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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

 


Three Cheers for Requa!
29 September 2006

by Keith Albrandt

 

Today marks the centennial of the arrival of the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely—a transportation corridor of steel rails four-feet, eight-and-one-half inches wide—connecting the early, twentieth-century, White Pine County frontier with the transcontinental railroad system. The Nevada Northern was a key element ensuring the financial feasibility of mining, milling, and smelting the great porphyry copper deposits of this geographically isolated region, and which, over the better part of the next eight decades, profoundly influenced the economic, civic, and cultural development of the region—and continues to present day.

The individual largely responsible for initiating the transformation of White Pine County into a worldwide giant of industrial copper mining was Mark Lawrence Requa. Born in Virginia City in 1866, the son of Isaac Lawrence Requa, a prominent figure in the Comstock mining region, and Sarah J. (Mower) Requa, educated at Yale, he was president of the Eureka & Palisade Railroad by 1897 overseeing its reorganization through bankruptcy proceedings. With a background in both mining and railroad transportation, the low-grade, copper deposits in the Robinson Mining district drew his attention.

Initially seeking revenue for his E&P Railway through additional mining revenue, Requa's genius was recognizing the potential of the low-grade, copper deposits of the Robinson district in light of the burgeoning electrical age. While Daniel C. Jackling's attempts at profitably mining similar deposits in Utah's Bingham Canyon were at an embryonic stage, Requa monitored the progress in Utah, performed his own experimental tests on local ores, and never wavered in his belief that successful mining in the Robinson district also demanded economical rail transportation between mine and mill, and thence to the nation.

Requa's analysis detailing the extent, richness, and economic feasibility of mining the ore bodies proved exceedingly accurate. However, his projections for the completion of the Nevada Northern between Omar (later Cobre) and Ely proved markedly optimistic and patently mistaken. Nevertheless, uncontrollable circumstances of nature proved the culprit that conspired to make his initial projection that, with grading underway by early September 1905 construction crews would celebrate the New Year holiday in White Pine County's seat, woefully inaccurate. The most severe winter in twenty years coupled with shortages of rail, equipment, and manpower forced construction to a standstill between late December 1905 and early March 1906. Then the Great San Francisco earthquake of April 1906 further depleted construction personnel as many left to lend assistance to the devastated populace of the Bay Area.

SP 2173 and work train decorated on the Friday before Railroad Day.

Impatient after waiting more than a year for the railroad to arrive, residents began celebrations early by decorating SP 2173 and its work train with flags and bunting on Friday, 28 Sept. 1906.

Rapid progress on the line followed through the spring and summer of 1906 and completion of the Nevada Northern to Ely was finally set for the weekend of September 29–30. Even as crews were frantically laying the last rails to the hastily erected temporary depot at the corner of Murry and Garden Streets, the five hundred residents of Ely hosted celebrants almost seven-times their number who converged on the region to welcome the railway into town. A Nevada Northern special whisked hundreds of visitors from outlying regions to the festivities. The first section from Salt Lake City conveyed residents of Zion in an array of passenger cars of including five, luxury Pullman sleepers, three tourist sleepers, and a private car transporting Mr. Requa, railway management, and guests. The second section, originating in Ogden, Utah, awaited a contingent of cars bearing political dignitaries traveling from Carson City to Cobre via the Southern Pacific, and, delayed by repeated problems with the steam locomotive, arrived in Ely some hours behind schedule.

Nevertheless, shortly after three o'clock on that bright, autumn afternoon, now a century past, at a site slightly west of the county courthouse, Mark Requa raised a steel maul and, to the accompaniment of the Star Spangled Banner executed by Held's Military Band, drove the ceremonial last spike—fashioned of copper from local Ruth mine ore. It was done.

Requa realized neither the future completion of the railroad line to the mines near Ruth and the reduction works at McGill nor the first shipment of blister copper in 1908. Corporate maneuvers by the Guggenheim's, then in control of the district, included Requa's "retirement" by December 1906. Nevertheless, it was Requa's vision that is largely responsible for the development of White Pine County's twentieth-century, copper mining enterprise that proved to exceed the wealth of the infamous Comstock Lode, developed towns and settlements throughout the region by providing jobs and wages for generations of workers, and continues today through active mining. Mark Requa's legacy also continues today through the two local museums dedicated to preserving and interpreting the rich heritage of this twentieth-century mining frontier of the West: the East Ely Railroad Depot Museum and the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.

Mark Requa driving the copper spike.

Driving the copper spike.

Mark Requa, as organizer and founder of both the Nevada Consolidated Copper Co. and the Nevada Northern Railway, ensured the end of Ely and surroundings as an isolated frontier. Therefore, as the pioneers of Ely and White Pine County along with their welcomed Utah visitors deemed befitting and appropriate a century past and as further trumpeted in the headline of the White Pine News, let us remember him on this centennial anniversary echoing three cheers for his foresight, perseverance, and resolve: Rah! Rah! Rah! Requa!

 

 

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