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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

 


Changes Big and Small
30 May 2007

The goal of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is to preserve the Nevada Northern Railway. Simple statement—no real surprises there—but it is a very deceptive statement. Why deceptive? Because you need to ask the question: just exactly what are we preserving? And what does preserving it mean? The concept of preserving the railroad is actually a moving target.

Why a moving target? Short answer is because the railroad is not static; it is constantly changing, evolving. And it has been that way since when the first spike was driven back in 1905. And this is a challenge. And for us it is a very unique challenge. Our museum's mission is different from most museums; our artifacts do not just sit there. We present the artifacts to the public in use.

Our goal is to capture the thought process, the know-how, the experience of what steam railroading was like in Ely in the last century. And on a larger scale how railroading revolutionized society.

To accomplish this mission the museum is evolving and changes are being made to the railroad. Most of these changes are in the background and are not self-evident. But I thought you might enjoy a peak behind the curtain at some of the most recent changes.

The first change is in the East Ely Depot. Since I first laid eyes on the depot, one aspect really bugged me: the boarded over door on the south side of the building. To me it looked like a missing tooth.

The museum has been using the women's waiting room of the depot as a gift shop for three years now. The only entrance to the gift shop was through the north door. This was a solid wooden door that did match the doors to the men's waiting room. And as mentioned earlier, the south door was boarded over. (This is another Nevada Northern Railway mystery. Why were the doors to the women's waiting room solid and to the men's waiting room glass?)

The blocked door and the solid door caused problems. Because none of the depot doors on the south side of the building opened, people didn't know how to get into the depot. If they tried the men's waiting room door and then went clockwise around the building, there were lots of door to try before they found an open door. Then when they finally found the door that was unlocked, the door would stick, and because it was a solid door, they didn't know that people were inside. So to some of our visitors it became a very frustrating exercise of getting into the depot for tickets. Secondly, that solid wooden door blocked the view of people, so periodically there were collisions at the door. Again not the best image you want people to remember you by. So this spring, we installed two new doors to the gift shop. These are glass panel doors that match the doors in the men's waiting room. These glass doors bring more light into the gift shop and allow people to enter the gift shop from the south side of the building. No more musical doors. And now the south side of the building looks complete.

Before the new door was installed, the doorway was covered over making the depot look somewhat abandoned. especially when you tried to find an unlocked door. Now visitors are directed right into the ticket office and gift shop.

Another major change is in the yard. If you look at the pictures of the yard over the course of time there is one common trait that all of the photos share. That trait is no vegetation in the yard; no weeds, no grass, no nothing. To go back to this look, the museum hired the honor camp to remove all brush from the yard. It was an amazing transformation. The honor camp is continuing the brush removal on the Keystone branch. Overall, the removal of brush transforms the museum from appearing to be an abandoned railroad to a working railroad. Just looking at the yards, even with no trains running, it is evident that trains operate here. Once the brush was removed, the yard was sprayed to keep the brush and weeds from returning

It looks like a rail yard. Brush and weeds have been removed. Now we need to keep it this way.


Another behind the scenes change was upgrading our training program. Trains operate on the Nevada Northern because of dedicated volunteers. These volunteers come from all over to support the museum. They are entering a dangerous profession—railroading. This is from the introduction of our rulebook, "You are about to undertake a highly unusual and dangerous responsibility, historic railroading. You will be using historic locomotives and equipment to demonstrate to the public what railroading was like in the last century. There are no push buttons, this is hard, demanding, physical work that requires your full attention at all times. Our program is unusual, we use paid staff with volunteers to create a team that runs trains and rehabilitates the equipment and buildings of this National Historic Landmark…This is a real time, hands-on experience and it does have its dangers."

To operate trains safely with rotating crews, the museum worked to improve its training for train operations. Under the new program, everyone will need to re-qualify for their positions. This process will take a year. It will entail a great deal of work, but in the end it will be worth it.

And in support of operations, a small change was made at the enginehouse. The water system was re-plumbed. That brought water to the bays where the steam locomotives are kept. This will make watering the locomotives easier without dragging a lot of hose around.

It doesn't look like much, but this water hydrant is right next to the tenders of both steam locomotives. Rather than dragging water hose, this is a simple elegant solution solving an everyday problem.


All of these changes are designed to improve the museum and they are by no means over with. The railroad has been evolving since its conception and it will continue to evolve. The challenge is to be sensitive to all of the demands that are placed on the railroad.

 

 

 

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