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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

 


Steam and Toilets
02 February 2007

There is this myth floating around that the museum has an "off" season; nothing could be further from the truth. Various projects are under way year round, not all of them are directly tied to railroading, but they are all tied to museum development.

The big push right now is for toilets. Yes, that's right toilets. Never in my wildest imagination did I have a clue that I would have so much to do with…toilets. When I imagined myself in this job, I saw myself sitting up in the cab of a steam locomotive with my hand on the throttle. The reality is, how should we say, nothing like the dream.

Over the past six years, we have seen our annual ridership increase from 6,053 to 14,742. Our visitation has also increased to about 22,000 people a year (not everyone rides the trains.) By the end of last year over 36,000 people came onto the complex. Most of these people begin and end their visit at the depot, which has exactly two toilets—one for the men and one for the women. As our visitation and ridership increased, the reality was driven home that we need more facilities for our visitors. These facilities need to be available year round and one of the most basic needs for visitors is toilets.

Toilets—who knew? Right now on our busiest days, we can easily see two hundred people on the train. When the train pulls into the depot there is a mad dash for toilets (there is a small one on the train but its pretty rustic, train toilets will be fodder for other stories in the future) and long lines develop. Mothers with young children can't wait. So they leave the property in search of a free potty, rarely to return. What a dilemma. Here we have spent tens of thousands of dollars to get people to come to Ely in order to see our National Historic Landmark and they leave because of toilets, or more correctly, the lack thereof. Since people generally remember the last thing in their experience, what is the memory that some of our guests go home with? I'll leave that to your imagination.

Moreover, toilets are not just for our visitors. Employees want them too, go figure. Currently there is only one toilet on the west end of the yard, where the may be as many as forty people working, both male and female. And that one, lone toilet is located in the old Master Mechanic's office (rank did have its privileges). That situation was ideal when there were additional working toilets in the engine house and the storeroom. But now when the staffer situated in what was the Master Mechanic's office tries to get work done, there can be a constant parade passing by his desk on the way to the bathroom. Where, to put this delicately, the wall between his office and the toilet isn't very thick or soundproofed and the ventilation leaves a whole lot to be desired. I won't even touch on the subject of both sexes using the same toilet. Again, I'll leave it to your imagination.

So the big push for this year is toilets. We currently have three toilet projects underway. The first is additional visitor's bathrooms. Just to the west of the depot sits an old cinder block structure which was built to house heating boilers which are no longer operational or needed. The plan is to convert that building to public restrooms. To meet current health and building code requirements, we needed to raise the building by one course of block. To accomplish this we needed to remove the roof. This would also make it easier to remove the old boilers. So how do you remove a roof? Well, with a crane of course, and it just so happens that we have two cranes: a modern (in a relative sense) diesel-electric crane and our 100-year-old steam-powered crane. What we have found is that the century old steam crane allows the operator greater ability to finesse his movements.

Nevada Northern crews prepare steam wrecking crane "A" for removal of the boiler building roof (left). The roof has successfully cleared the structure in the image to the right.

We employed our modern diesel-electric crane to remove the smoke stacks from the building (they will be placed back on the building for looks when construction is completed.) For the removal of the roof, we used the steam crane. With Jason operating, Marty and Al as the riggers it was quite the production raising that roof. But we were successful; the roof came off in one piece (despite Marty constantly mentioning something about cornering the toothpick market). After the roof was off, out came the boilers in one piece each.

Masons will be here on Monday to lay the new course of block, seal off the old overhead door and access doors, and then install two new doors. Once completed, we will finalize plans and, hopefully, by mid-summer, have new restrooms for the public. The building will still look like the boiler building, sort of; we'll keep the stacks but install siding on the walls for improved insulation and then paint it Nevada Northern Red. Of course this project will open a completely new can of worms because we now will have to keep the restrooms warm (or cool), stocked, and clean. Nevertheless, now we'll have a facility that will address a very basic visitor need.

Meanwhile, during the summer we'll also be working on returning the toilet in the storehouse to service while also putting the engine house toilet back into working order. The engine house toilet will be a challenge. Currently on a septic system, it will need to meet current codes that didn't exist when it was constructed. It will have to have to be connected to the city sewer system. Therein lies the rub; there is no sewer anywhere close. Worse, the nearest sewer line is located way to the west, but to connect a line to it we will have to somehow run it under a creek, which would be expensive. The alternative is to connect a line eastwardly to a city collector line running under Avenue A, which is uphill, necessitating a lift station—again an expensive option and one that would leave us with the concern of pump failure, which could potentially leave us knee deep in something best not discussed here.

Once this minor detail is dispensed with, we'll need to bring in water, provide heat and new fixtures, and erect a dividing wall in order to provide separate facilities for men and women because times have changed. Unlike the era when these buildings were constructed and railroading was strictly a man's world, we now have both men and women working to keep the trains running; unisex potties won't cut the mustard.

So, if everything goes even somewhat according to plan, by this time next year (and despite it being an "off" season), we'll have three separate new restrooms in operation for visitors and staff alike. And with that behind us, we can finally get to work on a new water system, fire suppression systems, and electrical systems, oh joy.

 

 

 

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