Truckee man knows Virginia City
Carl Cuttel, manager and tour guide for Virginia City Tours, leans against his tour bus waiting for his next group of tourists to gather. It’s a frosty November afternoon, and the melting snow cuts a rhythmic tune as it falls from Virginia City’s rooftops to the parking lot of the Bucket of Blood Saloon on C Street where he waits.
For $3 per person, Cuttel provides a 20-minute tour that includes local highlights and a good dose of Comstock history. The tourists are slow to gather on this cold gray day, but Cuttel takes it all in stride. He’s been conducting these tours since 1987, and estimates in that time he’s had about 30,000 customers.
Soft-spoken and easy-going with salt-and-pepper hair, blue eyes, and a white cowboy hat, he looks and acts like one of the good guys. And as he waits, Virginia City residents stop to pass the time with a little conversation.
The son of Swiss immigrants, Cuttel was raised in Truckee, where he still lives. But that doesn’t mean Virginia City is playing second-fiddle in his eyes.
“I’m fascinated with this town. I enjoy the history, and I’ve met some very good people here, people that have lived here all their lives,” Cuttel said, noting he’s always been interested in history, especially that of the eastern slope of the Sierra. It’s a topic he researched in detail after taking on the responsibilities for Virginia City Tours.
“I love talking to those people, to find out how they lived in times past. . . . . These are hard places to live,” Cuttel said, noting the remote mountain location of Virginia City is also a fact of life in Truckee, but at this point he feels that is where the similarities end.
He feels Truckee is becoming the Aspen of California: expensive, trendy, and crowded, and over the years he’s developed a taste for Nevada’s deserts.
When he was younger, he worked with his father, a contractor who located and developed water supplies for public and private use. So growing up, he spent a lot of time in Nevada’s hinterland: places like Ely, Austin, and Golconda.
“It’s a good way of life,” Cuttel said, noting that he finds it upsetting that these towns often fade and die for lack of jobs.
He operates this small tour business for his mother-in-law Lucy Lundgren as well as handling public transportation for Virginia City, and said he enjoys being a small businessman. It’s time consuming and a lot of hard work, but he’s hired some help over the years.
“I don’t have to check on them after I’ve hired them,” Cuttel said with an easy smile. “The people of Virginia City do that. If my employees aren’t doing their job: If their historic talks aren’t accurate, their driving is sloppy or they aren’t handling passengers politely, I will hear about it.”
He graduated from Tahoe-Truckee High School in 1972, and completed a degree in watershed management at UNR where he met his wife, Sarah Lundgren. Together they have two children: Rachel, 17, and Bryan, 15.
He financed his college education in part through a music scholarship, and from 1986 to 1992 played the bass trombone with the Reno Philharmonic and the Nevada Opera’s Orchestra. He’s given up the bass trombone, but in Truckee he still plays the Alp horn, a long instrument used in the Swiss Alps.
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