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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 Adventure of the Displaced Depot
07 April 2006

by Keith Albrandt

 

This week Keith Albrandt did a remarkable job for "At The Throttle." For you Sherlock Holmes fans, I would recommend reading this when you will have no interruptions. Prepare yourself: get the tobacco from the Persian slipper, pack the pipe, and have your deerstalker cap nearby. As Holmes would say, "The game's afoot!" Enjoy. — Mark Bassett

 

The mystery surrounding our case of the Nevada Northern's unsettled roadway structure is rooted in 1906, a century now past but only three short years after Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the world's first unofficial, consulting detective, retired from his London flat at 221B Baker Street in order to keep bees upon the Sussex Downs. Nevertheless, our investigation following the temporal transplantations of a century-old railroad depot profits to no small degree by employing Holmes' axiom "that when all other contingencies fail, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."1

Our story then begins with the more recent observation noted by Mark Bassett, executive director of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, on the striking similarity in appearance between the Chief Engineer's building currently on the grounds of the Nevada Northern Railway's East Ely yards and an early photograph of the depot at Currie, some seventy-six railroad miles to the north. Moreover, the contemporary Currie depot is of a different design suggesting it is not the original structure depicted in the photograph. Further investigation of railroad records confirm that the first depot erected at Currie was merely temporary; the permanent structure saw completion in 1907, the year after the arrival of the railroad at what was then known as Currie's Ranch.2 Our final clue is the singular revelation that, upon inspection, the Chief Engineer's building had been split in half sometime during its history, suggesting to the erudite observer the possibility it had been moved to its present location rather than originally constructed onsite.3 The questions facing the armchair railway detective then revolve around the origin of the Chief Engineer's building: from whence it came and the reason behind its relocation.

In the spring of 1906, the area surrounding Currie's Ranch was abuzz with the activity of railroad construction. Within a fortnight of the early May announcement outlining the imminent completion of the line to that point, inbound merchandise destined for the mercantile establishments and emporia of Ely accumulated in such large volume at the end of track as to interfere with railroad construction. When the Nevada Northern, therefore, declared a temporary embargo in mid-May (in order to minimize interference with the railroad's continued progress) there were neither freight nor passenger facilities yet constructed at Currie. Freight was redirected back to the Southern Pacific for forwarding via Eureka until construction of adequate warehouse facilities at Currie's Ranch. In addition, passenger traffic was restricted to employees and officials, redirecting all others to entrance or exit via either Eureka or Wells.4

 

Chief civil engineer's headquarters at Nevada Northern Railway East Ely yard

Chief Engineer's Building, East Ely yard. John West donated funds to replace the ageing roof thereby preserving the historic structure.

 

At this early date, transportation demands for both passenger and freight service exceeded the capabilities of the embryonic rail system. Apparently, in an effort to meet the pressing commercial demands as rapidly as possible, the Utah Construction Company hastily erected the first depot at Currie. In a short two-and-a-half weeks after its institution, the railway lifted the embargo and began handling both freight and passengers over the newly opened line between Cobre and Currie on 2 June 1906, suggesting adequate, if not permanent, facilities were secured at Currie by that time.5

 

Four months later, construction crews faced a repetition of this dilemma requiring the last-minute erection of a depot. With less than two weeks before the rails were scheduled to reach Ely, the precise route through town had yet to be established. The original franchise for the right-of-way, granted by the county commissioners in May 1905, called for construction of the double-tracked railway down Aultman Street, the main business thoroughfare of the county seat.6 However, this plan met with tardy but keen opposition from local business owners. Fearing, according to William N. McGill, that unless the railroad rerouted one block south to Garden (now Clark) Street "it would drive every business house out of Ely," the Board of County Commissioners considered the hotly debated issue throughout August and September 1906. Even as the railroad entered the outskirts of Ely (the White Pine News noting "the construction train can be plainly seen from the lower part of town") Garden Street homeowners argued the houses they owned and/or constructed since the granting of the original franchise fifteen months prior would suffer ruin by the late alternation of the route down their residential avenue. Nevertheless, commercial interest prevailed.7 On 17 September, just twelve days before the scheduled arrival of the railway, the News reported that the board granted the Nevada Northern Railway "a perpetual franchise to lay its tracks through the town of Ely; with a specific right of way through Garden street [sic]." In addition, the Nevada Northern agreed to erect a passenger station in Ely within three months.8

Seam between the center two windows is evident suggesting the strutcture was moved via rail.

A seam goes through the building between the center two windows. It is evident the building was cut in half at one time. This is not unusual— railroads would reuse buildings, transporting them on flat cars to new locations.

 

Nevertheless, precious few days remained before the grand revelry scheduled for the weekend of 29–30 September celebrating the entrance of the railway and little time to construct a permanent edifice. Hence, the Nevada Northern erected a temporary depot at the corner of Garden and Murry Streets alongside the office of the White Pine News and behind W. B. Graham's mercantile store.9

At this point, we must carefully weigh the available evidence in order to discern the truth. The late Russell R. Elliott, McGill native and esteemed professor of history at the University of Nevada, suggested that the Nevada Northern moved the temporary Currie passenger depot to Ely, presumably to serve the same role.10 However, this assertion is suspect on three accounts: firstly, crews erected a similar, temporary structure at Currie just a few months previous within an almost identically limited but sufficient timeframe; secondly, it seems unlikely the railroad would leave the important station of Currie without an adequate passenger depot from September 1906 until 1907 when the Currie's permanent depot saw completion; and lastly, the photograph of the temporary Currie depot (while still at Currie) dates to 1907.11 By November 1906, Ely's permanent passenger depot located opposite the Courthouse was well under construction soon rendering the temporary depot further down Garden Street (whatever its origins) duplicitous.12 One can suppose that the Currie depot, once rendered asunder for transport by railroad flat car, might have been shipped to Ely in September and then, after serving its brief purpose, back north to its site of origin a few months later in order to pose as the background for the 1907 photograph mentioned above. However, this scenario perhaps taxes the imagination. While this author questions the assertion of the revered Professor Elliott, we leave it to the reader to draw his or her own conclusion.

Meanwhile, with the site of Nevada Consolidated's reduction works having been settled in the summer of 1906, the railway wasted little time in extending a spur from their main line to McGill by mid-November.13 With rail transportation established for the importation of materials, supplies and machinery, construction at the site of the new mill and smelter commenced immediately and continued at a frenzied pace throughout 1907. In November of that year, likely after construction of a new, permanent passenger depot at Currie, the railway uprooted the original, temporary Currie depot and freighted it south by rail to serve its new role as the depot for the blossoming community of McGill.14

By 1908, McGill, now the corporate headquarters of the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company and the site of the recently completed mill and smelter, warranted a depot reflecting an image of equal import, weight, and significance. Hence, the Nevada Northern Railway constructed a concrete block, one-story, freight and passenger depot 30' x 97' at a cost of $8,138 (equivalent to more than $161,000 in 2005 purchasing power), second only in value to the railway headquarters at Ely City (later East Ely).15

What then became of the transient depot that had first seen service at Currie and later at the nascent McGill? The recently discovered photographic evidence16 linking the original Currie depot and the current Chief Engineer's building suggests that upon the 1908 construction of the contemporary McGill depot, our wayward structure was once again relocated, this time to the East Ely railroad yards to serve as the offices of the chief civil engineer. The 1908 "construction" date and value assigned to the extant structure support this thesis, as does the simple nature of the design and absence of architectural embellishments, reserved only to latter gable-roof additions at either entrance door.17

Therefore, we submit the preponderance of evidence (in the absence of Holmesian geometric proof) suggests the contemporary Chief Engineer's building at the East Ely yards traces its history back to the first McGill depot and ultimately to the temporary structure erected at Currie in late May 1906 at then end of track. Thereby, this single, simple structure traces in minute, temporal order the almost instantaneous transition of Ely and surrounding communities in eastern Nevada from an outpost on the Western frontier to a twentieth-century center of industrial mining. First serving main line passengers at Currie, then the McGill branch line, and later railway staff at Ely, the temporary structure has proved anything but impermanent. Its current renovation as a dormitory housing museum volunteers on sojourns to Ely links past with present in the continuum now entering its second century.

 

Endnotes

1 Leslie S. Klinger, ed., The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, vol. 2, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), 1323.

2 Mark Bassett, "Nevada Northern Railway Mysteries—Part II," At the Throttle, Nevada Northern Railway Museum, 04 November 2005, http://nevadanorthernrailway.net/throttle/throttle110405.htm (accessed 28 Mar. 2006); and Interstate Commerce Commission, Bureau of Valuation, "Engineering Report upon the Nevada Northern Railway," 30 June 1917, 11 (hereafter ICC Valuation).

3 Bassett, "Railway Mysteries."

4 White Pine News, "Nevada Northern Is Coming," 4 May 1906, 1; and White Pine News, "Embargo on Freight at Currie's Ranch," 15 May 1906, 1.

5 White Pine News, "Railroad Opens June 2; Three Trains A Week," 29 May 1906, 1.

6 David F. Myrick, Railroads of Nevada, vol. 1, The Northern Roads (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1992), 114.

7 White Pine News, "Garden, Aultman, or Where?—The Question," 14 Aug. 1906, 1; White Pine News, "Meeting of Commissioners," 11 Sept. 1906, 1; and Myrick, Railroads of Nevada, 116.

8 White Pine News, "Railroad Will Run Through Garden Street," 18 Sept. 1906, 1.

9 Ibid.; and White Pine News, "Coming of Iron Horse Joyously Celebrated," 2 Oct. 1906, 1.

10 Russell R. Elliott, "History of Nevada Mines Division Kennecott Copper Corporation," TMs [1956], 23, Nevada Reference Collection, White Pine County Library, Ely, Nev.

11 ICC Valuation, 11; Leona Reynolds, "Memories of Currie, Nevada," ed. Howard Hickson, Northeastern Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, 5 no. 4 (Spring 1975), cover; and Mark Bassett, email to author, 29 Mar. 2006.

12 White Pine News, "Building Rush In Face of Lumber Famine," 20 Nov. 1906; and ICC Valuation, 13.

13 White Pine News, "Ground Is Broken at McGill's for Ely's Mammoth Smelter," 20 Nov. 1906, 1.

14 Elliott, "Nevada Mines Division," 23.

15 S. Morgan Friedman, "The Inflation Calculator," 11 Dec. 2000, http://www.westegg.com/inflation/ (accessed 29 Mar. 2006); and ICC Valuation, 11-14.

16 Reynolds, "Memories of Currie, Nevada," cover.

17 ICC Valuation, 13; and Gordon Chappell, "Draft: National Historic Landmark Nomination," TMs, 30 June 2005, 17-18 (copy in the author's possession).

 

 

 

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