is an old expression, "You can't see the forest because all of
those trees are in the way." To a certain extent, we all suffer
from this affliction. We get so involved with our day-to-day activities
we overlook the joy of what we are really doing. Sometimes it takes
an outsider to remind us of what we really have. Such is the case in
the following article. It is an outsider's view of a trip on the Nevada
Northern Railway. A little extra effort on the part of the crew created
another Nevada Northern supporter.
Robin Garner wrote
the following article. She is a member of the Age
of Steam Railroad Museum in Dallas, Texas. Her article
was originally published in the museum publication "Stack Talk."
What this does is get the word out on the Nevada Northern to the great
state of Texas. Thanks Robin.
Our family travels
west from Texas each summer to visit relatives, National and State
Parks. On our last "Big Trip" we went to Colorado, then
on to Yosemite National Park in California. Though we'd originally
planned to drive through Salt Lake City, Utah, and Reno, Nevada,
my husband suggested we travel instead on US Highway 50 west from
Grand Junction, Colorado, through Ely, Nevada, home of the Nevada
Northern Railway Museum.
That was reason
enough for us to 'switch gears,' and was I glad we did, for I had
the chance to ride in a steam locomotive cab (if I promised to tell
you about it)!
Ely lies in
a quiet, forested valley. The town and surrounding White Pine County
were built on copper mining, which flourished between 1906 and 1981.
The short line Nevada Northern Railway was crucial to area mining
operations. When Kennecott, the last big mine, closed, it gave its
buildings, tracks and rolling stock to the City of Ely, which established
and now supports the museum. Visitors can tour the buildings (forty-four
in all), ride trains on two different 2-hour trips (caboose tickets
available for a higher price) and even operate a diesel or steam
engine on the mainline (sorry, kids, grown-ups only)!
For adults who
can't get enough, you can become a real fireman or engineer through
the engineer-in-training program. I could talk for hours about the
amazing cars, engines, maintenance sheds, and memorabilia we saw,
but I know you're waiting to hear about the engine ride, so . .
to board the train, I asked a crewmember if I could interview him
for this article. He introduced himself as Engineer Dan Cornutt
and asked if I'd like to interview the crew from the cab of steam
engine No. 93 (a 1909 American Locomotive 2-8-0). Did my eyes pop
open! I agreed to ride back down from the mine with the crew after
riding up with my family. Our trip took us out of town, across city
streets, through the curved tunnel, steadily climbing past fields
of horses and abandoned mines to a large mine pit. Here I left the
coach car for the cab (keeping my eyes open for snakes on the tracks
as warnedI didn't see any) and boarded the engine for its
turnaround and trip home.
The cab was
everything I'd expected. It was hot, dirty, exciting . . . and crowded!
In addition to Engineer Dan, Engineer-in-training Allen Jones (from
Lake Tahoe) and Firemen-in-training Jed and Jim Blaylock (a son
and father team from Las Vegas) were preparing the engine for the
lived in Ely; he began as a brakeman with the railroad in 1987,
becoming an engineer in 1990 and a Designated Supervisor of Locomotive
Engineers in 2003. While he trained Mr. Jones, Mr. Jones trained
Jed and his father. All the trainees had rented an engine and loved
the experience so much they began traveling regularly to Ely to
volunteer as brakemen, conductors and hostlers before becoming student
firemen and then engineers (firemen-in-training must choose to work
on either diesel or steam engines).
We first uncoupled
from the train and used a siding to move to the back of the train
(now the front). Mr. Jones was learning to recouple the engine using
the brake and throttle, and the conductor checked each air hose
to make sure the brakes "set and released." Going downhill
the Engineers used both the train brakes and the throttle to set
the trains speed. Kelvin Kerr, an Age of Steam Museum board member,
explained that because steam engines use compression on both sides
of the piston, the throttle brakes the train as well; visit Matt
Keveney's web site, which animates this process!
Mr. Jones said
No. 93 is special because it has a speedometer, installed when No.
93 provided regular passenger service for the Olympic Winter Games
in Salt Lake City. In most steam engines, the engineer gauges speed
"by the seat of his/ her pants."
speed on the NNRY tracks is 15 miles per hour, slowing to 8 miles
per hour on repaired track. (Editor's note: Locomotive 93 has a
speedometer because the FRA now requires it. That new requirement
got us scratching our heads. After all, how are you going to install
a speedometer on a 95 year-old locomotive? The NN Ry's solution
is to use a Global Positioning Satellite speedometer. This truly
brings 93 into the space age.)
As we headed
home, I enjoyed the breeze, the views from the narrow windows and
"door," and watching the crew work! Running a steam engine
is an art learned by doing. Jed said that firing the train is a
"delicate balancing act" requiring one to live for the
future. At the station the fireman services the engine and builds
the fire; it takes five hours of "hostlering" and 1.5
tons of coal to prepare the engine for work. Dirt in the coal "clinkers
up," turning to rock that the crew must dig out using four
moving grates on the firebox floor. On the track, a fireman has
to consider how much steam is available based on the track conditions
ahead and the train being pulled, so there is enough steam to power
the train but not so much that the engine overfires, smoking the
to the pistons, the steam powers the air pumps, brakes, electric
generator (for the lights), whistle, water injector, firebox door,
and bell ringer! If the fireman falls behind or is not paying attention,
the water level can fall below the crown sheet of the firebox, allowing
a hole to burn in the sheet and the boiler to explode. Water is
the fireman's main concern, then; a low fire can always be stoked.
As we started downhill, Jed asked, "Are we blowing it down?"
Flushing condensation and sediment out of the boiler using a blow
down spout helps steam production but can also lower the water level.
I don't recall if we "blew down," but we did not blow
up! Judd Blaylock banked the fire for the night on our way down,
piling coal 3 feet deep inside the firebox door and 1.5 feet out
into the firebox so the coals would stay warm until morning (kids,
can you measure how deep and wide this coal bed would be?). When
the firebox opened, the fire was beautiful-and hot! The fire is
so intense that the firebox is often warm Saturday morning, though
the engine has been idle since Monday night (kids: how much energy
would you have after not "eating" for 4.5 days?).
If you can't
visit Ely this summer, take a fall trip: trains run May through
October. Or, buy the video "Running Steam Locomotives Vol.
II: Passenger Locomotive Road Operation" at our Museum, which
features a workday in the cab of the original Ghost Train of Ely,
Ten Wheeler #40, featuring young hostler Dan Cornutt! An Age of
Steam volunteer can show you a blow down spout on a steam engine,
and though it's oil burning, you can look inside the Frisco's firebox
to see how much coal it might take to keep the fire warm overnight!
Up? Check out these web sites and books for more on steam locomotive
construction, physics, and stories.