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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

 


Centennial Recap
06 October 2006

The tents are gone and so are the crowds. The Centennial Celebration is behind us. For those of you who could not make it to Ely for the Centennial Celebration, you missed one heck of a party.

Set up started on Thursday with the closing Avenue A and setting up the tents. The tents were ordered months ago, just in case the weather would not cooperate for the weekend's activities. As it turned out, weather was not a concern for the weekend. Friday and Saturday had bright blue skies without a cloud to be found and temperatures in the high 70s. Sunday the clouds rolled in with highs in the low 70s. By Sunday night, clouds were heavy and it rained. By the time the rain hit, the tents were gone and the museum was starting to get back to normal.

Initial planning for the Centennial started back in 2003. It was decided to have three days of events: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The event would focus heavily on trains, food, and music. Since we did not want to gamble on the weather, we decided to get tents to have shelter if needed.

The tents actually had historical precedence. Ely in 1906 did not have enough lodging for everyone to stay in hotels, so tents were put up for lodging. A century later, we put the tents up to provide shelter in case the weather didn't cooperate. As it turned out, we should have used the tents to provide lodging too. There was not a motel room to be had Saturday night and people who wanted to attend could not.

For the Centennial to be a success, the museum would need manpower. Appeals had gone out to the volunteers and they responded with vigor, which was great because everyone was needed. Volunteers started to arrive by Wednesday. On Thursday, volunteers went through the equipment and cleaned everything. In fact, the locomotives were even waxed.

To get ready for the Centennial, the grounds needed to be cleaned up and the equipment had to be shiny. The weekend before the festivities, the railroad hosted public land days. A small army hit the railroad complex, pulled weeds, picked up trash, and finished the kiosk.

At 3:30 a.m. Friday morning, the first of the shop crew showed up to get the steamers out the door. By 8:30 a.m., the steamers were hooked up to their trains and the tempo started to pick up. People were arriving to ride on the first Centennial trains of the weekend. Two trains were scheduled: a VIP train at 9:00 a.m. with the first Centennial train at 9:15 a.m. Both trains left the yard on time, and went up the hill. Meanwhile back at East Ely last minute touches were being done at the plaza by the depot to get ready for the Copper Spike Ceremony.

Time just sped by and at 10:15 a.m. you could hear locomotive 40 blow for the Lackawanna crossing. By 10:30 a.m. locomotive 40 was back at the depot as locomotive 93 blew for the Lackawanna crossing. And this was the start of our first trick of the weekend. The plan was to have locomotives 40 and 93 face each other during the festivities. For this to happen, locomotive 93 would need to uncouple from its train, run around the wye, couple back up, pump the train back up, test air brakes, and then proceed to the depot. They had just twenty minutes for this procedure. Meanwhile the passengers from locomotive 40 would be milling around the plaza waiting for locomotive 93 to make its appearance and the start of the festivities.

Locomotive 93 and train showed up on time without a hitch. Now it was time for the festivities to begin. Of course, you can't have a Centennial Celebration without speeches. A hundred years ago there were hours of speeches. That would not fly in 2006 so the speakers kept their remarks mercifully short.

I spoke on the railroad museum and read congratulatory letters from United States Senator Harry Reid and State Senator Dina Titus. David Tilford spoke on the founding of the railroad museum. (Dave was the first chairman of the management board.) Then Ralph Requa, grandson of Mark Requa, spoke and read Governor Kenny Guinn's Proclamation declaring September 29, 2006 Nevada Northern Railway Day.

Sean Pitts, Director if the East Ely Depot Museum was dressed as Mark Requa and spoke to the crowd about building of the railroad and the influence the railroad had on the growth of White Pine County and the City of Ely.

After the speeches, it was time to drive in the Ceremonial Copper Spike. As it turns out, we all should have practiced. David Tilford, Ralph Requa, Sean Pitts, and myself all took turns of hitting the spike and we all missed. Sean finally drove it home.

After the Copper Spike Ceremony, locomotives 40 and 93 pulled together until just four feet separated their pilots and then Sean Pitts as Mark Requa broke a bottle of champagne on the Copper Spike.

As the speeches were going on, behind the crowd the staff and volunteers were getting the free Centennial BBQ ready. Then everyone had a chance to eat; we feed close to 350 people. At 2:30 p.m., the second Centennial train loaded up and headed up the hill.

In the midst of all of the Centennial activities, the business of the railroad needed to continue. And one of those business items was a charter and dinner for Friday night. So at 5:30 p.m. locomotive 93 whistled off on the charter. By the time the charter and dinner was done and the locomotive put away, it was a little after 10:00 p.m. and the first day was over.

After a short night, crews showed up at the engine house at 3:30 a.m. to start a new day of railroading. Today would be a max effort. In addition to trains, we would serve three meals: a pancake breakfast, hotdogs during the day, and the Centennial Dinner that evening.

There would be three trains running all day. Locomotive 40 with two cabooses would run between the White Pine Public Museum and the East Ely Depot. Locomotive 93 would haul three Centennial Trains up to the mine and Locomotive 109 would haul two Centennial trains, and then that evening haul the last Oktoberfest train.

The schedule was tight. There could be no screw-ups. Because locomotives 93 and 109 had to meet at Lane City, if one train was late, it would impact the next train. If that train became late, it could ripple through the schedule until all trains were late. At the same time locomotive 40 needed to stay out of the way of 93 and 109.

To make things that much more exciting, Quadra's Robinson mine was offering tours of the mine complex. People could ride the train to the mine, get off, tour the mine, and ride the next train back to East Ely. So in addition to coordinating meets, we needed to coordinate mine buses to meet the train, drop people off, pick people up, and stay on schedule. And there were two Copper Spike reenactments scheduled for Saturday.

The first train left ten minutes late but made up the time going up the hill. The second train left a few minutes late and things were looking good. The second train had barely left the station when it encountered a horse on the fill. Because the fill is high and narrow, there was nowhere for the horse to go to get out of the way. So 109 had to follow the horse off the fill. Now, they were really late and it looked like the entire schedule would come unraveled with the second train. But that was not to be. Time was made up and everything stayed on scheduled.

Staying on schedule was one thing. But steam locomotive 93 threatened to derail the schedule because it needed to be turned and watered after every trip. This was taken care of by having a switchman at East Ely junction, to throw the switches so the locomotive could move around the wye as quickly as possible. When 93 hit the station, the water hose was attached to start filling the tender before the first passenger got off. As the passengers were getting off, Mark Requa made an appearance and another Copper Spike Ceremony was held. This time it was Mark Requa, Senator Newton Requa Russell, and his granddaughter to drive the copper spike.

A couple more challenges occurred at 5:00 p.m. when locomotive 93 was due back with the last mine train. Once she pulled into the station, the passengers would be unloaded and the dinner tables in one coach needed to be set up because the train was heading for the last Oktoberfest train at 6:00 p.m. And at the freight barn, the silent auction ended at 5:00 p.m. So we had about 150 people in the freight barn to complete the silent auction. Meanwhile others were preparing the Oktoberfest train and a third group was setting up in the tents for the Centennial Dinner to start at 6:00 p.m.

Well the auction wrapped up at 5:35 p.m., the Centennial Dinner started at 6:00 p.m., and the Oktoberfest train pulled out twelve minutes late. At the dinner, over 400 people were fed and another 80 enjoyed German food on the Oktoberfest train. After people were feed, it was time for the night's entertainment—David John and the Comstock Cowboys. Right at 8:00 p.m., the Cowboys took the stage and gave a smashing concert. Meanwhile the Oktoberfest train came back in and some of the patrons from it came and joined the concert.

By 10:40 p.m. the concert was done. Now it was time to pick up and close down for the night. For at 3:30 a.m. the shop crews came in to get the locomotives ready for their third day of steaming.

By 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning, people were starting to fill the plaza. Our band from Saturday, Stuck in Reverse, played gospel music as the crew got everything ready for the 9:30 a.m. train. Since we had two steam locomotives hot, in addition to running the Centennial trains, we also offered locomotive rentals. So all day Sunday steam locomotives 93 and 40 went up and down the hill. Loco 93 pulled two Centennial Trains, and did two rentals. Locomotive 40 did three rentals. Meanwhile after the 9:30 a.m. train had left, the tents came down and general clean up started.

By 6:00 p.m. the last locomotive was put away, the tents were gone, and silence had once again returned. It was a busy weekend. The museum carried 707 passengers. Saturday was our big day—368 passengers which might be a record for one day. Over 2,100 people visited the property. All in all, a grand time was had by all.

 

 

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