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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

 


Winter Activities
21 February 2004


 

"So what does a railroad museum do in the middle of winter? You must have it easy now, since your not running trains," inquired a friend of mine. The answer to his question is we are almost as busy now as we are during the summer. Then he asked, "So what have you been doing?"

Well to start with, after Thanksgiving we ran two weekends of our Polar Express Trains. This is the second year that the museum ran Polar Express trains. This event only promises to get bigger. The first Polar Express Train was a sellout, 90 percent of the passengers came from out of the area. The Polar Express trains carried 431 passengers to the North Pole.

Locomotive 93 being photographed at night with the moon raising behind it.
Photo by Steve Lombardo

Then to maximize the last weekend of the Polar Express trains, the museum had a mini-photo shoot. This photo shoot was the first of three photo shoots that we had this winter. It was wedged to run between the Polar Express trains. It was an experiment to see first if people would attend, and secondly could the museum perform to handle the additional trains. I'm happy to report the experiment was a success on all counts and it is in the schedule for next year.

The Polar Express wrapped up a very successful 2003 season. Our passenger load was 8,003, the largest year ever. I am also happy to report that the museum finances are in better shape than they have been for years, too.

We started the new year with our first diesel rental on January 8th. But to get ready for this rental we had to open up the tracks from the twenty inches of snow we had received since Christmas. This involved digging out the highway crossings where the snowplows had inadvertently build up snow and ice walls. Then we needed to run locomotive 204 up the hill to Adverse to open up the track. This accomplished, our first rental of the year went off without a hitch.

At the same time we were preparing for a visit from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Every year, the FRA inspects every operating steam locomotive in the country and we are no exception. To get ready for this inspection, the boiler of 93 is opened up and the throttle is removed. Then the boiler is washed out. Sounds simple doesn't it? It's not. This was brought home to me when I went into the machine shop one morning as the shop crew was preparing locomotive 93 for the FRA inspector. As I walked into the door, I heard Kris, one of the shop helpers, say, and "Hi." I went to reply, but I couldn't find him. Kris saw that I was looking for him, and he said, "Up here!"

Well what 'up here' meant was this: on the top of the boiler of locomotive 93 is the steam dome and just barely visible with just his head and shoulders showing was Kris. It gave me quite a start to see a head sticking out of the steam dome of locomotive 93. Curious, I asked, "What are you doing?" His reply, "Washing out the boiler."

This I had to see up close and personal, though I need to confess, not quite as up close as Kris was getting. To get where Kris was, I climbed up on the pilot, climbed up to the running boards, then climbed up to the top of the boiler, to the steam dome.

When you get to the steam dome, you're about 22 feet off the ground. And standing in the dome was Kris. He was taking a break. Inside of the boiler, he had a trouble light, the steam cleaner wand and a water hose. You see, Kris's job was to climb into the boiler and steam clean the interior and then flush out the inside of the boiler. This is all in preparation for the FRA inspection.

Well, I'm happy to report, that we passed our inspection with flying colors. The inspector also crawled through locomotive 93 and checked our paperwork and everything was in order. Then it was time to put locomotive 93 back together and get ready for more photo shoots in February.

On February 6, 7, and 8 the museum hosted the 5th Winter Steam Spectacular Photo Shoot. This annual event attracts photographers from near and far. How far away? How about Switzerland. Mother Nature and the Nevada Northern Railway got together and really put on a show.

The night photo shoot was on the sixth. We had a clear night and took locomotive 93 out to Steptoe Creek and waited for the moon to rise. So there we were, thirty photographers and six volunteers and staff members standing around at night, in the cold, waiting for the moon to come up over the top of the mountains. Earlier in the day two of the photographers had set up all of the flash equipment necessary to do the night shoot. The moon came up, the flash equipment fired and award-winning photographs were snapped.

On Saturday, the skies clouded up and it snowed and snowed. After all this was a winter photo shoot. Because there were thirty photographers we used two trains, locomotive 93 with an ore train was the star attraction followed by locomotive 109 with a ballast train. This way half of the photographers could ride in each caboose. All day Saturday, we were out on the line taking pictures.

Then to show that the Nevada Northern Railway is a full service railroad, Sunday broke with clear blue skies and sunshine. Locomotive 93 put on another great show coming out of the engine house and then being posed in front of the coaling tower. After more pictures, locomotive 93 hooked up to her train and headed off to Adverse for more pictures. The end of the day marked the close of the 5th Winter Steam Spectacular and plans were made for the 6th right away.

Monday was a day of rest and then Tuesday we started a three-day charter of another group of photographers. These photographers were all from the east coast and for many this was their first time out west and their first time at the Nevada Northern. This group included the President of the National Railway Historical Society, the editor of the National Railway Historical Society's Bulletin and the editor of Railfan and Railroad magazine. Mother Nature cooperated with three days of clear blue skies and lots of sunshine. This was another successful event.

Meanwhile back in the shops, work is continuing on the steam crane. The boiler for the crane has successfully passed its hydro test and awaits installation back into the crane. Work has started on locomotive 40. Locomotive 40 needs to have its boiler tubes renewed. The plan calls for this to be accomplished by October. Locomotive 310 was placed into the engine house. Locomotive 310 is a 25-ton switcher that was used at the smelter. The work plan is to put this locomotive back into operation this year.

None of this could have been accomplished without dedicated volunteers and staff. For the photo shoots the volunteers worked very long days and experienced very short nights. To get ready for the shoots the dedicated staff worked long hours behind scenes to make sure everything was ready. So even in the middle of winter there is plenty of work to do at the museum, come on down and join us.

 

 

 


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