Born August 13 1921 in Oakland California
Died April 3 2019 in Orinda California
Bob Gray grew up in Oakland California where his father was a dealer in postage stamps, and Bob became an advanced stamp collector himself. He was a Boy Scout and in 1935 attended the first National Jamboree in Washington DC. It was on that long railroad journey that he began to take an interest in trains.
Bob was the punter on the Oakland High School football team. After he graduated in 1940 he attended the University of Oregon where, as a freshman, he was equipment manager for the football team through its National Championship season. He was at the annual Sophomore Ball when the music stopped and an announcement was read that the fleet at Pearl Harbor had been attacked.
Bob enlisted in the Marine Corps and completed the Navy V-12 program at USC. He trained on Guadalcanal and landed on Okinawa April 1, 1945 as a rifleman, one of two photographic technicians with the Sixth Marine division, 22nd regiment.
After Okinawa he photographed the Japanese surrender in Tsingtao China before the marines gave way to the advancing Communist army and evacuated to Guam.
After the war he spent several years touring the United States with a large format camera photographing disappearing steam locomotives. He met his wife Ardelle in Oregon; they married in 1949 and raised a son and daughter together.
In 1971 Bob began the tireless effort to which he devoted the rest of his life.
William Sharon had acted boldly to establish the Virginia & Truckee in 1867. With a $500,000 contribution from interested parties in Storey and Ormsby County, grading of the right-of-way began in February of 1869, from Virginia City to Carson City and three years later from there north to Lake’s Crossing. By September, the route was ready for rail. Superintendent Henry Yerington drove a silver spike to set the first rail on September 28 and the first train from Carson City reached Gold Hill via the Crown Point Trestle in December. On January 29 1870 the first passenger train pulled into Virginia City.
When the last train made the run from Carson City to Virginia City on June 5 1938, one of the passengers was 17-year-old Bob Gray, beginning a lifelong fascination with the storied line.
That’s Bob framed in the window of the open door of the bus.
He tells the story in the video below. Suffice it to say here that he was a one-man steam engine himself, doing the painstaking research, buying dozens of parcels of real estate to restore the right of way, obtaining the permits, arranging the financing, buying and laying track, leasing the equipment needed to haul passengers, and then acquiring rolling stock, starting with a steam locomotive he found in an Oregon barn — everything. With lots of help, but no $500,000 contributions
Bob rode his ‘first train’ in a somewhat different fashion from the way he rode the ‘last train’ 33 years earlier. It chugged out of Virginia City on July 2, 1976, whistle shrieking and flags snapping, as the nation embarked on a colorful Bicentennial Celebration. The V&T has been operating ever since, and Bob served as president until age 95.
Here’s his story, first-hand —