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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

 


2007 Winter Photos
23 February 2007

For the past eight years, the Nevada Northern Railway Museum has hosted a winter photo shoot that we call the Winter Steam Spectacular. Photographers from around the world come to Ely to photograph the railroad in the winter. Why? It is a chance to experience railroading as it was a century ago.

Here on the high desert of Nevada, time has stopped. Out comes the original equipment: steam locomotives, a steam powered wrecking crane, freight cars, and passenger cars. Trains are made up and leave East Ely just as they have been doing for a century now.

The combination of the cold winter temperatures and the sun being close to the horizon create incredible conditions that literally transport you back in time. You experience a time when the steam locomotive ruled the rails. And in the cold, the steam comes out in towering plumes that are majestic.

Work for the photo shoots is on going. This year the museum showcased Outfit Car 06. Built in 1872, it was bought second hand by the railroad for passenger service. Converted to an outfit car in 1938, the car was recently rehabilitated and repainted. Along with 06, our boxcars were also repainted and lettered. This has been a multi-year project. Many people have had their hands in this project. Now the four cars are freshly painted and lettered. They look great.

The highlight of the photo shoot (at least for me) was the demonstration using the steam crane. The scenario was a derailed flatcar that was blocking the main and delaying 40 and her passenger train. The wreck train was called. Using the century old steam powered big hook, the crew lifted the flatcar and put it on another track out of the way. Once clear, 40 could continue on her journey. There are three pieces of Nevada Northern Railway steam operated equipment all together in one picture.

Throughout the photo shoot, steam locomotives 40 and 93 did yeoman service along with diesel locomotives 105 and 109. Both 105 and 109 get overlooked because they are diesels. But because of their age (both are over fifty years old now) they are part of our National Historic Landmark listing. And when they get together pulling a heavy load and the throttle is advanced, they belch big black clouds of exhaust. So much so, that people consider them honorary steam locomotives.

People of course are very interested in the trains coming and going. But there is another aspect of the winter photo shoots that can't be over looked. That is the dedication of the staff and volunteers. For without this dedication, none of this would happen. It is only with the combined efforts of many individuals that we can pull off the photo shoots.

Long hours are put in getting the equipment ready so it will be safe to operate. Then there is the cold. Yes, the cold makes for stunning photographs, but it will sap the stamina of people working in it. It seems like you can't get warm at times. Yes, you can put on extra clothes, but you still need to move and climb. Everything takes hours more to accomplish in the middle of winter than in the summer.

Then there is the ice. Water freezes at thirty-two degrees. And of course steam locomotives need lots of water. When that water is spilled, dripped, or leaked it will freeze making everything hazardous.

But at that end of the day, it's worth it. The locomotives put on a grand show. The exhaust barks—giant plumes of steam—are framed in cobalt blue skies and the whistles echo on forever. The photographs show a little glimpse of what its like to be part of the photo shoots.

Getting ready for the winter photo shoots means spotting equipment and making up trains. It doesn't matter whether it is 1907 or 2007—someone needs to climb up to the top of the boxcar and either set the brake or release it. On a warm mid-winter day, it's Jared. But remember, even if it was night and snowing it would still have to be done.
What year is it? This is kind of what we live for at the museum. Getting ready for the photo shoots is an ongoing process. These are two of the original Nevada Northern Railway boxcars there were scraped, painted, and lettered. It was a multi-year process that entails the combined efforts of many people. Not only have the people who did the work but you also needed to include the people who provided the financial support. This winning combination made this scene possible.
Before the historic trains can leave the yard, every journal box must be checked to make sure that it has oil in it. With eight journal boxes to a car and twelve cars in the train that's ninety-six journal boxes that need checking. To insure this is done crews show up two hours before train time to inspect. It's not bad on a clear sunny day but Skip and Natasha will tell you it's a different kettle of fish at 4:30 a.m. when it is sixteen degrees with a north wind blowing.
It is a railroad tradition that when one train is stopped, the crew of the stopped train will watch the other train roll by looking for problems. Here its clear blue skies with two steamers and the tradition lives on.
Clear blue skies, snow, cold, and a train right out of the past. From a photographers viewpoint it does not get much better than this.
Sometimes we don't know what we have. Here is Outfit Car 06 fresh from the paint shops and out on the line. We recently discovered that the car was built in 1872 when our country was only ninety-four years old and Ulysses S. Grant was President.
Coming out of plumes of steam, locomotive 40 appears to come from a different time. Actually, it's been here since the Nevada Northern Railway purchased it new for $13,139 in 1910.
This is what people from around the world come to Ely to see, a steam locomotive out on the line working. Here's locomotive 93 heading back to the mine for another load of ore. Photographers this year came from Great Britain, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and South Africa to photograph the Nevada Northern Railway.
A window on the past. Here's locomotive 93 pulling a mixed train and heading to East Ely. Now ninety-eight years old and still running strong, locomotive 93 is a star attraction of the winter photo shoots.
Have a derailment? Then you call out the big hook. Here locomotive 93 is pulling the wreck train, consisting of a century old operating steam crane, tool car, flatcar, tank car, boxcar, outfit car, and caboose.
Crane and A1: This is the wreck crane ready to be put to work.
Locomotive 93 has brought the wreck train to the site of the derailment, then uncoupled and moved away.
The chain is tight and the crane is getting ready to lift the flatcar up and out of the way.
The steam crane is lifting the derailed flatcar up off the track.
The flatcar is being set down out of the way and soon locomotive 40 will be able to continue her journey. This photo illustrates three pieces of Nevada Northern Railway steam in action!
This is the shoot that our English friends live for—the setting sun reflecting off the train. These shots are difficult to do accomplish. You only have a few minutes just before either sunrise or sunset when the sun is close to the horizon to get this type of shot. And with steam railroading nothing happens fast.
From 1909 until the 1950's locomotive 93 made countless round trips from the mine to the smelter and back to the mine again. Through all types of weather and around the clock the ore trains ran. Fifty years later, the cinders are still deep along the highline from the ore trains. And like a blast from the past, locomotive 93 is still hauling the ore cars once more up the hill.
Another glint shot only with locomotive 40 and freshly painted boxcars. This photo was taken shortly after sunrise.
Steptoe Valley Flyer. From 1910 until July 31, 1941, locomotive 40, railway post office/baggage car 20, and coach 5 ran from the connection with the transcontinental railroad at Cobre to East Ely day in and day out. Saved for us to enjoy, here's 40 heading home just as she's being doing for ninety-seven years.
They come from around the country and from around the world to experience and record what railroading was like a century ago. For two and half days, the photographers are transported back in time to another era.
Steam, diesel, it doesn't matter, there is nowhere else where you can photograph original vintage locomotives on their home rails doing what they were built to do—haul trains.
The Nevada Northern replaced their steam locomotives with diesel locomotives built by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) in the late 1940's. Here locomotives 105 and 109 show why ALCOs are known as honorary steam locomotives.

 

 

 

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