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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Saturday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical 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

 


Uniqueness and Exploration
31 January 2004


 

There is more to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum than the locomotives and equipment. It maybe argued that our real claim to fame is not the equipment and buildings but the paper record that we have as part of our collection.

Stored in the buildings throughout the museum complex is the daily paper record that makes up the fabric of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. It is this paper record that makes the museum truly unique. The scope of this record is truly incredible.

The realization really hit home this past week while working on the Machine Shop and Engine House stabilization project. We have nearly one hundred construction drawings in perfect condition of the 1941 enlargement and remodel of the buildings. The drawings were in pristine condition and for the most part in numerical order. The drawings show how the additions to the buildings were engineered and constructed. The plans show cross bracing that was verified with a visual inspection. What does this mean? Well for one it means that the building was constructed stronger than we thought and I will be able to sleep better at night. It also means that more of the $200,000 stabilization grant will be able to go into the building rather than the engineering process. That in its self makes these drawings a true treasure trove.

 

People from around the country will come to Ely to experience an original locomotive and rotary snowplow in their original enginehouse. But what makes the Nevada Northern Railway museum truly unique, is the paper record that documents the day to day operations.
Joel Jensen photograph

 

After finding these drawings I went digging deeper. The most exciting find that day were the original blueprints for locomotive 40. To say the drawings were interesting to review is an understatement. This series of drawings were actually used to construct our locomotive in 1910. Over the years the drawings were used to maintain locomotive 40. The drawings themselves are rather mundane. It's evident in looking at them; to Baldwin Locomotive Works this was just another job, nothing special at all. In fact, I was surprised that many of the components that make up locomotive 40 were not custom designed but were standard components that Baldwin had in stock. I know, I know, logically I should not be surprised, but I was. To the men who designed and built that locomotive it was just another job. I think that the men who built locomotive 40 would be surprised to learn in just 40 years steam locomotives would be replaced with diesel locomotives. And passenger locomotives, such as our locomotive 40, would have no use what so ever in the future. Their roles as a people mover would be replaced by automobiles and airplanes that were then in their infancy.

But Baldwin is gone now, after constructing over 60,000 locomotives, the company did not make the transition into modern America. Locomotive 40, that nothing-special locomotive constructed over 94 years, ironically is now a symbol that represents their craftsmanship. The drawings are the link from today to the past.

Where the drawings for Locomotive 40 are very exciting to come across, there are considerably more mundane pieces of paper through out the complex. And if the truth were known, it is these mundane pieces of paper that no one gave a second thought to, which really tells the story of the Nevada Northern.

The largest repository of the papers is the vault in the Transportation building. The word vault does not do this room justice. The vault takes up half of the ground floor of the Transportation building. In the vault are the personnel records of the employees, ledgers, more drawings, and boxes and boxes of paper. My understanding is that in the vault is the first check ever written by the Nevada Northern and that earliest documents go back to 1905, the creation of the railroad.

The second largest collection of papers is in the depot. Here you will find the payroll records, more drawings of the structures, and the catalog of where the Nevada Northern Railway bought their uniforms for the conductors and brakeman. With the catalog are samples of the uniform buttons, copies of uniform orders, and a request that a uniform be ordered for an individual who was recently promoted into passenger train service as a brakeman. On a whimsical note one of the drawings in the depot are the plans for the Nevada Northern Railway Privy, signed and dated by the Chief Engineer of the railroad.

There is a storeroom in the depot were Nevada Northern Railway forms and tickets are still on the shelf in wrappers waiting to be used. It's interesting, because in this storeroom, still in their wrapper, are passenger train tickets. What makes this so interesting is that the last passenger train ran in 1941 and today, 63 years later, the tickets are still there waiting.

As you move through the property the third largest collection of documentation is the Master Mechanic's office. Here there are flat file drawers that contain the blueprints of locomotive 93 and 401. On the selves are books that date from 1910 explaining the mundane but necessary procedures in keeping the equipment rolling; information that is still use today, as we keep the locomotives and equipment in good repair.

And as you go through the rest of buildings of the complex there are more documents, payroll books, more plans, more files, and notices still posted on the wall. The oldest notice still posted on the wall is dated 1921 and supersedes a notice posted in 1917. It is this paper trail makes the museum whole.

What makes the Nevada Northern Railway Museum a true treasure is not only do we have the original locomotives, being serviced in the original buildings, using the original tools and blueprints and running on the original track. We also have the mundane paper trail such as payroll records, accounting books, dispatch logs, building drawings; the list goes on and on. It is this completeness that makes us truly unique.

Yet on the flip side of the coin it is interesting to document what is missing. I have only found one timetable and it's from the seventy's. I can find no others. I know where the property description maps are for the entire line, what I don't have are the engineering profiles of the track. There is only one copy of one version of the rulebook, where are the others? It is these anomalies that make my job interesting. I'll keep you posted on what I find in the future.

 

 


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