Nevada Northern Railway
National Historic Landmark      Ely, NV



"At the Throttle"

A Series of articles on the Nevada Northern Railway
By Mark Bassett, Executive Director, NNRY


This Place Matters
10 June 2009

The New York Stock Exchange fell close to fifty percent from its peak of the previous year. Panic occurred; there were numerous runs on banks and trust companies. Throughout the country, state and local banks along with businesses entered into bankruptcy. This all happened during a time of economic recession.

Sounds like recent headlines, doesn't it? But in actuality these headlines are more than a century old. They are from a period called the Panic of 1907. What does this have to do with the Nevada Northern Railway Museum? Plenty.

Mark Requa had dreamed big. He imagined a bustling industrial enterprise and growth on the high desert of eastern Nevada. He foresaw a mine, a smelter and new communities all connected with a railroad. He built the Nevada Northern Railway. The celebration of the railroad coming to Ely was held on September 29, 1906. But change was already in the wind. By November 1906, Mr. Requa was no longer part of the railroad. In 1907, the railroad was building up Robinson Canyon to reach the copper mines at Ruth. But by the fall, the bottom had dropped out of the financial markets. Capital had dried up and there was still a lot of work to do.

The railroad still needed to be developed. New locomotives and cars would need to be purchased. The shops of the railroad still needed to be built along with the smelter and the track to serve the smelter.

Kurt Dietrich, one of our volunteers who drives across the state to assist in the preservation of the railroad. But Kurt does more than just preserve an artifact; he helps preserve the knowledge base. What does it take to fire up and operate an iron horse as it was done in the 19th century but with 21st century realities?

And it would be years before the first shipment of refined copper could be sent out of White Pine County. And it would be years before it was known whether the financial gamble would pay off. Lesser men might have thrown in the towel and walked away, rather than pour more money into this remote corner of Nevada. Building the railroad was the cheap part. Millions of dollars would be needed to be spent to develop the mine and the smelter. A choice needed to be made.


Today, it is obvious that they did not walk away. The museum is a testament to their belief in the future. Then, as now, economic choices need to be made. Just as it was a century ago, today millions of dollars need to be invested in the railroad so it can reach its potential.

Why invest millions in a railroad complex in this remote corner of Nevada? Because This Place Matters! Essentially the same today as a century ago, the complex is a reflection of the past century. Four and half million people rode the Nevada Northern Railway; immigrants, businessmen, millionaires, and families all left their mark on White Pine County.

And that is not just opinion. The site is a National Historic Landmark. This is the highest honor that the federal government can bestow on an historic site. National Historic Landmarks are so designated because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States.

Railroading revolutionized society, major changes occurred. Some were as basic as to what time of day it is. It was the internet of the nineteenth century and it still is today. It joins us together; it delivers goods efficiently and cheaply and it has fabulous story to tell—successes and failures, triumphs and tribulations.

The Nevada Northern Railway is a wonderful time capsule that that is being saved for the next generation represented by Kayla O'Brien.

The Nevada Northern Railway survives today because of the combined efforts of thousands of people across the country and, yes, around the world.

Because This Place Matters hundreds of volunteers give unselfishly of their time to keep the Nevada Northern relevant and alive. And why do they do this? Because they believe it should be saved for the next generation. It is the story of the railroad that needs to be saved and passed on.

Nowhere in the country is this story better illustrated that at the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark. That's why This Place Matters.