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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

 


Volunteers Keep the Trains Rolling
26 March 2008

 

The snow is melting and the daffodils are in bloom. To the railroad that can only mean one thing, the excursion season is just about here, in fact it starts April 12 at 1:00 pm. This year will be a little more challenging than most (as hard as that is to believe.) In addition to the excursion trains, we have to get the steam locomotives back in operation, do track maintenance, building maintenance and greet thousands of visitors. While at the same time, we need to take care of the thousand and one other little tasks to keeps the railroad operating.

So if you are little bored, put on a few pounds this past winter, want to get out of the house, and need a challenge—then come on and volunteer at the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark.

The job of preserving this national treasure would be impossible without our volunteers. Volunteers help out in all aspects of the railroad—from the glamorous, like locomotive engineer, to the not so glamorous like setting up the wine train. Volunteers are intertwined in every part of our operation. And it is quite the operation. Last year we had 817 movements on the line, carried 14,742 passengers, traveled 11,095 miles and went 187,018 passenger miles with no accidents or injuries—an enviable record. This just doesn't happen. It is only through the combined efforts of a small staff and a large pool of dedicated volunteers that the public are able to experience what America was like in the last century.

So what do the volunteers do? You name it and we most likely have a qualified volunteer doing it. Train service is very popular. Volunteers serve as engineers, firemen, brakemen, hostlers and conductors. They serve as narrators, concessionaires and tour guides. On the dinner trains, volunteers set up the tables, set the tables and then serve the food. And once the train comes back into the station they clean up the train and get it ready for the next day.

Trains won't operate unless the maintenance is done on the locomotives, cars and track. Volunteers literally come from great distances to work like dogs here in Ely. They work in the shop, on the locomotives and cars and also out on the line on the track. And there isn't anything harder than track work. It is tough back breaking working, but people give up their weekends and vacations to come to Ely to work on track.

Then behind the scenes, volunteers help out in the gift shop and in the office. One important task that volunteers help with is answering the phone. Doesn't seem like much does it, just answering the phone, but trust me it is great help. Volunteers answering the phone free up staff time to handle other tasks that are needed like ordering supplies for the gift shop and writing grants. Speaking of the gift shop, volunteers also work in the gift shop behind the counter selling tickets and ringing up sales.

One of the things that never cease to amaze me is the mountains of paperwork that the railroad generates. With over 2,300 members our daily correspondence is intimating. Computers are a help, but letters still need to opened and answered. Papers need to be filed. Membership packages put together and sent out and did I mention that the phone needs to be answered.

Then there are the specialty trains, the Haunted Ghost Train, the Polar Express, the Wine Train, the Chocolate Train, the BBQ Train, and new for this year the Rocking and Rolling Express. All of these trains take an incredible amount of manpower - volunteers pitch in as ghosts, servers, hot chocolate makers, Santa and Santa helpers. They set up the dinner trains and then tear them down again. At times it seems like the work never stops. (Though one volunteer swears we'll be done the day after tomorrow.)

And if train operations, equipment maintenance, gift shop sales, paper pushing and specialty trains weren't enough we have sixty-six building structure that need maintenance and repairs. Buildings need scraping and painting. Doors and windows need repairs along with roofs. We have plenty to do.

Okay, you're interested and you'd like to volunteer at the Nevada Northern Railway, how do you go about it? The good news is that there is no secret handshake or password. Come on down to the railroad fill out a volunteer application and you're ready to start. If you're interested in train service the annual safety class is April 5th and 6th. Please contact the museum if you're interested in attending.

Why volunteer? Get off of the sofa and challenge yourself. I can only guarantee that you'll get sense of satisfaction knowing that your efforts are preserving a national treasure. So come on down.

 

 

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