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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

 


The Race
31 March 2006

Spike TV has a new "reality" TV program on called "Pro's vs. Joe's." The theme of the program is ordinary folk take on the professional athletes. The short segment that I saw showed the "Joe's" getting creamed—big surprise.

This got me to thinking about the museum. You see the museum is in a race—a triathlon really—our very own Ironman race. Our stages are time, money, and program development; sissies need not apply. Frankly, an Ironman race is a cakewalk compared to the race the museum is in, yes a cakewalk.

The reason I say a cakewalk is because, athletes who participate in Ironman races don't do it everyday; we do. For us there is no end to the race, it just goes on and on and on. We must push ourselves each and every day. And if we lose an event, the results can be devastating.

Our first event is time. The museum complex contains artifacts that are approaching their centennial. Please don't be deceived by the word artifact. The definition of the word is "an object made by a human being." That means in our case, the artifacts are quite large and heavy. Our artifacts range from sixty-three buildings and structures to three steam locomotives, six diesel locomotives, sixty some passenger and freight cars, along with 30 miles of track. And then I need to mention the interior contents of the buildings. We literally have semi-trailer loads of historic documents on the railroad. The oldest documents date from the turn of the last century. And we have truckloads of miscellaneous items such as tooling, spare parts, fasteners, paint, brake clubs, wheel sets, etc, etc, etc. The miscellaneous items are incredible in their own right. Last night, I toured the basement of the storehouse. A volunteer from NDF has spent days cleaning and organizing. In checking his work, I was blown away by the items he had found. On benches are brand new crossbars for telephone poles. Along with the crossbars, are brand new wooden pegs that the wire insulators attach to and of course, we had brand new insulators. We also had brand new wedges for steam locomotive 93. Brand new flues and super heater tubes were also in the basement. This was all of the good. The bad is that the basement has a dirt floor and it floods. There are watermarks on the roof supports that indicate water was at least 3 feet deep in the basement. Items stored on lower shelves were damaged by the floodwaters.

A close up of the fuse box in the Transportation Building—Dr Frankenstein's laboratory has nothing on us. Built in 1910, the building still uses it original knob and tube wiring. The computer that I am writing this caption on receives its power through this box. Overloads are exciting to say the least.

 

Flooding has been particularly vexing. Here we are in the high desert and we have suffered three floods in the past year. The engine house, machine shop, depot, and storehouse have all flooded twice. The depot was just bad luck: after the first flood, paper records were moved to a higher level then a broken waterline on the museum's side of the water valve caused a second deeper flood. This flood damaged more of the paper records. The basement has now been cleaned out. This is what I mean about losing an event: when we lose, it's usually tragic. Time and money were against us. In the historic record, it mentions flooding just one time in the early 1940's. I remember reading that and wondering how the railroad yard could flood. It is in the desert and it is way above the small creek that flows past it. Well, now I know—cloudbursts. The railroad is located below East Ely. During a cloudburst, all of the water flows down the streets in torrent and drains into the rail yard. It is exciting to say the least.

This leads me to the next event—money. During the heyday of the railroad, hundreds of men worked here, literally a small army. They maintained the track, the buildings, the locomotives, and rolling stock. Their skills included engineers, conductors, brakeman, machinist, mechanics, boilermakers, crane operators, carpenters, helpers, track inspectors, gandy dancers, and car men.

Today the museum has a paid staff of twelve and over one hundred volunteers. It is the largest staff that the museum has ever had and it is simply not big enough. Everyone is cross-trained and can handle at least two jobs. Most are handling three and four jobs. To support the operations of the museum it takes money. In three years, the museum's annual income has gone from $225,000 to $1.2 million. Where this should be a cause for celebration, it is not enough. We have sixty-three buildings to take care of and they are all reaching their centennials. Those of you who do your own home repairs will understand. Now imagine taking care of sixty-three buildings and structures. We have structural problems, leaky roofs, non-existent heating systems, and hundreds of broken windows. (In the past three years, the museum has repaired thousands of broken windows and we still have hundreds to go.)

On the building front, we have had some real successes. We have saved the engine house and the McGill Depot from collapse. We have a new roof on the volunteer dormitory as well as half of the windows repaired. On the RIP building, all of the windows are repaired. With these successes, it might be tempting to rest on our laurels but we are not out of the woods yet. Every building on the complex needs tens of thousands of dollars worth of repairs, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In addition to taking care of the buildings, we have utilities to take care of. We need to replace the entire water system through the entire fifty-six acre complex along with the electric grid. For us to get adequate water, the City of Ely will need to improve their water system to the complex. Then we need to put new water, electrical, and sewer in the buildings. And speaking of sewer, only two of the buildings are connected to a sewer line. The buildings on the west end of the property need a sewer line extended to the complex to service the buildings on that end. This sewer line will need to go under a creek, which will only add to the expense.

This is the Chief Engineer's Building. In the past two years, it has received a new roof and the windows on the west and south side have been repaired. This leaves the north and east side to do yet. The long term plan for this building is to convert it into a volunteer dormitory. To do this we will have to remodel the inside and bring utilities to the building. We will also use the same utility run to bring water and power to the ash pit.

 

Then there are toilets. In my wildest imagination, I never thought I would learn so much about toilets or have so much to do with them. The museum actually has four toilet projects underway. We have a public toilet project and then toilet projects for the storehouse, engine house, and the volunteer dormitory.

There is one other aspect of the museum that I haven't mentioned yet: the paperwork, phone calls, voice mails, and e-mails. To raise the money, a mountain of paper needs to be pushed. Moving this paper involves hours on the phone answering calls and voice mails and more hours answering e-mails. Then the process continues once the money is raised. Projects create their own wave of paper, phone calls, letters, and e-mails. And all of these modern communication devices that are suppose to save time actually eat up more time.

When you see the scope of the project, you can begin to understand the time and money challenge. And notice how I have yet to mention the locomotives, rolling stock, or track. I'll save that for next week.

 

 

 

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