer Park, then east again to the Southern Pacific roundhouse and railroad yards. Tracks on the Reno end ran westward along Fourth Street to Sierra Street, then south to Second Street, east to Virginia Street, and by January of 1905, south again to the Truckee River. The company’s car barn stood at 911 E. 4th Street, near Morrill Avenue.

The service was purchased and renamed the Reno Traction Company in 1906. Used heavily by commuting workers, shoppers, and pleasure-seekers headed to Wieland’s Park (later known as Coney Island), the Reno-Sparks line was by far the most popular, generating 80% of all ridership. With an initial fare of ten cents, the journey took approximately thirty minutes, at the rollicking pace of ten miles per hour.

Later expansions connected downtown Reno to the university, while a separate company, the Nevada Interurban, offered service southward along Plumas Street to the Moana Springs resort. But the rising popularity of automobiles and high costs of track maintenance soon brought an end to the streetcar era. Facing declining support, the company stopped service on every route but the Reno-Sparks line in 1919. Intercity bus service between Reno and Sparks began on June 15, 1927, attracting customers from the streetcar service, which finally ended all operations that September.

In 1931, one of the abandoned cars was converted into a hamburger and soft drink stand near the old Coney Island site, while another was being used as a chicken house on a farm in Sparks. The site that was once home to the Reno Traction Company's car barn is now occupied by an auto repair business.

Images

Opening day, 1904

Opening day, 1904

Passengers and onlookers surround a car on opening day of the Nevada Transit Company line in 1904. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Nevada Transit Company Car No. 2

Nevada Transit Company Car No. 2

The Nevada Transit Company was purchased in 1906 and renamed the Reno Traction Company. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

The No. 5, early 1900s

The No. 5, early 1900s

Workers stand in front of the No. 5 car, which ran on the line between Reno and Sparks. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Car Barn

Car Barn

Standing in front of a car bound for Burke's Addition in southeast Reno, workers pose at the Reno Traction Company's car barn at E. 4th Street and Morrill Avenue. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Sanborn map, 1918

Sanborn map, 1918

As shown on the Sanborn fire insurance map from 1918, the Reno Traction Company car barn, on the northeast corner of Morrill Avenue and East 4th Street, was a wood frame structure (represented by yellow) with a capacity for six cars. Image courtesy of Mary B. Ansari Map Library View File Details Page

Car No. 5, 1906

Car No. 5, 1906

Reno Traction Company car No. 5 in 1906. Note the cradle board in the window, indicating patronage by the Native American community. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge

The streetcar tracks were extended across the Virginia Street Bridge after the new bridge was constructed in 1905. Image courtesy of Lewis "Red" Kittell View File Details Page

Shovel Brigade

Shovel Brigade

The "shovel brigade" tends to the tracks in winter, mostly likely on the Reno-Sparks line. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Streetcar on Sierra

Streetcar on Sierra

A streetcar moving southward along Sierra Street pauses at the Southern Pacific railroad tracks before continuing to Sparks. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Second and Sierra Streets

Second and Sierra Streets

Here car No. 5 is about to leave Reno for Sparks, facing west on Second at Sierra. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Abandoned streetcars, ca. 1930

Abandoned streetcars, ca. 1930

Reno's streetcar lines lasted just over two decades, replaced in the late 1920s by motorized buses. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Alicia Barber, “Reno Traction Company (site),” Reno Historical, accessed June 26, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/54.
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