With the snow beginning to appear on the mountains around Ely, you would think that the museum would start slowing down; that's simply not the case. We still have two weekends of excursions yet and there are two Haunted Ghost Trains yet to go.
To give you an idea of how busy we are, last Saturday we ran five trains followed on Sunday by six trains. As you read this ridership on the trains will break through 11,000 passengers. This is the third year of increased ridership that the museum has experienced and the trains are still rolling. In November, we have our annual Food Train and six Polar Express Trains. Then in December, there are two weekends of Polar Express trains. That means Steam Locomotive 93 will be making a total of nine trips to the North Pole to visit with Santa. By the time the last train comes back to the East Ely Depot, I would expect that over 12,500 people would have ridden the Ghost Train of Old Ely this year.
The museum has emphasized ridership and frankly, we have overlooked the people who come to visit the facility and don't ride the train for one reason or another. This year that number of visitors will break through 15,000. So, between train passengers and visitors over 27,500 have experienced the best-preserved rail facility left in America. That is a gaggle of people to say the least.
If this trend continues, then by our Centennial in 2006, we could have 25,000 passengers and 20,000 visitors for a combined total of 45,000 people coming to Ely to experience the Ghost Train. Of course, to handle that amount of people, the museum will need to prepare now.
Our biggest challenge to handling that many people is restrooms. Currently on the weekends, there are two restrooms available to the public--one for women and one for men. On busy days, there are lines outside both. So next year we will have to bring in Porta-Potties for the season. Not the best solution to say the least. So, the museum has a $67,000 grant application in for remodel of the boiler building that is just west of the depot into restrooms. This grant if funded will kill three birds with one stone: it will solve our toilet problem; it will turn an unused building into a contributing building; and it will take pressure off the depot's restrooms. With luck the grant will be funded in 2005 and the restrooms completed by the fall of the same year.
Also on the building front, work is continuing on the enginehouse/machine shop building. Once this work is complete, the building should last for another one hundred years. The museum has received a donation to repair the windows in the RIP building. This work should be done in the next couple of weeks. The Rotary Club of Ely has adopted the Scale House building. The building has new window frames and a new door. The missing metal has been replaced. The wood has been primed and new windows should be going in soon. When the sun comes back, the building will receive a new coat of paint.
Speaking of painting, the car cleaners building received a new coat of paint this fall. In addition, the switchmen's building at the East Ely Junction was cleaned up. The picnic tables also received new paint along with the fire hydrant next to the depot. The flagpole received new paint and new flags.
In addition to painting, weeding was high on the list of projects that were completed recently. Most of the yard has been mowed. Sagebrush and weeds in the main part of the yard have been taken out. The yard looks better now than it has for years. In the process of cleaning up the yard, the cars were taken off the coaling tower lead and put in the ore yard. This will let us evaluate all of the cars and come up with a repair plan car by car.
Speaking of cars, we now have four of the ACF boxcars with the air brakes now working. One of the cars was painted this fall and will be lettered before the photo shoot in December. Also, all of the freight cars that we use for our photo freight were gone through car by car. We did this because we hosted a two-day photo charter the first week of October.
Speaking of the first weekend of October, that weekend really separated the men from the boys. It was a Murphy's Law weekend. Anything that could go gone wrong did go wrong. We suffered three hotboxes that weekend. A hotbox is a railroad car axle's bearing that overheats and literally turns the journal box hot! Sometimes it is so hot that the journal box can burst into flames and melt off the end of the axle. So we suffered a hotbox on one of the boxcars, on Coach 5 and on the Ely car. In the five years I've been involved with the railroad we have never suffered a hotbox. So three in one weekend was unusual, to say the least.
The boxcar was set out and brought back in on Sunday. The hotbox on Coach 5 was repaired Saturday night and the hotbox on the Ely car was repaired on Sunday. All trains ran; some ran late, but at the end of the weekend, all had a good time.
On the locomotive front, 93 is still steaming but will need some work over the winter months. Steam Locomotive 40's restoration is continuing. 40 should be back steaming for the 2005 season. Locomotive 105 has been winterized. And locomotive 109 is now down for maintenance. Locomotive 204 is now back in service and will be the principle locomotive used during the winter months.
With nine Polar Express Trains, a steam locomotive restoration, and enginehouse stabilization, it promises to be a busy winter as we gear up for our pre-Centennial year. If you're looking for something to do, come on down, we'll put you to work.
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Railway - Ely, Nevada