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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

 


Hey Buddy, Want to Rent a Locomotive?
27 September 2003

 

An interesting conversation took place at the museum this past week and I thought I would share it with you. The conversation was with a visitor who was disappointed that he could not rent a locomotive.

The original purpose of Kennecott’s gift of the railroad to the community was for the railroad to become an economic generator for White Pine County. We are starting to live up to that promise and it is evident in the conversation with the visitor who was disappointed that he could not rent the locomotive. The reason he could not rent the locomotive was because it was rented solid for that weekend.

Let me provide some background information on the locomotive rental program. It is a very unusual program offered by the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. It is the opportunity for the average person to rent and operate one of our locomotives out on the mainline track from Ely to Keystone or Ely to Adverse. This rare opportunity is expensive: to rent steam locomotive 93 is $550 or you can rent diesel locomotive 109 for $300 (all major credit cards accepted). (Note: Before the phone starts ringing, we do send out a qualified engineer, fireman, and head brakeman with all rentals.) So when you see either locomotive out on the track by itself, that means a person has rented the locomotive for a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to put their hand on the throttle and charge up the mountain.

Locomotives 93 and 109 are available for the average person to rent and head up the hill. The locomotive rental program raises awareness of the museum, raises money for museum projects, and generates income for the community.

Going back to our disappointed visitor, on that particular weekend locomotive 93 was rented out five times and we just could not squeeze in another rental into the schedule; in addition to the five rentals, we also had five excursions running that weekend.

So what does a disappointed visitor and the railroad being an economic generator have to do with each other? It is proof that the railroad is starting to live up to its potential. You see, that weekend did not happen in July or August but in September. The word is getting out of what is available here in Ely. This year we have hit over seventy rentals, almost five times the number of rentals we had last year. These rentals generated over $30,000 in revenue for the railroad.

I can hear you saying, “That’s all well and good for the railroad but how does this help the community?” Easy, because of our remoteness the vast majority of the renters spend at least one night in Ely if not more. Most renters came as a party that includes spouses. That means they went to our restaurants, stores, bought gifts, gas and snacks and generally enjoyed themselves in Ely.

In addition to generating revenues for the museum, the rental program generates awareness. Most rentals are schedule for 7:30 a.m., that means locomotive 93 is heading through town announcing to the world that Ely still has its railroad. Ridership on that morning’s excursion usually receives a little bump on the day that a rental went out. Then you have the renter, telling anyone who will listen back home that I operated a locomotive on mainline track in Ely Nevada.

A side benefit of the rental program is that most of the renters join the museum and then become volunteers. This past week provided a perfect example.

Earlier in the summer, we had two men come out and rent both locomotive 93 and 109. They wanted a complete railroading experience, both diesel and steam. They spent the weekend in Ely with their wives having a great time. They became so excited with the opportunities here that they both joined the museum and offered to volunteer.

So this past week Dennis and Leonard came back to Ely to work on the museum’s track. The have years of railroad experience which we took advantage of, so what did they do? First off, they dug out a road crossing in the yard. This road crossing is on the track going to Keystone. The guardrails had come loose and were pulled out in the spring. Now it was time to reinstall the guardrails. So they dug out the crossing, spiked in the guardrails back in place, dumped new ballast, and leveled everything out. Sounds like a simple project, but was a critical project that needed to be completed this fall. Without the guard rails in place, snow and ice could build up on that crossing to such a depth that the ice could derail a locomotive.

Next up was replacing a point rail on the switch to the rip track. The point rail was worn out to such an extent that it was becoming a hazard. But before the point rail could be changed out, the question needed to be answered, “do we have another one?” So Dennis and Leonard spend a day going through the yard and inventorying all of our track parts, and guess what? We did have a new point rail. So then they replaced the point rail.

There is a cross over track in the yard that lets a locomotive go from one side of the yard to the other without having to run down to almost the ore yard. This crossover has been out of service for years; Dennis and Leonard put it back in service. Now we can move equipment quickly across the yard.

So what did this cost the museum? Not one thin dime--it did cost Dennis and Leonard. They paid for airline tickets, rented a car, rented a motel room, purchased meals and oh yes, they also purchased memberships in the museum so they could have the pleasure of doing hard back breaking work. (Tom Sawyer has nothing on the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.)

So we are beginning to live up to the promise of becoming an economic generator for White Pine County. Next year we will do more rentals, increase our ridership, and maintain more of the structures that are part of the museum.

So buddy, do you want to rent a locomotive?

 

Help Needed

A project at the museum is putting the ash pit back in service. Thanks to T.J. Lani who knew where the original ash pit was and Keith Carson who dug out the pit. I now have a big hole in the ground and a small problem: I don’t know what the track structure looked like that went over the ash pit. If you know what it looked like or might have a picture of the structure please let me know.

 

 

 

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