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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Friday edition of the Ely Times 
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

 


Time Machine Found at Railroad Museum
21 January 2005

 

In Stephan Ambrose's book Nothing Like It in the World, he tells the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad. It is a fascinating book. Mr. Ambrose takes you back in time as you explore the building of the railroad. In the book, he mentions that one of the fireman that was at the Golden Spike Ceremony lived on into the rocket age.

As I read that, I imagined what his life must have be like. He lived from an era of the Pony Express riders to rockets. Along the way, he saw the widespread use of electricity and the telephone. He witnessed the development of the automobile, the airplane, and the very beginnings of space travel. I daydream about what he experienced during his life and I yearn for the opportunity to travel back in time. Well, you'll never guess what I found at the museum here: a time machine. It was right under my nose all the time and now I have the chance to go back in time and I invite you to join me.

Listed in the Nevada Northern Railway 1913 timetable was train 3 that went from East Ely to Cobre. Some of the locals called the train the Steptoe Valley Flyer. To be on that train, you needed to be at the East Ely Depot before 7:00 a.m. Train 3 would whistle off at 7:05 AM for a 139-mile trip across the high desert of Nevada. It was scheduled to arrive at Cobre at 11:20 a.m. and make three station stops along the way at McGill Junction, Cherry Creek, and Currie. In addition to the regular stops, there were ten flag stops also along the route. If a person wanted to catch the train, they would flag it down—hence the name flag stop. Remember, in the days before good roads and dependable automobiles if you were traveling any distance you went by train.

For the train to be on time the average speed would have been 35 to 40 miles per hour. Not quite the speed of the Broadway Limited but quite respectable for the high desert of Nevada.


Steptoe Valley Flyer

 

Once reaching Cobre, the train crew would have ninety minutes to get ready for the return trip. At 1:10 p.m. the conductor would give one last all aboard. Now called train 4 and pulled by locomotive 40, it would be headed home. If everything went right, the train was scheduled to be back at East Ely at 5:25 p.m. Trains 3 and 4 left daily from Ely and Cobre.

So what do a 1913 Nevada Northern timetable, locomotive 40, and a time machine have in common?

This summer, the Nevada Northern Railway is going to be firing up its time machine four times and you're invited to take a trip on the Steptoe Valley Flyer. From 1910 until 1941, steam locomotive 40, Railway Post Office/baggage car 20 and first class coach 5 traveled from East Ely to Cobre, Nevada. In that thirty-one year span, the train witnessed major changes too: electricity, telephones, automobiles, airplanes. and rockets. This will be your chance to experience what it was like to travel the high desert back in time close to a hundred years ago. Passengers for this train are encouraged to wear period dress anywhere from 1910 to 1941.

To begin out journey back in time you will need to be at the East Ely Depot before 6:00 p.m. Because at 6:00 p.m. sharp, the conductor will give one last ALL ABOARD, and give the engineer the highball to leave East Ely and proceed to Keystone. The Steptoe Valley Flyer will be traveling on the original route of the Nevada Northern through Keystone Canyon. It is all uphill through the canyon so the fireman will be shoveling lots of coal into the firebox of 40. At Keystone, the train will turn on the wye and be posed to head north to McGill Junction-a run of seventeen miles with no stops. During this run you'll be able to look out the windows and see the sagebrush fly past the window. In the Railway Post Office car, the postal clerk will be sorting and canceling the mail that was picked up along the route. If there isn't a lot of baggage, the conductor may allow passengers to go into the baggage car and peer out of the baggage car doors so you can watch steam locomotive 40 eat up the miles.

At McGill Junction the train will again turn on a wye and now be pointed south ready to return to East Ely. Following the route of the original Flyer, the engineer will pull out the throttle to gain speed for the hill to Hiline Junction. The fireman will have his work cut out keeping up with the steam demands of the train. Once the train hits Hiline Junction, it will need to stop to throw the switch back for the ore trains. After the highball signal from the conductor, 40 will take up the slack and head to East Ely as the sun sets. Our arrival East Ely will be at dusk. If you use a little imagination, you can believe you are stepping off the Steptoe Valley Flyer back at the beginning of the last century to the booming community of East Ely.

The Steptoe Valley Flyer pulls out of East Ely only four times in 2005. The Flyer is scheduled for June 18th, July 17th, August 20th, and September 17th at 6:00 p.m. Join us for a trip back through time when the public traveled by train as did the mail. Reservations are suggested; seating is limited. All passengers will receive a commemorative letter postmarked in the Railway Post Office during their trip. Prices are: Adults $38; Children (4-12) $25.

 

 

 

 

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