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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Friday 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

 


Keeping the Railroad Running
23 September 2005

 

Recently a volunteer expressed concern if there would be a place for volunteers in the future of the museum. His concern started by the increase in staff members that the museum has hired this summer and whether this increase would force out the volunteers.

This is one of the easiest questions to answer. The short answer is a resounding, "Yes, there is a place for volunteers in the museum.

The volunteers are the lifeblood of the museum. Without the volunteers trains would not roll."The reason for the increase in staffing is that the museum is addressing some of the problems that must be solved for the museum to keep growing. The museum has operated over 550 trains so far this year. This increase in operation has brought in desperately needed revenue to address the maintenance concerns of the museum. These concerns run from buildings that need basic utilities like water, sewer, electricity, and heat to maintaining steam locomotives that are over ninety-five years old. Throw into this mix diesel locomotives that are over fifty years old and track that is approaching its centennial; you have a punch list of projects that appears to have no end. Remember we're talking about a fifty-six acre complex with thirty miles of tracks and over seventy pieces of rolling stock. Included are over fifty buildings and structures that all need work done to them.

Excursion train volunteer crew

Volunteers Bob Dallons, Steve Leith, Skip Allen, Tom Henderson, and Jerry Hoover take a moment to pose for a photograph before taking an excursion train out on the line. It is only with the dedication of individuals like these that allows trains to run at the museum.

So based on the needs of the railroad it is very easy for me to answer, yes there will always be a need and a desire for individuals to volunteer their skills and time to keep the railroad rolling.

How will those volunteers be used? Basically, in anyway that they desire. The museum tries to match the desires of the volunteers with the needs of the railroad. And to be frank, most of the volunteers enjoy train service and that's what they volunteer for.

The budget of the museum is very limited; a decision needed to be made on where to spend money for salaries. The decision was to spend the money for staff that could work to maintain the complex and the equipment. This left train operations for the most part to the volunteers. Let's face it, what's more exciting, painting a building or operating a steam locomotive? What's more enjoyable, shoveling out a pit or serving as a conductor on the excursion train? The list is almost endless of the necessary, behind-the-scenes jobs that need to be completed to insure there is an excursion train in front of the depot at train time. And most of these jobs have one thing in common—they are dirty jobs that are repetitive but are integral to the safe operation of the railroad.

That all being said, does this mean that only opportunities open to volunteers are train service and that the staff will only work on maintenance? Short answer, no.

It is the goal of the museum to have all of the employees trained for either train service positions or train support positions. The reason is simple. With the increased operations, volunteers just can't do it alone. Their efforts need to be supported by staff. I'm happy to report we are close approaching that goal of having everyone trained.

At the same time, there is plenty of maintenance work that needs to be done to keep the railroad rolling. Where this is the staff's prime focus, volunteers are welcome to assist in this area. And we do have dedicated volunteers who help on the maintenance.

The amount of work that the staff is facing can be overwhelming. And even though the museum has the largest staff in its history there is an unexpected benefit to having our current staff. The museum has aggressively recruited individuals that are professionals in their field of expertise. What that means is that these individuals are uncovering problems we weren't aware that we even had. So by hiring the best we have actually increased our work load.

In the short term this is very painful. It seems there is no end to the amount of work that needs to be completed. In the long term, it will put the museum on solid footing to develop the complex in such a way that the complex will be here for its bicentennial.

The museum is twenty-one years old this October. It only reached this anniversary because of the dedication and drive of the volunteers. As the museum continues to grow and mature there will always be a place for the volunteers. For without the volunteers we would not be where we are today.

 

 

 

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