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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

 


A Saturday in October
14 October 2005

 

It was suppose to be a regular Saturday—nothing fancy. The first warnings that it wouldn't be a normal Saturday actually started on Tuesday. When preparing the crew schedule for the weekend, I noticed a flock? a gaggle? or a multitude of locomotives rentals for Saturday. (I'm not sure how locomotive rentals come, maybe a pack?) There were five locomotives rentals scheduled for Saturday. I thought this was unusual, and I was curious who the dimwitted individual was that scheduled so many rentals. The investigation proved rather short. It was I. I couldn't believe why I had scheduled so many rentals on the same day. Then I remembered, "Oh yeah, people were trying to give me hundreds dollars for the privilege to operate one of our locomotives."

All of these people were making a special trip to Ely, to do just that, and I didn't want to disappoint them. Also, the museum can use every dollar it can get its hands on; the money chase never ends.

In any case, the first two rentals were scheduled for 7:00 a.m. We had a steam and a diesel rental and luckily, we have two branches. Locomotive 40 headed to Ruth and locomotive 109 headed toward McGill. I was in my office on a conference call and starting at 8:30 a.m. passengers were starting to show up. When passengers show up so early it's usually a sign that we will have a busy day. Things were going well.

Both locomotives were in the yard by 9:00 a.m. Locomotive 109 was parked on track pass 1. Locomotive 40 went around the wye and headed for her train. At 9:30 a.m., locomotive 40 whistled off and headed for Ruth with sixty-six passengers. Things were going very well indeed.

By 11:30 a.m., Locomotive 40 was back. She pushed down to the enginehouse and the passengers who wanted a tour got off the train. Then she pulled forward to the depot to discharge the rest of the passengers. She was cut off the train. She then ran the wye and headed to the enginehouse for water. As 40 was getting water, the crew for locomotive 204 was at the enginehouse getting locomotive 204 ready for the 1:00 p.m. train.

Locomotive 40 and train in front of the East Ely depot

Here's locomotive 40 and her train. On this Saturday in October, 40 will make four journeys up the hill.

While the crews were getting the locomotives ready for their next runs, I was giving a guided walking tour of the machine shop, enginehouse, and RIP building. (And no, RIP doesn't stand for rest in peace, but repair in place.) While we were in the RIP building locomotive 204 came down the north side of the building heading for the train while locomotive 40 was heading for the Master Mechanic's building to get water for her 12:30 p.m. rental.

As the tour group left the RIP building and looked down to the depot, there was quite the sight to see. Locomotive 204 was coupling to her train on the main. Locomotive 109 was still on pass 1 waiting for her departure time of 1:30 p.m. and locomotive 40 was on pass 2 preparing for her 12:30 p.m. departure. There were three locomotives in front of the depot all preparing for their different departure times.

As 12:30 p.m. rolled around locomotive 40 whistled of for her third trip to Ruth of the day. Then at 1:00 p.m. locomotive 204 whistled off to head towards McGill. There were 19 passengers onboard. Then at 1:30 p.m., locomotive 109 came to life and whistled off.

Remember earlier that I mentioned how the museum only has two branches? Well here was the third train departing East Ely with two trains already on the track. Locomotive 109 had train orders for Lane City. At Lane City, we have a passing siding. Her orders stated she was cleared to Lane City on the mainline, but could not proceed past or foul the south switch unless locomotive 40 was on the siding. If locomotive 40 was on the siding, then locomotive 109 could proceed to Keystone.

The reason for the order was that locomotive 40 had similar orders. Her train orders stated she was cleared from East Ely to Keystone to Lane City. Locomotive 40 was to go into the siding and stay there until locomotive 109 passed her going southbound. Once locomotive 109 passed the siding, locomotive 40 had clearance to proceed to East Ely.

This was the plan. This is called a meet and railroads do it day in and day out throughout the country. One train will take a siding or hold the mainline until the opposing train gets out of the way. The Nevada Northern use to do it also during the heyday.

For the museum, meets were very rare occurrences. But they are becoming more and more frequent as business continues to increase. To require a meet in October is very unusual but necessary; it's 2:00 p.m. and we have three trains out on the line.

By 2:30 p.m., locomotive 40 is now heading into the East Ely yard. She had to wait at Lane City about ten minutes for locomotive 109 to get there. Locomotive 109 passed 40 and continued up to Keystone. By 3:00 p.m. locomotive 204 is approaching the East Ely yard. And by 3:30 p.m. locomotive 109 is heading in to the East Ely yard. Locomotive 40 runs the wye and heads for the house. Her day is not quite done yet—we have the first Haunted Ghost Train this evening.

Meanwhile, locomotive 204 cuts off her train and prepares to head back up the line towards McGill with the last rental of the day. Locomotive 109 heads to the house to tie-up for the night.

By 6:00 p.m., locomotive 40 is once more in front of the East Ely Depot coupled to the train. Brakes are checked and the train is prepared for another journey to Keystone. This is a special journey. It's after dark and who knows what ghosts and goblins may lie in wait for the unsuspecting passengers on the Haunted Ghost Train? Its 7:00 p.m. and locomotive 40 whistles off with 78 souls aboard heading to Keystone.

By 8:45 p.m. locomotive 40 is once again in front of the East Ely Depot. We've made it back from the Haunted Ghost Train. After the passengers are discharged, locomotive 40 once more heads to the house. By 9:30 p.m. locomotive 40 is all tucked in and the crew is all tuckered out.

The day had started very early. At 3:00 a.m., the hostlers had reported to work getting locomotive 40 ready for the day. Here it is eighteen-and-a-half hours later and locomotive 40 just finished her day. She won't slumber for very long because in a mere five-and-a-half hours the hostlers will show up to get her ready for her first trip at 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning.

On this Saturday in October, eight trains were dispatched from East Ely. They traveled 133 miles, carried 173 passengers, and brought $4,676 into the museum's coffers. For all of this to happen dedicated men and women started their day early or ended their day late in the evening. We had hostlers, engineers, firemen, brakemen, conductors, gift shop people, administration people, shop people, track people, ghosts, and goblins with staff and volunteers who gave their all so eight trains would operate, and 173 people would have a great day. This is a glimpse of just one day. As the museum grows, this type of day will become the rule and not the exception. It promises to be an interesting journey.

 

 

 

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