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


The E-Ticket Ride Continues
29 July 2009

"Since the 1950s, the phrase E Ticket (or E ticket ride) has referred to an unusually interesting, thrilling, or expensive experience." —Wikipedia

That definition pretty much summarizes what it is like running a complex of 19th century technology in the 21st century—interesting, thrilling, or expensive. Yep, that sums it up alright.

I used the expression E Ticket when I recapped last year here at the railroad. So I thought I would pick up where I left off. The ride has only continued.

On December 28th, locomotive 93 rolled out of the enginehouse under steam for the first time since July 2007. Additional testing was done the next day and 93 came through with flying colors. So the year ended with one of our steam locomotives back in operation.

January started with a bang! Governor Jim Gibbons proclaimed January 17, 2009 Locomotive 93 Day in recognition of its 100th Birthday! The governor was kind enough to come to Ely and christen the locomotive 93 with a bottle of champagne. After the christening, we loaded up and headed up the hill with the birthday train. We had a special birthday float with cannon and a fireworks car. On the way back down to Ely, we launched the fireworks from a moving train! We lit up the town! And the community responded. Thousands of people turned out to witness the celebration.

But unbeknownst to us, we had a ticking time bomb. Every time we operated the locomotive, we were constantly checking the temperatures of the axles and crown brasses. Our big annual winter event is the Winter Photo Shoots. In 2008, the photo shoots went on but we didn't have any steam. Now in 2009, we were back in the steam business. We had photographers from around the country and overseas in Ely. Friday morning, February 6, dawned clear and cold, the shop forces prepared No. 93 for a locomotive rental before the photo shoots. Everything was set for a great weekend.

Locomotive 93 headed up the hill putting on a great show. After the rental, locomotive 93 headed back to the shop for water and another check of the axles and then our ticking time bomb exploded, disaster struck. Axle number 2 measured 290 degrees. In seven miles, it had shot up two hundred degrees with the ambient temperature just over freezing. Something was seriously amiss. The rest of the axles were fine. What was wrong?

At first, we suspected lubrication failure, but all of the crown brasses had grease grooves and they had all been well packed in grease. When we dropped axle two it was very evident that the crown brass had completely failed. The brass was peeling up in layers and sand was found on the bearing surface. (The bearings had been sand cast.)

We analyzed the new crown brasses and the old crown brasses. The result of the analysis showed that the new crown brasses had been made out of a material called leaded red brass alloy. Leaded red brass alloy is used for pump components, small gears, water impellers, housings, marine fittings and ornamental fixtures.

The analysis of the old crown brasses showed they were made from bearing grade bronze. Bearing grade bronze is designed for bushings for lubrication, crankshaft main bearings, and locomotive bearing parts. It was obvious that the wrong material had been used for the crown brasses. They would all have to be replaced. There was some good news—all of the axles were fine; they were not damaged. In March, all of the axles were dropped, and the crown brasses replaced with the proper material. This was the expensive part of the E-Ticket.

This shows the crown brass in the drive box. The crown brass is being polished in preparation for reassembly.

April is the start of our excursion season and it was notable for three reasons. First, we'd have steam for this excursion season, and secondly we made history. On April 12 at 1:00 p.m., the first regularly scheduled passenger train to operate on the mainline going north since July 31, 1941 left East Ely. It followed the normal northbound route to Hiline Junction. Then at the junction, it continued down the mainline heading for McGill Junction. Our long-term plan is to put the train back in service to the McGill Depot. The third event in April was White Pine Weekend. This is the weekend where all citizens of the county are invited to come down to the railroad for a free ride. The weekend was a smashing success. Four hundred thirty-five people rode that weekend; a good time was had by all. April this year was our best April ever. I hoped that this was an indication that 2009 would be a good year.

Ridership in May continued to climb. We were having our best season ever! Yet, there was trouble; axle 4 was running hot on the fireman's side. Memorial Day Weekend was our first members' weekend and it was a smashing success. By the end of May, we had an increase of 91% in ridership and we needed to take locomotive 93 out of service because axle 4 would not cool down. Typical for us, a high, then followed by a low.

If there ever is a contest for dropping locomotive drivers, I'd enter the Nevada Northern Railway shop crew. They're fast at dropping locomotive drivers. They lowered axle 4 and put it on the shop floor. The bearing was stuck on the axle on the fireman's side. The other bearing came off fine. The bearing and axle were in excellent shape. We got the fireman's side bearing off the axle and examined it.

The axle was fine, the bearing looked good, so what was causing it to run hot?! A call to Wasatch Railroad Contractors brought John Rimmasch to Ely. John has a long history with locomotive 93 dating from 1999.

The crown brass is in the drive box, which then sits on the axle. The drive box is the interface between the axle and the locomotive frame. In between the drive box and frame are parts called shoes and wedges.

Because we could not get the drive box off easily, it was evident that the box was crushed around the axle. Not bad, but it was crushed. So what caused the problem? Was it the axle, the crown brass, the drive box, the shoes and wedges or the frame? Upon close examination of the frame, it was discovered that the frame had a very slight dish in it causes by wedges. It was not visible to the naked eye but put a straight edge on the frame and it stood out like a sore thumb. As the locomotive goes down the track the box moves up and down in the frame. As the box moves up and down so does the wedge. When the wedge when up as it was suppose to do, it got stuck between the box and the frame. This then caused the box to be crushed.

The repair was simple. Smooth the frame, uncrush the box, and polish the crown brass and the axle. Then reassemble everything and cross your fingers. Locomotive 93 was fired up and headed up the hill and everything was fine. Since that repair, locomotive 93 has performed flawlessly—in the running gear department. But as Gwyneth likes to say, "A steam locomotive is a diva: high maintenance and expensive."

After the excursion on June 19th, a new problem developed. Water was pouring into the firebox. For many reasons this is not good. First off, it is hard to keep a fire going when you're spraying it with water. And no fire means no steam and no steam means no go. After letting the locomotive cool down so repairs could be made, the shop staff got right on it. By Saturday morning locomotive 93 was steaming again. But I've gotten ahead of myself.

While locomotive 93 was down with the bearing problem, locomotive 109 developed a water leak in a cooling jacket so we were down to one locomotive—204. June was the first Adult RailCamp of the year. This is a joint program with the National Railway Historical Society. Twelve adults from across the country came to Ely to experience heritage railroading up close and personal. They had long days and short nights. They got a first hand look at dealing with 19th century technology. By the end of the week, we got fifteen ties installed, a passenger coach needle scaled on one side, and various other projects completed. The campers got sore muscles and a sense of accomplishment. There is still room available in the fall session.

Then the heavens opened up. June had seventeen days of rain! Rain in the high desert—we were all growing webbed feet! The rain literally put a damper on our ridership for June. We still had an increase for June; it was only 8% but that was better than nothing. So far this year we still had a 53% increase going.

Then came the 4th of July. This is traditionally a big weekend for us and this year it didn't disappoint. We offer a BBQ before we load everyone up on the train to go watch the fireworks. It looked like the weather was going to cooperate…until we started boarding, then the heavens opened up! It was raining so hard, I had a waterfall flowing off my conductor's hat. It looked like I was wearing a veil. There we were almost three hundred passengers boarding a train in a cloudburst. It was memorable, to say the least. No one complained and we got everyone aboard.

Passenger revenue alone will not keep the doors open. This revenue needs to be supplemented. We are constantly writing grants and fund raising. Since the beginning of the year, we have received $296,368 in grants. This money will be used for marketing as well as equipment, building, and infrastructure repairs.

One of the grants was $50,000 from Barrick Gold to be used as a challenge grant. It was with a little trepidation that letters were sent out to our members and friends asking them to match the gift from Barrick. After all, with the economy in the doldrums, what would happen?

I'm extremely glad to report that we not only met the Barrick challenge but we doubled it! From May 29th through July 15, 2009, we raised $103,496.72! This money was then immediately invested in various projects on the railroad.

In July, we were featured in two major publications: American Profile magazine (with a national distribution) and the Salt Lake Tribune. Both articles help spread the story of the railroad far and wide.

Interesting, thrilling, or expensive is a good description of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Boring is never an option.

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