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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

 


I've Been Working on the Railroad
30 March 2007

 

When I was growing up, I use to sing the song I've Been Working on the Railroad. If you have a little gray on your head, you probably remember how it goes.

I've been workin' on the railroad,
All the livelong day.
I've been workin' on the railroad,
Just to pass the time away . . .

Little did I believe I would actually be doing it as an adult, but here I am and I invite you to join me. That's right, as the old U.S. Army recruiting poster says (with a slight twist) "I want YOU to volunteer at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum!" Again, that's right—volunteer! The short version is that the volunteers of the museum are our secret weapon. Without the volunteers, the railroad would not be as successful as it is.

The museum has hired more and more staff. It might appear that with so much staff there is not place for volunteers at the museum. Nothing could be farther from the truth. We have more staff, because we have so much more that needs to be done. And the list at times can seem endless. (Actually, the list is endless because once we get something done it needs maintenance.)

Every staff member at the museum has at least two jobs. Most have three, four, or five jobs and there are not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that needs to be done. And then there is the feeling of frustration. It takes staff member hours to accomplish the simplest tasks. The reason for this is they can't focus on just one item or have the time to do anything quickly. Frankly, their job would be impossible without the volunteers.

The volunteers are like the cavalry riding over the hill. They're the reserves that make the difference on whether something is done or not. And boy do we have a lot to accomplish.

One of the areas that volunteer help out on is our equipment. Here a volunteer is scrapping the paint off caboose 3.


For 2007, we'll be investing time and resources into locomotives 109, 40, and 93. Then we are going to start a ground up restoration on locomotive 81. We have new coaches coming in April. Those coaches and our current coaches all need a paint job. Then there is the day-to-day maintenance that operating decades old equipment requires.

Then there's track. Without track the trains don't run. We have a bridge to replace, hundreds of ties need renewal, low joints to raise, and did I mention hundreds of ties that need to be replaced?

And don't overlook our sixty-six buildings and structures. There are windows to repair, doors to fix, buildings to paint, a restroom to build, continuing work on the McGill Depot, and utility upgrades needed throughout the property.

And the paper!!! The endless paper that we need to move. We are swimming in the stuff. We have all kinds of the stuff - correspondence, membership, bills, flyers, brochures, newsletters, posters and the list goes on and on. Then there is the historic paper and records on top of our modern paper.

Volunteers help in train service. They fill all positions from brakeman, to conductor, to engineer.
Volunteers help in all aspects of our operation. But to get into rail service takes dedication and a willingness to learn. Here a group of volunteers is learning all about switches.


On top of taking care of the locomotives, rolling stock, track, buildings, and paper, we have a railroad to run! This is where the volunteers do the heavy lifting. Our volunteers serve as engineers, firemen, brakeman, conductors, narrators, concessionaires, tour guides, and help in the gift shop. Volunteers also help in the shop, work on locomotives and rolling stock, on track, with buildings, and that mountain of paper. There's plenty of work for everybody.

So how does a person volunteer? Is there a secret handshake or password? Do you need to be a railroader or machinist? No, it's really simple—show up and say, "I want to volunteer." No secret handshake or password. You don't need any special skills, just the desire to help. Let us know what you're interested in and we'll do our best to match you to your desires.

Don't live in Ely? Again, no problem; we have volunteers from around Nevada and our neighboring states. Some people come for a long weekend while others come for the summer. Some only show up once a year while others show up once a week and most are somewhere in between.

To be a volunteer takes dedication and motivation. It doesn't pay anything yet there is a payoff. It is at the end of the day. You'll know that you accomplished something. Your work preserved another little piece of this national treasure. Over time, you'll see that your efforts blend with those of other volunteers and staff and actually accomplishes something; you'll see real progress. So don't be bashful. Step up to the plate—help is needed in all areas.

And then you'll be singing our song.

I've been workin' on the railroad,
All the livelong day.
I've been workin' on the railroad,
Just to pass the time away . . .

And preserving a National Historic Landmark at the same time. It just doesn't get any better than that.

 

 

 

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