In 1868 the Central Pacific Railroad (CPR) was completed from Sacramento to Winnemucca and the first locomotive, the Champion, traveled to Winnemucca. On May 10, 1869 the CPR and the Union Pacific Railroad (UPR) were joined at Promontory, Utah. On May 11th, according to the Humboldt Register, the first transcontinental train passed through Winnemucca celebrated by "Firing guns, blowing whistles, ringing bells, 'driving spikes', and drinking champagne."
The Transcontinental Railroad was highly important to the development of the United States as it linked the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and transformed the emigrants' difficult six-month cross-country journey to a comfortable six-day train trip. Communication was also greatly enhanced by the Overland Telegraph that was built simultaneously along the railroad route.
Local historian J.P. Marden states, "The Central Pacific Railroad changed the history of Winnemucca like no other single event ever would. It brought the world to Winnemucca and Winnemucca to the world." In September of 1868 Winnemucca was officially designated as CPR stop. A train station and round house (where trains could be serviced and turned around) were built on Railroad Street. Winnemucca residents could board the train at the station and travel to San Francisco in a day. Native Americans received free passage
on freight trains and Chiefs were granted free coach travel.
The railroad also facilitated the transportation of freight. From the 1860s through the 1940s, thousands of cattle were shipped from Winnemucca. According to J.P. Marden, "In the early days it was said that a person could not eat a steak in San Francisco that had not started life on northern Nevada grass.
Many of the Chinese who helped build the CPR settled along this route. Winnemucca had a thriving Chinatown located in the vicinity of the current Humboldt County Library.
In 1899, the CPR was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad (SPR) and in 1908 the Western Pacific Railroad (WPR) built a second transcontinental railroad and telegraph line through Winnemucca. The WPR paralleled the CPR route from Wells to Winnemucca, after which it took a more northerly route to California by way of Gerlach. Although some sections of the CPR/SPR and the WPR have been rerouted, both railroads are still in use today. The WPR (in view below where you stand) is now owned by Union Pacific and used by freight trains only, but you cans still ride Amtrack's California Zephyr along much of the original CPR route.