Nevada Northern Railway
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Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail: director@nnry.com

 


Strategic Plan Summary
17 January 2004

 

The White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation manages the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. The Foundation's management board started developing a strategic plan at a board retreat in October 2002.

The Strategic Plan is based on a program that the National Trust for Historic Preservation developed for its Main Street Project. The National Trust recognized the dilemmas facing the downtowns throughout the country. The downtowns were dying. People thought that if they preserved a building, they were making progress in saving their downtown. What they found was, if there was not an economic reason for the building, their work would go for naught. A parallel example for the museum is restoring a steam locomotive to operation; without an economic reason, our work will go for naught.

The National Trust's Main Street Project evolved into a program that had four components. These components are Organization, Promotion, Design, and Economic Restructuring. The Main Street program mandates that these components be implemented in a balanced format. In other words, you cannot focus your resources on just one component of the plan. It just doesn't work that way.

In view of the successes of the Main Street Project, the Foundation adopted the program, with some modification, at their management retreat in October 2002. The Foundation's plan incorporates the need for Organization, Promotion, Operations, and Economic Responsibility. It was felt by the management board that implementing such a program would insure the long-term development and growth of the museum.

Realizing that no entity can exist without some sort of organizational structure, the board acknowledged this fact in recognizing the need to develop the Foundation. The Foundation now has a membership program and invites individuals to join the museum. This program has been a success. Membership in the museum went from 67 members to our current membership of 745 members. A corollary of the success of the membership program is that our pool of volunteers has increased from just a handful to almost sixty volunteers. In the long term the Foundation's goal is to reach 1,500 members and 100 volunteers.

It has been said that the Nevada Northern Railway complex is the best-kept secret in historic preservation. This is a unique facility in that, for the most part, it is still in its original condition with most of its original equipment and supporting documentation. This is where the Promotion aspect of the plan comes into play. The Foundation is aggressively promoting the museum through television, with brochures, newspaper and magazine articles, and advertising and on the web.

To keep the community informed, I write this column weekly explaining developments at the museum. Also monthly, I report to the Ely City Council, joint owners of the property, informing the council of the activities of the museum. And finally, the museum publishes a quarterly newsletter to inform our members of our activities.

This aggressive promotion program over the past two years has paid dividends; it is responsible for increased visitation to the museum, which in turn increased revenues for the museum. In spite of our sluggish economy, the additional visitorship and increased revenues shows the plan is working. In the long term, the Foundation plans to build on this success by monitoring the plan and increasing our presence in the marketplace by exploring web advertising and new magazines.

There are multiple facets to the museum. From operating and maintaining the equipment and buildings to giving walking tours of the grounds all of these facets must be in balance. And this is where the Operational aspect of the plan comes into play. Without a strong comment to Operations, buildings would not be repaired, trains would not run, and money would not be spent wisely. In addition, when trains do run they need to operate safely. Repairs to historic buildings must be sensitive to the structure and its uses. It is a proven fact that it costs a lot less to put up a new building than it costs to repair a historic building. Yet, if we were to take the inexpensive way out, we would destroy the historic fabric of the facility that has been in existence for almost 100 years. This of course would defeat our purpose.

The Foundation was successful in coordinating the operations of the facility. Trains ran on time and safely; buildings were repaired; locomotives maintained; new volunteers were taught how to operate and maintain the equipment; and training programs were developed that are kept on file with federal agencies. Where there is more work to be done in operations, progress is being made to raise the level of training for staff and volunteers in the coming years. It is a goal of the Foundation to be the benchmark that other organizations use when they evaluate their practices and procedures. In the future the Foundations wants to develop a college level training course in steam locomotive operation and maintenance.

To operate, it takes money and a lot of it. The Management Board realized it needed to broaden the financial base of the organization, to insure the continuance of the museum. This is addressed in the final aspect of the plan, Economic Responsibility. The Foundation in the past two years has worked hard to broaden its financial base. It has successfully passed legislation on the local and state level to increase funding for the museum. With a stable financial base, the Foundation was able to increase operations, which increased revenues last year. The success of the program is reflected in the figures: train operations up 32%, donations up 387%, fund raisers up 219%, and concession and gift shop sales up 27%. And at the same time the Foundation was able to decrease expenses by 12%.

The increase funds raised will be put to good use as the Foundation attacks other projects that desperately need to be accomplished at the museum. These projects range from restoring our other two locomotives to operation, to an ash pit, to getting the tracks back into McGill.

For the long term, the Foundation wants to increase the amount of its strategic cash reserve and raise additional revenues to support additional long-term building and equipment rehabilitation and repair.

The railroad turns 100 in 2005. Currently, the Management Board is working on an update of the current strategic plan. The direction of the update is to insure the preservation of the railroad and museum for another hundred years.