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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in 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

 


No. 93—One Lucky Steam Locomotive
04 February 2009

"BIG ENGINE COMING - Engine 93, the fourth of the monster type in use in the ore train service, will be started from the Pittsburg shops of the American Locomotive Co. on the 15th of this month for East Ely, according to advices that have been received."
——White Pine News, January 6, 1909

Some things lead a charmed life. They're lucky. No matter what happens, they wind up on top. Nevada Northern Railway Locomotive 93 is one such entity; on January 17, 2009, we celebrated the one hundredth birthday of 93.

Locomotive 93 was the last of four locomotives ordered for ore line service by the American Smelters Securities Co. (a Guggenheim entity) for the Nevada Northern Railway. Built in January 1909 at the American Locomotive Works Pittsburg plant (construction number 44604), there is no reason why she still exists, other than luck.

Considered by the White Pine News to be a "monster" locomotive she is actually a midsize steam locomotive. Her wheel arrangement is 2-8-0. That means she has two pilot wheels to guide around curves and eight driving wheels that delivered a tractive effort of 41,890 foot-pounds, with no trailing wheels. A century ago, she cost $17,610.

When she arrived at East Ely, she was immediately put to work hauling the ore trains from Copper Flat to McGill and back again. Day in and day out, locomotive 93 hauled the ore trains back and forth.

In January 1952, the other three locomotives that were part of the original order were sent to McGill to be scrapped. All three sister locomotives were cut up. However, locomotive 93 would be different. She was kept as a back-up locomotive. Finally, in 1961, her days on the Nevada Northern Railway were over. She was donated to the White Pine Public Museum where she was put on display; a remembrance of the way it was in White Pine County. For any other locomotive, this would have been a death sentence. Outdoors, year after year, with no protection from the weather, she sat. A generation of kids climbed all over her, sitting in the engineer's seat, imagining what it must have been like when she had a fire in her belly chuffing down the tracks. Little did one small boy suspect that some day he'd find out.


In celebration of locomotive 93's centennial, fireworks were fired off a moving train above Ely. If you look closely in the lower right hand corner of the picture, you can see locomotive 93 pulling the 14-car train.

For twenty-nine years locomotive 93 sat through rain and snow slowly rusting away. Then in 1990, a trade was made. The White Pine Public Museum traded all of the rail equipment that had been on display there to the railroad museum in exchange for the Cherry Creek Depot.

Locomotive 93 was towed back to the Nevada Northern Railway enginehouse. Project 93 was started with the goal of putting locomotive 93 back in service. In 1993, after three years of hard work, locomotive 93 was back in service. Now she began her second career pulling excursion trains instead of ore trains. Annually though, in February, locomotive 93 got the chance to pull the original ore cars back up the hill towards McGill during the winter photo shoots. She added a new layer of cinders to the existing cinders that parallel the track along the Hiline.

Life looked good for locomotive 93; it appeared that she had escaped the fate of most steam locomotives, the scrapper's cutting torch. But just two years after her rebirth, disaster struck. As locomotive 93 was heading up through town with an excursion train, unbeknownst to the train crew, a flatcar of ties had broken lose from Keystone. Heading to town at over sixty miles an hour, it slammed into locomotive 93. The force was such that tender tank broke free from the frame and smashed into the cab. Luckily, the crew wasn't seriously injured. The front of the locomotive was mangled and the frame was broken in multiple places. For any other locomotive, this would have been the end of the line. But not 93; remember that charmed life?

Any other locomotive would have been cut up for scrap. Instead, locomotive 93 was repaired. In two years time, repairs were complete and locomotive 93 was back in service. She had dodged the bullet again. But, ironically, across the country at almost the same time as the collision in Ely, a steam locomotive in Pennsylvania had a partial boiler failure. This incident would have major repercussions not only to locomotive 93 but also to all steam locomotives in the country.

Due to the incident in Pennsylvania, the federal government changed the rules on steam locomotives. For 93 to remain in service, her boiler would have to be rebuilt. If her boiler were not rebuilt, then locomotive 93 would be taken out of service again—permanently.

As luck would have it, an event in Utah would have major ramifications for locomotive 93. Utah was selected for the 2002 Winter Olympics. One of the venues was Soldier Hollow. There were only two ways to get in: one by bus and the other by rail served by the Heber Valley Scenic Railway.

The Heber Valley Railway invited us to participate with them to provide steam-powered rail service to the Olympic venue. Now the pressure was on to complete the boiler rebuild and transport 93 and two coaches to Utah in time for the Olympics.

Once again, we rose to the challenge and money was found to rebuild the boiler and transport everything to Utah, and another bullet was dodged. In January 2002, ninety-three year old locomotive 93, with a rebuilt boiler, headed out of Ely on US Highway 93 to participate in the 2002 Winter Olympics. In fact, locomotive 93 was featured in the Wall Street Journal in the first color photograph that I ever saw in the Journal—talk about being charmed!

After a triumphant tour in Utah, locomotive 93 returned to her home rails and the future looked bright. However, there was a little nagging problem: her axles were running hot. She became sidelined a couple times because of the axles. But with a light schedule, short trips, and lots of grease locomotive 93 kept steaming on until July 2007.

Then one day axle 2 ran so hot that 93 needed to be taken off her train and wait for the axle to cool so she could limp back into town. None of our tricks would work. We had to get serious. We dropped the axle and started repairs. Our original plan was to just repair axle 2 and get locomotive 93 back in service. Then, in December 2007, we got hit with another whammy. Cracks were found in axle 2. We could turn out all of the cracks except for one. Now we needed a new axle. Since we found one axle with cracks, we suspected that other axles could be cracked and sure enough, our worse fears were confirmed. Axles 1 and 3 also had cracks and axle 4 was on the verge of being condemned because it had been turned so much. Short version: we needed four axles for a ninety-nine year old steam locomotive.

You just don't call up the Acme Steam Locomotive Axle Company and order axles. It appeared that 93's luck had finally run out. In addition to the axles, a closer examination reveled that her entire running gear needed to be rebuilt. A decision needed to be made to either put number 2 axle back in and put locomotive 93 on static display or go out and raise the money to do a complete rebuild of her running gear. The decision was made to rebuild and address all of the issues that need to be repaired. No. 93's luck was still holding.

On December 27, 2008, locomotive 93 rolled out of the enginehouse under her own power for the first test run. The test run showed that some adjustments needed to be made but that was expected. On December 28th, more test runs and more adjustments. The good news was that everything was working as planned.

Finally, on January 17, 2009, locomotive 93 hauled her first passenger train up the hill at 1:00 p.m. Then at 5:00 p.m. was the official Centennial Birthday Celebration. Governor Jim Gibbons rode locomotive 93 from the enginehouse to the depot. At the depot, in front of a large crowd, the Governor read a proclamation proclaiming January 17, 2009 "Engine 93 Day." Stepping in front of the pilot, the Governor swung and broke a bottle of champagne on the pilot of locomotive 93, rededicating the locomotive for another century of service.

Kevin Kirkeby, representing Senator John Ensign presented a certificate from the Senator recognizing and honoring the Nevada Northern Railway with congratulations for the Centennial Celebration of Locomotive 93.

Also in attendance was Congressman Dean Heller. Congressman Heller presented a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition for the Locomotive 93 Centennial Celebration thanking the members and volunteers of the museum.

After the speeches and the rededication, everyone boarded the train for a trip to Keystone. Bringing up the rear of the train was a fourteen-foot tall birthday cake complete with cannon. Periodically, the cannon was fired off with a bang just to let people know we were coming.

Waiting for us at Keystone was locomotive 204 with the spacer cars and fireworks car. Locomotive 93 cut-off and ran the wye to turn around for the journey back down the hill. Meanwhile, locomotive 204 coupled her train to locomotive 93's train. No. 93 coupled back on, the air brakes were tested, and now a fourteen-car train started down the hill for Ely.

The birthday cake and cannon were now behind locomotive 93. The cannon crew was firing off salvos. Down the hill we came. As we popped out of the old tunnel just above Ely, it was time for the centennial celebration finale—shooting fireworks from a moving train.

According to our research, this was the first time fireworks have ever been shot off a moving train. The fireworks car cleared the tunnel and the first mortar went off with a BANG! The canyon served to amplify the fireworks. One after another, the fireworks were shot off putting on a fabulous display over Ely. To us on the train it appeared that the entire community of Ely had turned out to join in the celebration! The downtown area near the brothels was packed. One person observed, "They hadn't seen so much activity down there since Kennecott days."

It was truly a magnificent celebration of locomotive 93's centennial. It didn't just happen. It was the combined efforts of literally thousands of people. People worked until late at night while others started early in the morning. Others dug deep into their pockets to supply the cash necessary for the repairs. Through their combined efforts, a piece of White Pine County, a piece of Nevada's past and our country's past, was saved. To quote Senator Ensign, "Locomotive 93 will continue to tell the story of steam railroading in the Silver State for generations to come."

And that little boy, who used to climb into the cab of locomotive 93 and imagine himself as part of the crew, had a dream come true too. He was in 93's cab as part of the crew, getting the train over the hill. Locomotive 93 wasn't the only lucky one that night.

 

 

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