Gerlach History

The town of Gerlach sits about 100 miles northeast of Reno. More than a two-hour drive from any semblance of a city, the town has become known as an outpost for the Burning Man Festival, as well as the kind of place where residents can count on their neighbors for food and comfort.

The town, along with Empire, had a total of 499 residents in the 2000 census.

Gerlach was founded in 1906, when construction began on the Feather River Route of the Western Pacific Railroad. The route connected Oakland, California, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

After its inception, Gerlach remained a railroad town. Even today, trains pass through on the same route that was built more than a century ago. The town was filled with people who worked for either the railroad, the Washoe County road department, or the nearby gypsum plant in Empire.

In 1976, the people of the town bought the property from the railroad company. They put a better water system in and created a town board as their municipal government. To this day, the town still does not have streetlights or sidewalks. Most amenities such as grocery stores and medical services are not available in Gerlach; residents must drive to Reno for these necessities.

Some notable events for the town include the setting of the land speed record at the Black Rock Desert in 1983 and 1997, which brought publicity to the area. Also, in the 1970s, a train crashed in the town, resulting in the “Great Gerlach Train Robbery,” so called by the Reno Gazette-Journal. Town residents picked up various items that were thrown from the train, including sheets and curtain rods. Because someone took cigarettes that were being transported, the Federal Bureau of Investigation was brought to town to see what was considered stolen property. To hide that the white sheets were from the train, people dyed the sheets different colors and then hung them out to dry.

A Gerlach institution is Bruno’s Country Club, owned by Bruno Selmic. A bar/restaurant with a separate motel and gas station, it’s known for its famous ravioli.

Another institution is Dooby Lane, located off the Black Rock Desert. For several years, Gerlach resident DeWayne Williams wrote sayings and on rocks and then set them up on Guru Road, just outside of town. It would soon be better known as Dooby Lane, inheriting the nickname from its founder. The road stretches for miles and includes a tribute to Elvis, a display that several people have married in front of, and sayings that refer to Gerlach’s townspeople. One rock reads, “Danny loves Jola.” The one next to it says, “Sometimes.”

Since 1991, the Burning Man festival has taken place in the Black Rock Desert. The festival, which began in California, started small, but since 2005, has brought in between 40,000 and 50,000 people each year. Gerlach is the last town people pass through before they get to the festival.

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