Author: Dennis Cassinelli

Nevada’s Central Pacific Railroad

2018 is the 150th anniversary of the Central Pacific railroad reaching Reno, Nevada. From Reno, the track was laid across the entire state and connected the towns of Verdi, Reno, Sparks, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, Carlin, Elko, Wells and Wendover. Being a construction person, I cannot help but admire what was accomplished by the people who constructed the Central Pacific Railroad across Nevada between April 1868 and May 1869. Without heavy construction equipment, these men built a railroad that crossed the entire expanse of the State of Nevada in little over one year. The roadbed was flat and smooth, and the grading was done by Chinese laborers using wheelbarrows and shovels. The roadbed was built up by taking material from a “borrow ditch” on either side and throwing soil up onto the roadbed. In a hill or cut section, the material was thrown up over the side and not hauled long distances as it is in modern construction. The route selected for the Central Pacific Railroad through the mountains and deserts of Nevada generally followed the Old California Trail, since this had been proven the easiest route of travel through the Great Basin for many years. Since the railroad need water for the steam engines, the route had to be near access to water at regular intervals. The original roadbed didn’t even have ballast between the ties in many areas....

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The Walking Rocks of the Fernley Marsh

As I travel around the Nevada deserts and mountains, I sometimes find things out there that defy description and logic. When I was working as an inspector on a highway construction project on Interstate 80 near Fernley Nevada a few years ago, I encountered one of these strange and seemingly unexplainable enigmas. Much of northwestern Nevada was once covered with a huge freshwater lake known as Lake Lahontan. If you look closely at the hills and mountains along Interstate 80 between Fernley and Lovelock, you can see many parallel horizontal lines that mark the water level of ancient Lake Lahontan through thousands of years of fluctuating water levels. Natural climate changes have caused the water level to drop over the last several thousand years to the point where the former lake is now mostly desert. Sometimes during a particularly wet season, some of the desert lowlands once again accumulate a few inches of water. The lake bottom consists of a fine silt mixed with alkali that becomes extremely slick when it gets wet. Such was the case during the spring of 2009 when I happened to notice some rocks and small boulders out on one of these mud flats that seemed to have moved across the mud leaving a distinctive irregular path or track behind. There were no footprints or vehicle tracks anywhere near the rocks or the tracks...

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History: Artifacts Recovered from Lovelock Cave

In this, the second article about Lovelock Cave, I will describe a few of the thousands of artifacts recovered from the site between 1912 and 1924. The remarkable things about Lovelock Cave were the state of preservation in this dry cave and the amazing variety of well preserved objects that were found there. Llewellyn L. Loud first began recovering artifacts from the cave in 1912 after guano miners had finished removing tons of bat guano from the floor of the cave. Unfortunately, looters had already removed many items of archaeological value before Loud started his work. Despite the previous ransacking of the cave, Mr. Loud recovered many items of great archaeological and anthropological value. Approximately 45 sets of human remains ranging from scattered bones to complete mummies and human skeletons were found. One Mummified child about 6 years old wrapped in fish netting was given to the Nevada Historical Society. Loud recovered the remains of a newborn child with the placenta still attached. I recall the days in the 1960s when some of these remains were on display at the Nevada Historical Society in Reno before the insensitive public display of them was discontinued. Many examples of mammal remains were found in the cave. These included animals that had entered the cave seeking shelter, and others that had been brought into the cave as food by human occupants. examples...

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Why I Am Fascinated by Silver Dollars

My mother, Phyllis, was one of the first female blackjack dealers in the state of Nevada. She and her sister, Clare, worked for Harolds Club in Reno in the early 1940’s. General Manager, Raymond “Pappy” Smith was the first Nevada casino owner to hire women blackjack dealers to work in the clubs. His reasoning was that if casinos hired female dealers, more GI’s from the Reno Army Airbase would be attracted to the clubs. In those days, casinos used composition chips as much as they do today. However, they also used the common medium of exchange in Nevada at that time, the silver dollar, for many of their table games. Winnings were paid out in silver dollars and tips and even wages were sometimes paid that way. When I started school in Sparks, hot lunch for the week was 20 cents per day or one dollar for the whole week. Every Monday, Mom, being a blackjack dealer, would give me one silver dollar for my weekly lunch. I soon noticed that in addition to the Peace Dollars minted from 1921 through 1935, many were the much older Morgan dollars minted off and on from 1878 through 1904 and again in 1921. I was fascinated that so many of the silver dollars given to me for lunch money were made back in the 1800’s. One day, I noticed to my...

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History: a Visit to Lovelock Cave, Prehistoric Nevada

This is the first in a two part series about Lovelock Cave, located on a terrace of ancient Lake Lahontan about 22 miles south of Lovelock in Churchill County, Nevada. The second in the series will describe some of the hundreds of artifacts recovered from the cave. It was excavated in 1912 by archaeologists Llewellyn L. Loud and again in 1924 by Mark R. Harrington. It yielded some of the richest archaeological Treasures ever found in the American West. Scientists have determined the cave was inhabited by humans in several phases from about 3000 B.C. to about 1900 A.D. In more recent findings, the earliest habitation at the site may have been even older than originally determined by Loud and Harrington. In their classic book, “Lovelock Cave,” these two archaeologists collaborated to tell about the remarkable artifacts and human remains they discovered in the cave. I will describe many of these items in my next article in this series. Family members and I first visited Lovelock Cave about 20 years ago. I also worked on several highway construction projects in the Lovelock area and hiked around parts of the mostly dry Humboldt Sink, which was once filled with marshes during the time the cave was inhabited. More recently, Phil Hanna and I returned to Lovelock Cave to see the improvements that have been made there to accommodate visitors to...

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