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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

 


2008 in Review
25 March 2009

Last year was an incredible year for the museum. We had our ups, we had our downs followed by more ups and then more downs, and then more ups. It was an exciting roller coaster ride to say the least.

We began the year with both of our steam locomotives out of service. Locomotive 40 had gone down with problems to her pilot truck. Locomotive 93 had gone down with problems to one of her drive axles. In January, we found that the problems to locomotive 93 were more severe than we had anticipated. But at the same time, we got the pilot truck rebuilt on locomotive 40 and she was ready for the first photo shoot. Then in between the photo shoots, we found out that the problems to locomotive 93 were even more severe than we imagined. Originally, down with just one axle problem, it turns out that three out of the four axles on locomotive 93 had developed condemning cracks and the last axle was at the condemning limit.

Since the cracked axles on locomotive 93 were discovered ultrasonically, we elected to ultrasound the axles on locomotive 40. We found two out of the three axles had developed condemning cracks. Now we had no steam for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, we were in the midst of our first ever challenge grant fund raising effort. Thanks to our members and an anonymous donor, we were able to raise $217,000 by mid-February. We also received two additional grants that totaled $190,000 to be invested in locomotive 93.

Locomotive 93 steaming on her new axles
December 28, 2008.


In March, we were finishing up different building projects around the property. The biggest one was the conversion of the Boiler Building into ADA restrooms. In April, we started in on locomotive 93 and made an historic decision. The repairs to locomotive 93 would be thorough, no half measures. We had a plan and we were confident in the plan, but we didn't have the manpower to implement it. A call to the Heber Valley Railroad asking for assistance was answered in the positive. They would help.

Our plan lasted until we removed the first tire from the wheel center. As the tire was being removed, shims started raining down. This was unexpected and, it turns out, all of the tires were shimmed. This would add to the cost and difficultly of the project, as well as more time.

People come to the Nevada Northern to ride behind our steam locomotives. With no steam locomotive in operation, the 2008 season was beginning to look bleak. Then in May oil prices hit $130 a barrel. If we were shocked to be paying $3.50 a gallon for gas, the worse was yet to come. By mid-June, gas was over $4 a gallon and in some of the more remote areas, it was over $5. No steam locomotives and high fuel prices were bad enough but then the metals market went crazy. Daily, prices for the metal needed for the repairs to locomotive 93 kept going up—sometimes in substantial amounts.

Meanwhile down at the shops, work was proceeding on locomotive 93 and locomotive 204. All of the sixteen cylinders and heads were replaced with rebuilt units on locomotive 204. Then locomotive 105 goes out of service because of a traction motor bearing problem. Meanwhile locomotive 109 develops a water leak. Thankfully, it's caught in time and repairs are made.

Meanwhile, the McGill Depot is stabilized, and three buildings receive new roofs. And on the track front work begins on the rebuilding the mainline track from Hiline Junction north towards McGill Junction. Repairs are also made to the Keystone branch and the mainline track from East Ely to Hiline Junction, hundreds of ties are replaced and the North Lane City switch is rebuilt.

In June, we partner with the Bristlecone Convention Center and mail out the first White Pine Ticket to Las Vegas, promoting White Pine County and the 4th of July. The program is a success and our ridership stabilizes. But we miss the first target date to have locomotive 93 back in service—the 4th of July. Meanwhile work continued on the track from Hiline Junction towards McGill Junction and a Request for Proposals (RFP) is published for the Club 50 project.

Buildings received a lot of attention last year. Here the icehouse is roof is being removed in preparation for a new roof.

In addition to taking care of the locomotives and track, we also have sixty-six buildings and structures to maintain. In June, RFP's were released for building projects in the East Ely Yard and McGill Depot. In preparing the RFP, a chilling discovery was made. The Master Mechanic's Building had received severe damage to its masonry. An inspection revealed that the building had new and recent degradation of the blocks and joints. We suspected that the culprit was the Wells earthquake. Since we had received earthquake damage to the Master Mechanic's building, we took a closer look at the Bus Garage. Cracks had been noted in the masonry in the past and now it was evident that they had opened. That spring, the north wall of the Materials Storage Building had been blown down. Then there was the Air Brake Building, foxes had burrowed under the building threatening its foundation. Its roof had blown off three years ago, and the temporary roof was failing. The good news: we had enough grant money to make the repairs to the buildings. The bad news: we might not have enough time to do the projects. It would be a race against time and the weather.

By late June, the new forgings for locomotive 93's axles were delivered to Salt Lake City. The wheel centers were being built up. Here in Ely, work was progressing on the locomotive as well. Things were beginning to look good; it looked like we could have locomotive 93 running by Labor Day. To celebrate we planned to have an open house featuring locomotive 93.

The 4th of July came and we carried more people than we had the previous year. Locomotives 204 and 109 were running just fine. Ridership was off, but it was stronger than it was earlier in the year.
The RFP came in for the Club 50 project and with it a disaster. The project bid was a lot higher than we expected or that we had money for. At the same time, the track project was consuming more resources than was planned for. And more was being found wrong with locomotive 93. All three projects would take more money than was budgeted for them.

The Club 50 crossing project was to be paid with grant funds. If we didn't do the project, we'd lose the funds. If we didn't renew the crossing, the next option was to remove it and pave over it. Then if we could find the funds, the project would be even more expensive.

The Club 50 crossing was tied into the track rehabilitation project. It would make no sense to rehabilitation the track, if the Club 50 crossing was not done. Meanwhile, we found another unexpected problem with the wheel centers from locomotive 93. The good news is that the problem was repairable; the bad news is it would cost more money and delay the project. This setback was discovered right after all the summer issue of Ghost Tracks had been sent out inviting everyone to come to East Ely to see locomotive 93 operate Labor Day weekend.

Additional money was found for the Club 50 project, it was now a go. Work was continuing on the track leading up to the crossing. In addition work was now being done on the McGill Depot, the Transportation Building, the Garages, the Bus Garage, Chief Engineer's building, the Master Mechanic's Building, the Electric Shop, the Ice House, the Enginehouse and the Machine Shop. Work also continued on locomotive 93.
And did I mention as all of these projects were going on, we also had a railroad to run? During the summer months, we operated two trains a day, every day, except Tuesday. So in addition to all of the projects, we had a train schedule to maintain.

July, August and September fly by, ridership was still off but it was improving each month. The Club 50 project was going on and looking good. The track project was on going. The state track inspector came to town. Together we inspected our track and success! We opened the track from East Ely to Hiline Junction and then opened the track from Hiline Junction to MP 130. He complimented us on all of the work that had been accomplished. Unfortunately, the track to Adverse is still out of service.

Things were looking up, ridership was improving month by month, gas prices were falling, projects were being completed, and now it was time to start our fall fundraising drive. Letters were prepared, mailed out and then the bomb hits. The State of Nevada announces the East Ely Depot Museum is slated to close July 1, 2009.

Wow! This is devastating not only to the state employees who work at the depot but also to us. All of a sudden, we start getting phone calls from people who believe we're closing. They are confusing the East Ely Depot Museum with the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. We put out press releases to try and clear up the confusion but it's a tough fight. The news that the Easy Ely Depot Museum may close travels like wildfire. The state attempts to separate the two of us, but the message was already out there.

October comes and with it the Haunted Ghost Trains. The amount of effort to do the Haunted Ghost Trains is enormous. Not only do we need train crews but ghosts and goblins are needed too. And my hat is off to these ghosts and goblins, they're real troopers. They are at their haunting place regardless of the weather. This year we had snow, rain, and wind—sometimes at the same time.

It's heading into November and the weather was great! Projects are beginning to get wrapped up. The building projects are almost done. The Club 50 project was almost done. The track work was over for the year. The annual food drive with the local scouts was a success.

Next up are the Polar Expresses! And now the economy was heading south. We depend on the Polar Expresses for our end of year revenue. The bad news was that the pre-ticket sales were down, but walk up traffic was way up. We were actually running ahead of last year.

Now its December, the weather is cooperating, we're getting snow for the Polars and all of our construction projects are winding up. On December 9, locomotive 93's wheels and axles arrive back in Ely. The shop forces jump in and start the reassembly of locomotive 93. She looked strange floating in the air since April waiting for wheels. In four days, all of the axles are installed. Then the rods and brake rigging go back on and just before Christmas locomotive 93 is back together! What Christmas present!

At the same time, the Polar Expresses were going well except the flu was knocking out staff and volunteers. People are juggled to fill positions and the Polar Expresses keep running. On December 26, locomotive 93 rolls out of the enginehouse to the coaling area and the tender is filled with coal! December 27, a fire is built and locomotive 93 is hot for the first time since July 2007. December 28 is THE DAY!!! Locomotive 93 was running and everything appears to be great!

On December 29, after some adjustments locomotive 93 was out the door again for some additional testing. Everything was looking good.

Last year we received $2,235,000 in funding for a long list of projects. The biggest project was the rebuilding of what we refer to the Club 50 crossing on US 93. Other projects were track rehabilitation along with building repairs and renovations. These projects were all funded through grants.

In addition to the above projects, the foundation undertook $470,000 in locomotive repair projects and $58,600 in additional track repair projects. These projects were funded by private foundations and local grants along with money raised from our members.

So the year ended as it started. We had our ups and we had our downs, sometimes within minutes of each other. At the end of the year, locomotives, rolling stock, buildings, and track all received needed attention. We're not done by any stretch of the imagination, but indisputably, progress was made on all fronts. The roller coaster ride continues in 2009, and I'm here to tell you—it's unquestionably an E-ticket ride.

 

 

 

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