BY BEAU KISSLER

When peering through the Ponderosa Ranch’s boarded fence to the old “Bonanza” set in Incline Village, memories of Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe Cartwright spring to life as they go about their beloved ranch-hand duties. There is a nostalgic feeling one gets being so close to touching the portal back to their living room on those countless childhood Sunday evenings spent with the Cartwrights. Although this privately owned land is best known for the “Bonanza” TV show, there is an oft-forgotten back story to this pop culture staple.

Originally, this land on the east end of Incline Village was a vital artery to the mining boom and the development of both Virginia City and Carson City. Walter Hobart and Seneca Marlette capitalized on this opportunity, according to Craig Olson, a property owner adjacent to the Ponderosa Ranch and an Incline Village Historical Society board member. Hobart and Marlette created the Sierra Nevada Wood & Lumber Company and made history on this hillside where the Bonanza set now sleeps.

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In 1880, Hobart built the Great Incline Tramline. Milled lumber was transferred from the sawmill, which was located across the street and roughly a couple hundred yards from where Sierra Nevada College’s Prim Library now stands, to the base of the tramline, where it climbed over what is now the Ponderosa Ranch on rail cars hauled uphill by 8,000 feet of braided cable. The contraption that hauled these cable cars up this steep incline was the famous steam engine-powered Bullwheel, which can still be found on the property today. This steep railroad is where Incline Village got its name, according to Olson. After a 1,400-foot ascent, lumber was placed in the Incline Flume — originally called the North Flume — and sent through the 3,996-foot long Tunnel Creek that bored through the mountain to Lakeview in Little Valley, Nev. From there, lumber, as well as water from the flume, was delivered to Carson City and Virginia City for building train tracks and mine shaft supports. This operation was so extensive and sensitive that the first telephone system in Nevada was installed from the base of the Tramline to each outpost.

Olson suggests that this elaborate operation not only served these mining towns, but “played a major role in the development of San Francisco and provided substantial support to the North’s success in the Civil War.”

After most of Lake Tahoe was clear cut, business slowed to a halt and the use of the Great Tramline was decommissioned. The Tunnel Creek collapsed in 1957, and was never successfully rebuilt.

From 1959 to 1973, NBC International produced the “Bonanza” television series, but only 15 episodes were actually shot at the Incline location. As one of the first TV shows broadcasted in color, and because cowboy western movies were popular at the time, Radio Corporation of America (RCA) sponsored Bonanza in order to increase the sales of its color television sets, according to Olson. By this time, local contractor Bill Anderson was the landowner of the Ponderosa Ranch. In 1967, he realized the potential for turning the set into a lucrative theme park. Olson recalls the park had “interactive pancake breakfast wagon rides, a fulltime blacksmith that made horseshoes, hefty Hoss Burgers, gold panning, and more.” He also mentioned it was a marriage hotspot, with roughly 300 weddings a year.

By the early 2000s, business had slowed down and Anderson shuttered the park, selling it to businessman David Duffield in 2004 for $52 million, according to Olson. It is through the boarded fence and No Trespassing signs that one can look through and reminisce on the Cartwrights’ glory days. Read about Duffield’s current proposal for this property here.

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