The Shadow Town of Toulon


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The abandoned mill buildings in Toulon date from 1892. The main building housed a ball mill used to process tungsten as well as precious metals.

Unlike most other mining sites, the original mill is still standing — it’s the large, two-story metal building next to the railroad tracks. The ruins are on private property and the owners are extremely protective of the site.

As you approach the site from I-80, you’ll happen upon a set of railroad track. Jus’ before crossing them you see a sign the reads, “Rail Road Cross.”

Make certain to read the entire sign because at the bottom, it also states, “No Trespassing.” Unfortunately for me, I thought that meant the tracks as the signage is clearly the property of the rail road company.

None-the-less, I discovered in short order that I had broken the cardinal rule of rural Nevada – I failed to ask permission before I drove passed the three or four RV trailers parked at the town’s entrance. I drove right by the man who would eventually come to tell me I had goofed.

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I was only able to snap three frames of the mill before having to beat-feet back to the Interstate.

“Inside the towering tumblers and their attached furnaces are precariously supported by warped floorboards seemingly held together with decades of pigeon droppings,” reports one person fortunate enough to look inside.

Toulon, which appears named for a French seaport was founded in 1917 following construction of a large mill to treat tungsten, gold and silver ore mined at Nightingale. The mill was used sporadically over the years.

Tungsten was discovered in the Nightingale district in 1917, and enough was found that they hauled it down to the mill at Toulon, 40 miles to the southeast. In the early 1930’s they built a 100-ton concentrator on site but it never got much of a workout.

The name “Nightingale,” can be traced to Captain Alanson W. Nightengill (the name was corrupted on state maps), the first State Controller and a survivor of the 1860 Pyramid Lake Indian War.

While not as romantic or exciting as gold, tungsten has its uses, and was particularly important during wartime. Its uses in high-speed metal-working equipment, steel, armor, and armor-piercing shells made tungsten a vital war commodity.

Tungsten was in such short supply during the way that the War Production Board mandated that all replaced automotive ignition points be returned to salvage the tungsten in them. Tungsten production was intermittent until World War II, but then slowed down again until about 1956, when interest petered out altogether.

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Because I was very apologetic, I’ve been invited to return to speak with the towns owner about possibly touring the site, this time with his permission.

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