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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

 


Assembly Bill Introduced to Benefit Musuem
08 April 2005

Assemblyman Goicoechea and Senator Rhodes Introduce Bill for the Nevada Northern Railway Museum

 

Assemblyman Goicoechea has introduced A.B. 424 into this session of the legislature to request $800,000 for the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. The bill is jointly sponsored by Senator Rhodes. This money would be used for desperately needed public safety improvements, building improvements, and track improvements. Projects slated for the appropriation would be for upgrades in water and sewer system, a dormitory to house crew volunteers, lighting, paving, fencing, track repair, and repairs to the Master Mechanic's Office building.

Of the fifty buildings and structures that make up the National Historic District, only two buildings on the property are connected to city sewer and only three buildings have water. The lack of water and sewer severely limits the growth of the museum. The museum has had three record years of increased visitation and the current infrastructure cannot handle the increase. There is only one working fire hydrant on the fifty-six acre complex. With the centennial of the railroad next year, fire hydrants are desperately needed to protect the facility.

Over 95% of the excursion trains offered by the museum are operated by volunteers. The value of the donated labor that the volunteers give to the museum is over $200,000. Without the volunteers, trains would not run. In the past, the local hotel and motel community has been most generous in donating rooms to the railroad for use by volunteers. As the museum's schedule has increased, the need for volunteers and lodging has increased. Most volunteers are from out of town and need a place to stay which creates a problem during the peak season. No rooms are available in town when crews are needed the most. No crews = no trains.

There are two problems with the current system and these problems will only get worse. Due to the success of tourism development in Ely, there are weekends where the lodging in town is sold out. That means if you don't have a room, your choice is either sleeping in your car or driving over sixty miles to the next town for a room. The volunteer dormitory would solve this problem by converting one of the vacant buildings on the property to provide sleeping accommodations for the volunteers. As a side benefit, volunteers staying at the dormitory would then be on the museum grounds around the clock to provide security for this Nevada treasure.

In the heyday of the railroad, the grounds were well lighted. Since the closure of the railroad, the lighting has disappeared or just succumbed to the elements. The museum to increase revenue is now offering more and more activities that occur in the evening. For the museum to be able to build on these events the grounds need to be well lit.

To go along with lighting, the fifty-six acre complex needs to be fenced. As the museum has increased its schedule, there are more passenger trains now rolling through the East Ely Depot than there has been for over sixty years. Currently there is no separation between the trains and the public. As the museum increases its visitation this problem of lack of separation will only worsen. On the west and north sides of the property the current fence is either inadequate or non-existent. By improving the fencing, we can protect the public and the National Historic District at the same time.

The complex is a National Historic District because of its uniqueness and its high level of completeness. As the complex approaches its centennial, the same attributes that are responsible for our growth are also our drawbacks. To accommodate this growth the pavement around the depot needs to be repaired. Where we have our visitors walk is treacherous. The paving has holes in it and it is a tripping hazard. There is no paved off-street parking available for our visitors. So to get to the ticket window, our visitors need to go through a dusty or muddy parking area and risk their ankles crossing the crumbling paving.

During the heyday of the railroad, it had a constant track maintenance program. With the closure of the railroad, this program has ended. For twenty years, the track has received a lick and promise. The museum has done remedial repairs, but more needs to be done. A major investment is needed for the track. Ties, ballast, tamping, and culvert repairs are needed. Failure to maintain the track can lead to derailments and injuries.

Lastly, immediate help is needed for the Master Mechanic's Office and Warehouse building. This building is used by the shop staff and volunteers and serves as an archive for historic records and supplies. The building, built in 1906, is suffering from structural duress and has survived fire damage. One hundred-year-old books, plans, and drawings are stored in the Master Mechanic's office. These plans are stored, right next to its heating system—a coal burning potbelly stove. This is not the most ideal storage arrangement—priceless plans next to a coal stove that you have to open the door to add more coal. One unseen spark could have devastating impact on these irreplaceable plans.

If this appropriation passes the legislature, the museum can then address the most glaring public safety and operating challenges it faces. The museum is not asking for a handout. It is our long-term plan to be come self-sufficient. However, in order to maintain and preserve this vast museum approximately $3.8 million is needed for building and grounds and $2.5 million for locomotives, rolling stock, and track needs. The focus of this legislative request focuses on the most glaring public safety and operational issues.

The museum will continue its aggressive fundraising program to insure that the railroad is here for the next generation. But if this appropriation is granted, it will put us on the right track as we prepare for the railroad's centennial. You can help by contacting Nevada's Legislators and expressing your support. The state maintains a comprehensive website at www.leg.state.nv.us that lists all of the legislators, provides hotlinks to their e-mail addresses, and provides free bill tracking so you can watch this bill go through the process.


 

 

 

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