When Coaldale, Nevada’s Gas Station Closed, The Entire Town Was Abandoned

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Stammberger1973 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Photo Credit: Stammberger1973 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Coaldale, Nevada got its name from the very thing for which it was established: coal mining. Once that was no longer profitable, the town fell to bare bones. When it was discovered the only establishments earning an income – the gas station, motel and restaurant – were no longer operational, the decision was made to completely abandon the town.

Coaldale was once a ‘thriving’ town

Coaldale, Nevada was established in the late 1800s as part of the coal mining craze sweeping the state. The town sits just 40 miles west of Tonopah, at the junction of US Routes 6 and 95. At the height of its existence, Coaldale had a population of around 50 residents and sported a few amenities.

Highway leading toward Coaldale
Photo Credit: Don Barrett / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

In Coaldale, one could find a 12-room motel, a combo restaurant-bar-casino, a general store, a post office, a railroad depot, a market and a small residential area. When the mines shut down in the 1940s following a shortage of coal, the town became a pitstop along the highway, with its main attraction being the gas station.

Rusty sign on the exterior of Coaldale's former restaurant
Photo Credit: Bradley Fulton / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Abandoned motel with debris strewn about outside
Photo Credit: Bradley Fulton / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By this point, many residents had left Coaldale, but the few who remained subsisted on the income from passersby stopping for gas. The gas station, motel and restaurant were the main income providers, but, unfortunately, their existence soon came to an end.

Issues with the gas station

In 1993, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) passed new legislation, which required businesses up their standards on environmental protections, including gas stations. Specifically, it required all stations to upgrade their subterranean fuel tanks. When an inspection was performed on the one in Coaldale, bad news soon followed.

Broken sign along the side of a road
Photo Credit: Rodrigo Paredes / Flickr CC BY 2.0

After the inspection, it was determined Coaldale’s gas station, the town’s primary moneymaker, was leaking gasoline and diesel into the ground. As one can imagine, the business only brought in a meager income and was unable to fix or replace its gas tanks. As such, the station could no longer operate.

Rusty barrel on the outskirts of an abandoned motel
Photo Credit: Emily Wise / Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0
Abandoned car parked beside a wooden structure in Coaldale
Photo Credit: Bradley Fulton / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Additionally, it was found Coaldale’s 3,050-foot-long airstrip was no longer up to code. Its official designations were removed, rendering it unusable.

Residents officially abandon Coaldale

Inevitably, Coaldale’s gas station closed. With it shuttered, there were less reasons for passersby to stop at the restaurant or stay at the motel. As such, those, too, shut down. Eventually, the entire town was abandoned – and what was left behind makes it look as though the exodus occurred overnight.

A lawn mower sits mid-mow on a desert lawn, which begs the question: what grass was being cut? Appliances and equipment were left in the restaurant’s kitchen, and furniture was left behind at the motel.

Broken television sat in the middle of a debris-strewn room
Photo Credit: Bradley Fulton / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Overtime, the only residents in the area were vandals and squatters. Sometime before 2006, two buildings, including the restaurant, were burned down in a fire caused by these vagabonds.

Coaldale comes up for sale

In the 1990s, Coaldale served as the backdrop for the movie, The Stranger (1995), starring former professional kickboxing champion, Kathy Long. The film follows a lone biker seeking revenge on a gang leader staying in a deserted town. The crew were the most visitors Coaldale had seen in years, but their time there was short-lived. Once filming wrapped up, the town returned to its abandoned state.

Abandoned motel in the middle of the Nevada desert
Photo CreditL Don Barrett / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Rusty streetlights in the middle of the Nevada desert
Photo Credit: Emily Wise / Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

The administrator of Coaldale’s trust, Ed Ylst, has twice tried to sell the town. He believes with increased traffic around Tonopah, there will be a greater need to revive the abandoned settlement. With the annual property tax sitting at just $194.77, he feels the new owner could eventually turn a profit.

“Traffic on the highways has been picking up somewhat, the Hotel Mizpah in Tonopah has reopened and is doing well because of the influx of tourists to the area, and there is a population rise locally because of the reopening of mines and the completion of a solar energy plant,” Ylst told the Nevada Appeal.

View of the Nevada desert from the inside of a building
Photo Credit: Bradley Fulton / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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However, Ylst is also aware that thousands of dollars would need to be invested to make Coaldale liveable once again. In particular, the gas station and airstrip need to be brought up to code. “I put Coaldale up for sale in 2006 and was deluged with letters and phone calls from people all over the country who said they were interested in buying the place. But nothing panned out, so now I’m trying to sell it again,” he said.

At present, Coaldale is listed for $70,000.