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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

 


A Diamond in the Rough
01 March 2003


Have you ever seen an uncut diamond? It looks like a piece of glass that was weathered. It’s milky in appearance and gives absolutely no hint of the fire and brilliance within. This fire and brilliance must be coaxed out of the uncut gem by a skilled diamond cutter. This is one of those jobs where there is no second place. Either the diamond cutter using his skill and judgment successfully cuts the stone, releasing the fire and brilliance within, or the uncut diamond is turned into very expensive diamond dust. There is no second chance, no going back.

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is an uncut diamond. Looking at it today, there is no hint of the brilliance and fire within. At first glance, it looks every bit of its 98-years. Yet beneath the surface, lurking just out of sight, are hints of the brilliance and fire that can erupt into a world-class museum.

For a glimpse of the brilliance, take a look at the Joel Jensen photograph. It’s a picture of every day standard gauge locomotives in front of the coaling tower in the early morning light. This photo is the centerpiece of our campaign this year, “Still Steaming.” This photo emphasizes all that is great about the Nevada Northern Railway. Two original steam locomotives on the same track where they began their career some many years ago, in front of the original coaling tower. The Nevada Northern Railway is the last place in America where this picture is possible.

This is a double edge sword, too. For the photograph also illustrates the challenges facing the Nevada Northern Railway. Locomotive 40 is no longer in service because of federal regulations. Locomotive 93 has a cracked shoe that could fail at anytime putting 93 out of service. The coaling tower doesn’t work and is in danger of collapsing. The track under the coaling tower needs work along with the switches leading up to it. The water tower doesn’t work. The railroad cars in the picture all need work. They say a picture is worth a thousand words; in this case, this is a million dollar picture. That’s about how much it will take to right all of the wrongs.

So why bother? When Kennecott donated the facility to the community, it was the plan that a tourist railroad could be developed to take some of the economic sting out of the mine closure. That development has never happened on a large enough scale to generate the dollars the community needs for survival. Can it? Yes, and we are starting down that path. In 2003, we will be operating 6 days a week.

The East Ely yard of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is the last place in the country where a photograph such as this can be created. Once a common sight everywhere in the country, two standard gauge locomotives preparing for the day, now it's gone, except in Ely.   Joel Jensen Photograph

Last year we hauled over 7,000 passengers, our biggest year ever. For us, this was quite the accomplishment. Yet other tourist railroads in remote areas carried over 50,000 passengers during their season. One railroad carried over 200,000 passengers during their season. Here closer to home, the V&T in Virginia City carried over 50,000 passengers and the Heber Valley Railroad in Utah carried over 100,000 passengers.

Can you imagine what Ely would be like with the Nevada Northern Railway carrying 50,000 passengers during a season?

50,000 passengers would entail a seven day a week operation, at least two steam locomotives, if not three, two more passenger cars, special events (like the recent photo special), a larger staff and of course lots of money.

Would it be worth it? Well, the Nevada Northern would be living to up to the promise made so many years ago. The brilliance and fire of our uncut diamond would finally be released.

 



An 11” x 14” copy of the photograph by Joel Jensen entitled “Still Steaming” is available with membership in the museum at the Centennial level. For details click here.

 

 


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