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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Saturday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical 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

 


Still Steaming
29 May 2004


 

For the past year or so the Nevada Northern Railway Museum has been marketing itself with the slogan "Still Steaming." After all, we have an enormous amount of pride in the fact the steam locomotive 93 is still steaming and we are working hard to get steam locomotive 40 back in service.

Yet it wasn't until the July issue of Railfan and Railroad magazine crossed my desk that I realized how apropos the little slogan truly is. There is a column in the magazine titled "Lineside Legacy," which covers railroad preservation topics. This month the column covers steam locomotives that are still in steam service. In the column the authors make the point that "…it has been a difficult time for steam. The number of locomotives in operation, generally accepted to be about 300 for many years, is closer to half that figure now."

The article goes on and gives the reasons why. The one-two punch that knocked out over one hundred steam locomotives are the new Federal Railroad Administration regulations on boiler conditions and the amount of money necessary to comply with the regulations. Compounding the problem of keeping steam locomotives in operation are drastic increases in liability insurance and the economic downturn since 2001 that has cost the tourist industry thousands of visitors. Fewer visitors equates to less revenue; less revenue means expensive projects such as steam locomotive repair drag out or are not even started.

Waiting in line for rebuild is locomotive 40. Work has already begun and locomotive 40 should join the active fleet in October 2004. Next to locomotive 40 is a steam powered rotary snow plow.
Joel Jensen photograph

 

As part of the article the authors compiled a list state by state of the steam locomotives that are in operation that number is 161. To a certain extent the authors' list is slightly skewed in that they list locomotives that are in operating condition but not necessary operating or operating frequently. An example is the Inyo at the Nevada State Railroad Museum. It will run on the 4th of July weekend only.

Other than the number of locomotives that are still operating, the list contained other nuggets of information. Ten states have no steam locomotives in operation. Sixteen states have only one or two steam locomotives operating. The country's more populated states have only a few steam locomotives to observe in action: New York has one, Illinois has two, and Texas has four.

The state with the most steam locomotives in operation is California, which has 21. And in Nevada there are 5 operating steam locomotives: 4 in Carson City and locomotive 93 in Ely.

It is part of the long-term plan of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum to be the steam capital out west. Currently, the museum is working to put locomotive 40 back into service. 40 is scheduled to be back in service by October of this year. Once 40 is complete we move on to locomotive 81. 81 is schedule for completion in 2006 the railroad's centennial year.

So during the centennial, with luck, the Nevada Northern Railway will have three steam locomotives and a steam powered wreaking crane in operation. That means that we will have more operating steam locomotives than half of the states in the Union. If we can pull this off that means Ely will become a steam Mecca. The icing on the cake at the Nevada Northern Railway is that in addition to having operating locomotives; our locomotives operate in context. By that I mean, we have the original locomotives, operating on the original tracks, doing what they were designed to do: head up the mainline and generate revenue.

Where the steam picture in the rest of the country is not very rosy, here in east central Nevada the steam forecast is excellent. In 2004, locomotive 93 will operate four days a week: Friday afternoon through Sunday morning. By October, locomotive 93 will be joined with locomotive 40. After 40 hits the rails, we will finish up the steam crane project and then head into locomotive 81. During the 2005 schedule we will have steam operating 7 days a week from Memorial Day through the end of September. Then during our Centennial year, we should have three steam locomotives and a steam operated crane all in service. So we will enter our second century "Still Steaming."

 

 


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