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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 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

 


Heritage Tourism
14 June 2003

 

What’s real? Here in Nevada we have Las Vegas, where you can go from Ancient Egypt to New York, just walking a couple of blocks. Want Paris? Just walk a little further. Out in California they have Disneyland, with a perfect Main Street, only it’s three-quarters the real size and there was never a Main Street there. Is this real? Of course not.

I like history, always have. I find it intriguing trying to figure out the “how and why” people did things. It doesn’t have to heroic; just the day-to-day struggles are fascinating. You can read about it, but to actually immerse yourself into the history is an incredibly rare experience. This experience is called Heritage Tourism and this is what we offer at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.

As I write this column, I am surrounded with heritage. My desk overlooks the Preservation Plaza that is in the middle of the Nevada Northern Railway East Ely Shops and Yard National Historic District.

Preservation Plaza is paved with memorial bricks, many of them inscribed with the names of the individuals who built and worked on the Nevada Northern Railway. These individuals are not glamorous or famous individuals; rather they are the people who built our country. They and their offspring still live in this area.

Preservation Plaza is bracketed by two buildings: the Nevada Northern Railway Depot building and the Transportation building. The depot was built in 1906 and served as the center of the community for decades. The transportation building was built in 1917 to control the movement of trains on the railroad. The original telegraph key and phones still exist at the dispatcher’s desk. Stored in the two buildings are the records of the company dating from 1905. These records document the day-to-day activities of the company. Included in this treasure trove of records are the payroll records of the employees.

Framing Preservation Plaza and running in front of the buildings is the railroad track. Right now sitting on the track is steam locomotive 93 coupled up to its train. You can hear the soft sound of steam hissing, watch the engineer as he oils around this example of industrial America. What makes this scene so unique and precious is that it is not staged, not gussied up, not Hollywood, it’s real.

One piece of our heritage is Locomotive 93. It spent its work life hauling copper ore, which was turned into copper wire for electric lights and telephones. Now 93 serves as a real life example of the work it took to build our nation.

 

You can look at a steam locomotive in a museum and at some museums even climb up into the cab. But here at the Nevada Northern Railway you can experience first hand what it was like to get a steam locomotive ready for its day. You can go into the shop building early in the morning and watch the shop crew prepare the locomotive for the day. Light off the boiler, oil and grease the locomotive, and watch the transformation of a cold pile of iron turn into a steaming, hissing workhorse. This is a time capsule from our past.

Locomotive 93 has been rolling on these tracks for over ninety-four years. This is the real America that was and now has disappeared. In our push button world, it’s easy to forget that it was the sweat and toil of the common man that made the American standard of living second to none on the planet.

Kennecott Copper and the Nevada Northern Railway contributed to the building of that standard of living. Imagine yourself at the turn of the last century; new inventions that would change the world such as the electric light and the telephone were just being invented. What did both of these inventions need to fill full their promise? Copper.

When you stop and think about it, every building in America needed to be wired twice. Both the telephone and electricity needed copper wire. Where did all of this copper come from? Well some of it came from right here in White Pine County. It was also milled and smelted here.

This heritage is intertwined with the entire Nevada Northern Railway complex. Its forty acres, fifty buildings and structures, three original steam locomotives, five diesel locomotives, six passenger cars, fifty freight cars and thirty miles of track all contributed to the building of America. As mentioned earlier, the entire complex is registered as a National Historic District. We are working to preserve and interpret our past for future generations. This is not Disneyland; this is a pristine area that tells the story of what it took to build this nation.

 

 

 

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All Rights Reserved - Page Last Updated 14 June 2003
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