you think of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum most people equate it
with the passenger excursions that we offer. We advertise ourselves
as the best-preserved rail facility left in America. And there is another
group of individuals who come to Ely not to ride the train but to photograph
equipment and the buildings and contents. One of those individuals is
Gordon Osmundson. Gordon has been coming here for years photographing
the railroad. Recently Gordon asked if he could put the airbrakes back
on one of the boxcars. His long-term ambition is to have four of the
boxcars back in service. Gordon asked me if he could do this and I said
yes. I'll let Gordon tell the story.
I've been visiting
and photographing the Nevada Northern Railway Museum since 1988.
On every trip I've looked at the four 36-foot wood box cars sitting
in the yard and wanted to see and photograph them in a train out
on the line. (A fifth boxcar was badly damaged in a fire and sits
behind the shops and a sixth is at the White Pine Public Museum
on Aultman Boulevard.) I've photographed these cars in the yard,
but unfortunately only one of them had air brakes and could be used
outside yard limits. When I came for the photo weekend in 1996 this
one car was used with the one tank car, five ore cars, three hoppers,
and caboose on a freight train. This set of cars, in different combinations,
has been the freight train for photo events ever since.
In 2002 Joel
Jensen decided to restore one of the boxcars and chose the one with
brakes. Unfortunately, residing the car proved to be a bigger job
than expected and it now sits half finished in the rip building.
Joel's 2003 and 2004 photo weekends had to go without a boxcar.
when John West asked me to run the photo trains operated in conjunction
with the Polar Express, I thought, is there a way to use the other
three boxcars? Well, could we use them in the yard? I gave some
thought to what photo runs we could do in the yard and it wasn't
long before I had more than a half days worth. But could we use
the cars? A talk with Mark Bassett, Executive Director, gave the
answer in the affirmative, better still the yard limit was out by
the Lackawanna Road grade crossing and we could do a run by on the
long fill just north of the yard.
John West and I put together a train with the three hopper cars,
tank car, a short gon, the three boxcars and caboose number 3, a
car that rarely came out of the engine house. We had a nice little
mixed freight train, something that had not been seen on the Nevada
Northern in many a year. The hoppers and the tank car had working
air brakes so the train had more than the locomotives independent
brake. Except for quite a bit of slack action in the caboose, everything
worked out well and we had a successful half-day photo shoot.
Now that the
profile of the boxcars had been raised, what more could be done
with them? John took on the project of painting one, and while it
still needs a last coat, it already really looks good. It wasn't
long before I started thinking "what would it take to put brakes
on them?" They once had them and the mounting brackets, train
line, and hand brake were still there, so it couldn't be too hard.
It was now time for a little philosophizing. The NNRM is at least
in part a volunteer organization, so you can't say, "they ought
to," or "why don't they." Who are this they anyway?
If you aren't ready to step forward and volunteer, you don't have
any business criticizing or even suggesting. Now could I do this?
Giving some thought to just how big a job it was and if I had the
skills, well, I just couldn't say no. I had the mechanical skills
and the job looked like it could be done in a matter of a few days.
did the museum have the parts and materials needed on hand? A talk
with Jack Anderson, the railway's Master Mechanic, answered that
question in the affirmative. Now the only question remaining was
when. I wanted the boxcars for my own photography workshop, coming
up in November, and the weather in Ely should be nice in the spring
so I picked the week of May 16th. Mark offered to call in a few
local volunteers to help.
that Sunday in the late afternoon I ran into Jack in the yard and
we looked over the cars and made plans for the next day. We decided
to start with the painted car and do the work in the machine shop.
Next morning, Alco diesel locomotive number 109 was fired up and
used to switch the boxcar out of the rip building where it was being
stored. 4-6-0 #40, having its tubes and flues removed, occupied
one end of the machine shop's track, but there was plenty of room
left for our car and it was spotted so that the brake equipment
was not over the shop pits. There was plenty of room under the cars
to work from the floor and indeed the shop floor, which was flush
with the railhead, was ideal for rolling an automotive floor jack
I won't go into
every detail of the work done, but we had the brake parts on the
burned car to use as a pattern, I had to learn some pipe fitting
skills, I got the triple valve on the car up-side down the first
time (hey the rebuilt date stencil was right-side-up), we had to
fabricate a 3/8 inch thick steel spacer to go under one side of
the brake cylinder, the air reservoir wouldn't clear the secondary
car sill and a bracket had to be heated with a torch and bent down
3/4 of an inch, etc., etc. There seemed to be something extra that
had to be done at every step, but bit by bit the project came together.
When I say we,
I mean we. It was my project, but Jack and his staff were there
to help find materials, lend tools, and offer technical advice as
needed. Also, Dave Teeter, Nathan Liebsack, Gene Rogers, and Philip
Bronner, all volunteers, worked with me often getting as dirty as
I did. Dave, a retired lumber mill employee and a recent new comer
to Ely, proved to be an especially good helper.
I will say that
railroad equipment is solidly built and designed to be easy to work
on. The air pipes are attached to the major components with bolt
on compression fittings. These fittings make it unnecessary cut
the pipes to the exact length or thread the ends, all of which makes
fabrication fairly easy. The major components are all made of cast
steel or iron and feel as solid and heavy as the engine block of
an automobile. The pipes once fitted in place and bolted up feel
as solid as if the whole system were carved from a single solid
three and one half days, everything was together and ready to test.
We connected an air line to one of the car's glad hands and applied
the air, but something was wrong. We could not get the brakes to
set and release properly. The problem was finally traced to the
retainer valve located up on the end of the car and the only component
that was original to the car. Disconnecting the pipe to this valve
got the brakes to set and release and a little more tinkering got
air to flow through the retainer.
Now it was time
to call the 109 and take our car out for a spin. But there was still
something wrong, without using the independent air on the 109; the
car's brakes did not have enough force to even slow us down. Now
what? Jack inspected the brake cylinder and found that there was
too much travel in the cylinder before the brake rod was engaged.
By now it was late afternoon; let's deal with this in the morning.
We thought that
we needed a longer brake rod, even though the one we were using
was from the burned car. But next morning Jack made some adjustments
to the brake levers on the trucks and the problem was solved. One
steel frame, thirty-six foot, 1912, mineral red boxcar, ready for
action. Is one car a big deal? Apparently it is. Mark was more excited
than I was. As he put it, this was the first freight car work to
be done since the museum was started.
Now, what of
the other two boxcars? I had hoped to do all three while I was there,
but one will have to be enough for now. All the components are on
hand for the next two cars; the spacer plates have been cut and
drilled and some other subassemblies prepared. Most important, now
we are a long ways up the learning curve so the next cars should
go a lot faster. Mark suggested we put all the parts in one of the
cars and close the door, that way, when I come back in September
or October, everything will be in one place and we can get right
to work. Two cars in three or four days should be doable.
And beyond that?
The #40 is the current focus of work in the shops, its boiler work
should be done by October and then it can rejoin the roster. After
this, the work on the big hook, or steam powered wrecking crane
is to be completed, its boiler is now out but has already passed
its hydro. So perhaps by early 2005 it will be back in service.
Slated next is the 81 a 2-8-0 steam locomotive very much like the
93. It saw heavy service until retired in the early 50's, so there
is no doubt much to do on her. I can't say when she will be ready,
perhaps sometime in 2006.
What does this
have to do with the freight cars? Three steam engines-well wouldn't
it be great if each could have its own train? Number 40 will have
the vintage passenger cars, so there is its train. How about for
the 2-8-0's an ore train and a mixed freight train. There are five
active ore cars already and the museum has 15 more. These cars are
all equipped with type "K" brakes, but the condition of
these brakes is not known. But surely it would not take as much
work to inspect and repair one of these cars as it did to install
all the air equipment and piping on a box car and parts are already
on hand in the shop. Eight, ten, twelve ore cars, it could happen
by the time the 81 is ready.
For the mixed
freight we already have our first boxcar and could have up to three
more this fall. We already have three hoppers and the tank car.
We used a short gon on my yard limits photo freight and there are
two more in the yards. These cars are already equipped with "AB"
brakes. Servicing the brakes, repacking the wheel bearings and these
cars should be good to go. And that would give us a nice little
mixed freight consist. This shouldn't be too much to expect from
a visiting carman, with some local help, over the next year or two.
What's it like
working on an old boxcar? Except for getting dirty and the fact
that the air reservoir weighs in at 258 lbs., it reminded me a lot
of model railroading. The scale, twelve inches equals a foot, is
a bit bigger, but the components were quite familiar. And the car,
with fresh paint and crooked handrails, reminded me of some models
I have worked on. Seeing a full size 36-foot boxcar ready to go
is a lot more satisfying than finishing a six-inch long HO scale
model. And how many places are there besides Ely, Nevada where you
can make this happen?
There is more to
the museum than just the excursion trains. The work that Gordon and
his crew did is what we are truly about. It is the mission of the museum
to preserve, protect, and interpret the Nevada Northern Railway complex
for the public. By putting together three trains as Gordon suggests,
we will create a window to the past to show what the Nevada Northern
was like during its heyday. In the late 1930's locomotive 40 would have
been running to Cobre with the passenger train. Locomotive 81 would
have made the run to Cobre with a freight train to interchange with
the Southern Pacific. And Locomotive 93 would have been in ore service
running from Ruth to McGill. So by our hundredth anniversary due to
the efforts of the volunteers and staff, we might be able to replicate