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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

 


Reachable Past
05 June 2004


 

Recently, during a tour of the property, Sean Pitts of the East Ely Railroad Depot Museum used the phrase "reachable past" in his talk. Sean's point of his narrative was that the past at the railroad museum is still reachable. He went on to elaborate that the people who maintained and operated the railroad are still alive and for the most part still residing in Ely.

If the museum has a question about how something worked or how something was done, we can still ask the people who know. A great case in point was the ashpit. We knew that the Nevada Northern had an ashpit; we just didn't know where it was. Looking around the grounds and asking the current volunteers was fruitless; no one knew where the ashpit was located. T. J. Lani, a retired NNRy employee, came by the property one day and he was asked where the ashpit was located. He knew right off where the ashpit was and for that matter still is. The ashpit had been filled in and was no longer visible. Without T.J.'s help it is questionable whether we would have found it; after all it was buried and we did not know where to even start looking. T. J.'s help made a difficult task easy. In this case we were able to literally reach out and embrace our past.

Another example of the Nevada Northern's reachable past happened just yesterday. The museum received a donation of textbooks and study materials for correspondence course on steam locomotive repair and operation from Claudina DiSanza Sertic. Some of the material was in its original envelopes with a postage meter mark of three cents. So now our reachable past has evolved into our touchable past. These books and the information contained in them will assist the museum in maintaining our historic railroad equipment. And as an added bonus, a Nevada Northern employee to improve himself used the books and we will continue the chain.

Unfortunately, as the years go by this ability will diminish. The people who worked for the Nevada Northern are now dying off and taking their knowledge to the grave. Surviving family members then clean out the residence; they see old books that "have no value" and into the trash they go. So we lose out on two fronts, the personal knowledge of the person and the materials the person used to gain the knowledge in the first place.

So what to do? As a starting point during the Long Steels Rail Festival, June 11, 12, and 13, we will be taking oral histories of anyone that had anything to do with the Nevada Northern Railway. These oral histories will be taken at the Cherry Creek Depot at the White Pine Public Museum.

So who should participate? Basically anyone, who had anything to do with the Nevada Northern either as an employee, a customer, or a passenger. Did you ride the school train? We would like to hear and record your experiences of riding the school train. Did the boys and girls sit together? What time did the train leave? How long was the trip? What was it like to ride a train to school everyday?

We are looking for the mundane-what some might call boring. After all, to you it was just your life-nothing exciting happened. But I would wager that the kids today have absolutely no concept of what it was like to take the train to school. It is beyond their experience to even imagine a world where cars, trucks, and buses don't rule.

If you were an employee of either Kennecott or the Nevada Northern we want your stories too. What was it like working in the pit? What was it like taking the ore trains down the hill? Maybe you didn't work for either Kennecott or the Nevada Northern, but your father did, I'll bet there are stories there.

These stories will help the next generation understand what it was like and help solve mysteries. One mystery solved was the case of the yellow rose bush. In the back part of the Nevada Northern rail yards in East Ely is a large beautiful yellow rose bush. There are no structures anywhere around this rose bush. Why would a rose bush be growing in a rail yard? I met a person on a museum project and one thing lead to another and it turns out that he lived in the Nevada Northern rail yards. It turns out that there were company houses on the backside of the yard that were leased out to railroad employees. He grew up in one of those houses because his dad worked for the railroad. After hearing that story I filed it away in the back of my mind. I recently saw a picture of a train coming into the East Ely yards. In that picture low and behold were houses, where there are no houses now. That explains the yellow rose bush. The rose bush was planted when there were houses there and someone was turning a company house into a home. So the mystery of the yellow rose bush was solved. But in solving that mystery others appeared. What happened to the houses?

I encourage you to participate in the Oral History Program during Long Steel Rails. We are interested in all of the stories out there. If you would like to participate contact the White Pine Public Museum at 289-4710 and schedule an appointment. At the same time, if you have old books and documents that have to do with the Nevada Northern Railway or Kennecott donate them to one of our local museums. It is important that this information be preserved for the future generations.

 

 

 

 


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