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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

 


The Museum as a Duck
09 May 2007

Daily train operations start on May 19th. Until then to the casual observer, the museum appears pretty quiet, like a duck. A duck? Sure, you've seen a duck swimming across a pond. Above the surface, all is serene, as the duck appears to glide across the water. Meanwhile beneath the surface, it's a different story. Those webfeet are working for everything they're worth. And so it is with the museum. Since January, it appears to have been pretty quiet at the museum. It would seem very few trains have operated and not much else is going on; nothing could be further from the truth. Since the Polar Expresses ended in December, the staff and the volunteers have been behind the scenes working for everything they're worth, just like the ducks' feet.

First off, since the beginning of the year, we have already operated more than one hundred trains. These began with excursions in January to support community events followed by the photo shoots in February, a special train for tour operators in March, and opening of the season on April 14.

Operating in the winter months has its own set of challenges. Everything takes almost twice as long to do and of course, water freezes below thirty-two degrees. So the steam locomotives need additional care to make sure nothing freezes on the locomotive. Because if you have ever had pipes freeze, you know that water expands as it freezes and that can cause metal pipes to burst. To say the least, this would be bad on the steam locomotives.

Then if it snows, every switch that we'll be using needs to be dug out and swept out. It's amazing how the littlest piece of ice can prevent a switch from working. And then to keep warm, the train crew wears layers and layers of clothing, until they all look like penguins walking around.

Just one of the thousands of tasks that needed to be done this spring is spraying the track and yards for weeds. It is a boring but exciting task as the engineer tries to keep the train at a slow constant speed for the spraying. It's boring because they are going so slow, but its exciting as the engineer keeps the speed constant going up and down hill.

After the photo shoots ended in February, locomotive 40 was taken out of service for her federally required annual maintenance. There was a huge list of things that needed to be checked and repaired before locomotive 40 could return to service. As we got into servicing the locomotive, we found more things wrong than we expected. Some of the repairs were very challenging—real head scratchers. (After all, you just can't go to NAPA and buy new parts for a steam locomotive. Most of the new parts were custom made by us, using our equipment and tooling.) On May 7th, a fire was built in 40's firebox for the first time since February and the shop crews began testing their repairs. Some of the repairs will require additional tweaking, but that's to be expected.

At the same time repairs were going on to 40, our other locomotives also needed maintenance. Locomotives 93, 105, and 109 all had work done to them. At times, the shop got very crowded as we crammed cars and locomotives into the machine shop to get repairs done.

On the rolling stock front, we got our four 1912 boxcars painted and lettered for the photo shoots. This had been an ongoing project that we finished in January. Outfit car 06 also was finished up in January just before the photo shoots. There was a lot of midnight oil burned to get the car ready for its premier. It was worth it.

Then in April, our new old passenger cars arrived. To get the cars here they came by rail from Ohio and then by truck from Ogden, Utah. To prepare the cars for trucking, staff and volunteers worked on the cars in Ogden to get them ready. Then the cars needed to be unloaded here. And of course, on the day the cars were to be unloaded, the weather did not cooperate at all. Gusty winds, snow squalls, and cold temperatures made unloading the cars unpleasant and at times a little exciting.

The cars have been cleaned out and the first one is beginning to undergo refurbishment for service. Purchasing passengers cars for a tourist railroad is not the easiest task. First off, you need to find out if any cars are even available. Since all of the cars that would be available to us are used, they come and go on and off the market. And then, since we're a steam tourist line, we want cars that look appropriate behind our steam locomotives. So when we find a car that looks right and fits our budget it will be decades old and need work. The cars that we finally did find are literally diamonds in the rough. They will take work, but they will be a great addition to our passenger car fleet.

Track work also needs to be done. Twice a week our track is inspected and any needed repairs are made. When large repairs are needed, then it's an all-hands drill on track. We've had one of these so far this year. And we hired NDF to remove brush. So far, they have been removing brush from the yard and along the line to Keystone. Then before vegetation and weeks have a chance to establish themselves in the spring, we sprayed the entire line and yard to prevent the weeds and the brush from returning.

On the other end of the property, everyone was just as busy. Work continues on converting the boiler building into restrooms. We used the steam crane to remove the roof and more importantly to put it back on. And back on it went and fit perfectly, too. At the same time, we were finishing the outside of the McGill Depot. McGill Depot work is paid for with grant money. And grant money generates tons of paperwork that must be filled out correctly. Its one of those behind the scenes jobs that is not at all glamorous but vital.

> Spring is grant time! So grants need to be prepared and sent out on time! And spring is also when we do our fund raising campaign. Both of these tasks generate an immense amount of paper that must be dealt with (hiding it in my office doesn't count.)

Spring is also the time we stock the gift shop for the coming season. Since the remodel of the gift shop last year, gift shop sales have skyrocketed. This is a good thing; we carried over very little merchandise and had little merchandise to inventory. It's a challenge now because we need to stock the gift shop and it appears that boxes and boxes of merchandise come in daily. All of it needs to be unpacked, sorted, priced, and put on the shelves. And at the same time, we converted over to bar coding our merchandise. And in the true spirit of a non-profit with only a little cash, we figured out how to do it inexpensively.

As all of this was going on, we also updated and improved our training program. We're pretty unique because we encourage volunteers to assist the museum in train service. At the same time, we must train volunteers in how to do train service safely. The training program took a phenomenal amount of time to update and improve. And it will take a phenomenal amount of time to implement and train to.

So just like the duck, behind the scenes, staff and volunteers are working for everything they're worth to keep the museum functioning and to improve it. So if you're looking for something to do, come on down and join us.

 

 

 

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