A Short History of Curtiss-Wright in Storey County, Nevada

Jed Margolin

April 22, 2007

The largest parcel that is part of the proposed Cordevista project was once owned by Curtiss-Wright. (Theirs is the first name on the Assessor's record for the property.)

According to one source, Curtiss-Wright was planning to use it for a Government contract for a large missile-testing program which required a large and stable water supply. To ensure the water supply they bought and upgraded the entire water supply system for Virginia City. When they didn't get the Government contract they sold the water system to the State of Nevada, sold the land to Hi-Shear, and left.

I called Curtiss-Wright last week and spoke to Paul Verdensi (sp?), who is nominally the company historian. Although this happened long before Paul's time, he was under the impression that C-W had intended to use the Storey County property for testing airplanes. Although the Air Force was willing to let C-W take off and land from Stead Air Force Base, they didn't want the airplanes testflown over the area, so C-W bought a large unpopulated area in our county. C-W never built anything on it, it was just a safe place for airplanes to crash.   :-(

It's possible that both stories may be true.

Curtiss-Wright History

The Curtiss-Wright Corporation was formed in 1929 by the merger of Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company (started by Glenn Curtiss) and Wright Aeronautical (started by Orville and Wilbur Wright). The two companies had become exhausted by a long and bitter patent fight. Still, by joining together they became the country's largest aircraft manufacturer.

The company made it through the Great Depression and manufactured a number of important aircraft during the Second World War, like the P-36 and the P-40 which was developed from the P-36 and was practically the only fighter the United States had in 1941 and 1942.

After the War, Curtiss-Wright failed to make the transition to the Jet Age and in 1948 they shut down their entire Aeroplane Division and sold the assets to North American Aviation.( Through a series of mergers and sales, North American Aviation is now part of Boeing.)

Today, Curtiss-Wright mostly makes controls and components for other companies. It's not sexy (like airplanes) but C-W is a $1.2 Billion company with good profitability. In 2007 C-W made the Forbes' list of the 100 most trusted companies in America.  Here is the Curtiss-Wright website and more Curtiss-Wright history.

Curtiss-Wright in Storey County

Although Curtiss-Wright's sojourn in Storey County is barely remembered by the company, it left a lasting impression on Storey County, mostly because of water.

From Water History at Lake Tahoe by Julie R. Stone, available at the Nevada Heritage Website {The pipeline is the pipeline from Marlette Lake to Virginia City; VCWC is the Virginia City Water Company.)

Failures of the pipeline became severe in 1956-57 due its the advanced age. The VCWC had operated at a financial loss for many years and funds were not available to make necessary repairs and replacements. The Curtis-Wright Corporation loaned money to VCWC to replace the flume and pipeline from Virginia City to 5-mile reservoir.

Curtis-Wright was then planning a large missile-testing program in Storey County under a government contract. The program involved the use of a large and stable water supply. At that time, the future of VCWC was uncertain, the equipment deteriorated, and no large financial means to restore it. Curtis-Wright then stepped in and purchased the entire system in order to ensure their operationís success in Storey County.

On August 8, 1957, the Curtis-Wright Corporation purchased from the Virginia City Water Company all water rights, storage facilities at Marlette Lake, Hobart Reservoir, flumes and pipelines up to and including 5-mile reservoir. Two years later, the company raised the dam at Marlette Lake an additional 15 feet, making the height 52 feet. The outlets from the dam consist of two 16-inch diameter pipes having a discharge capability of about 20 cubic feet per second (c.f.s.) each with a full reservoir. This increased the lake storage capacity from 2 to 3.4 billion gallons, or 10,400 acre-feet of water. This capacity was equal to three years of normal water production through precipitation and snowmelt from the area (Legislative Commission 1969).

           Curtis-Wright deeded all its rights to their subsidiary, the Marlette Lake Company on December 2, 1957. A new 8-inch pipeline replaced the single remaining box flume from the outlet of the siphon to 5-mile reservoir (Shamberger 1969). The flume line from Marlette Lake Dam to the west portal of the tunnel had long been in disrepair. The company planned to replace this section with a pipeline and repair the tunnel.

and from the MINUTES OF THE Assembly ways and means and senate finance joint subcommittee on capital improvements, Seventieth Session, March 16, 1999

The Chair recognized Mr. Dini who said Marlette Lake was the only source of water for Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Silver City. There had been problems with the raw water reaching those locations at times, and Storey County had spent a great deal of money to construct a facility to treat that water. He said water rates in Storey County had been increased to between $80 and $100 for a small home. He was aware of talk between Storey County, Lyon County, and Carson City, to bring treated water from Carson City through Moundhouse, to Silver City, Goldhill, and Virginia City in which case Storey County would not have to operate its treatment plant. Mr. Dini realized that project was out in the future and at a great expense. He said there were leaks in the system Storey County bought from the state. Last month, Storey County had been billed for 4 million gallons and the county had only billed for 2 million gallons. Mr. Dini said there were a number of complications with the Marlette Lake system that would take time to work out. He said when the state originally purchased the land from Curtis Wright, Storey County had the number one water rights out of Marlette Lake. The county surrendered those rights to the state but were guaranteed they would always have a contract to provide sufficient water for Virginia City.

If Curtiss-Wright hadn't rescued the Virginia City water supply when it did, who knows what might have happened. The City might have dried up and blown away.