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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in 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

 


Are You a Member?
29 October 2008

 

I am often asked, "How can you afford to operate a steam-era railroad in rural Nevada in the 21st century?" Well, there's no two ways about it—it is a monumental undertaking. The size and the scope of the railroad are unbelievable. So how do we do it?

One of our secrets is a strong, vibrant membership program. Without the financial support of our members, our steam locomotives would have been retired, trains would not run, and buildings would have collapsed. This tragedy did not happen here because of the commitment of our members, it is that simple.

Members from across the country have committed their time and money to what is considered the most historically significant railroad left in the country. This may appear to be pretty bold statement. But the reality is—amazingly—the Nevada Northern Railway survived to the twenty-first century unscathed. It remains essentially unaltered by modern upgrades or demolitions and it is thriving.

The museum is thriving because individuals decided that it needed to be preserved. They were proactive by becoming members of the museum. I invite you to join with us and become a member of the museum. Support the railroad through your membership and receive great benefits including free admission and discounts throughout the museum.

Your membership will help preserve sixty-six buildings and structures on fifty-six acres with thirty miles of track. It will help preserve the three original steam locomotives, the five original, first generation diesel locomotives, and two original electric locomotives.

These locomotives are housed in their original engine house and they are repaired in the original machine shop, using the original machines and tooling. Then when they're fired up, they operate on the original right-of-way going through an original timber lined tunnel.

And behind the locomotives come the original rolling stock. There are over one hundred pieces in the collection with the oldest being 136 years old. But what truly sets us apart is the paper record of the railroad. This paper collection is a treasure trove made up of the day-to-day record of the railroad. A small example is the payroll records. They are hand written in ink with a copperplate script! It is as if you are looking over the shoulder of the people who worked here.

The first wheel center is now on the first axle. The complete rebuild of the 93's running gear was made possible in part because of member contributions.


This distinctiveness raises the railroad to the level of being a national treasure. And that's not just my opinion. It's also the opinion of one of our members, William L. Withuhn, Curator, History of Technology & Transportation at the Smithsonian Institution. Before he became a member, Mr. Withuhn stated, "Among all railroad historic sites anywhere in North America, the Nevada Northern Railway complex at East Ely is—no question in my mind—the most complete, most authentic, and best cared-for, bar none. It's a living American treasure and a stand-out one."

Bill can attest to the fact that the Nevada Northern Railway has a powerful draw on people. His statement was validated by the federal government. The railroad has been designated a National Historic Landmark. This is the highest honor the government can bestow on a historic property. National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. This is high praise indeed.

Now the biggest challenge facing the museum is its steam locomotives. We are working hard to get locomotive 93 back in operation. On January 6, 1909, the White Pine News published the following: "BIG ENGINE COMING—Engine 93, the fourth of the monster type in use in the ore train service, will be started from the Pittsburg shops of the American Locomotive Co. on the 15th of this month for East Ely…."

Imagine, that after nearly a century of service, not being able to see that "monster engine," locomotive 93, steam again. Last year after the discovery of cracks in the drive axles, locomotive 93 was condemned. It won't be able to steam until the axles are repaired.

When we began making repairs last year, we were committed to a revolutionary concept—it was time to make repairs that would last for decades. After all, locomotive 93 is turning 100 years old in January 2009; we wanted her in tiptop shape for another century of steaming.

If you have ever worked on something old, you know the more you get into it the more you find wrong. And that's what we found. The deeper we went into the running gear, the more we found that needed to be made right. The problems weren't just the axles. Frankly, it was just about everything, and this wasn't a surprise; after all, locomotive 93 was approaching its centennial. In fact, two of the axles were head stamped 12-30-08 as in 1908.

After nearly a century of service, the running gear was worn out. In addition to the axles, we needed to tackle the drive boxes, the crown brasses, the shoes, the wedges, the wheel centers, the crank pins, the spring rigging, the rod bearings, the cross heads, and the cross head guides. Everything would either be refurbished or replaced.

As proud as I am at what we have already accomplished your help is needed in putting locomotive 93 back on the rails. Right now, she is suspended in mid-air with no wheels under her. It is disquieting to see her that way to say the least.

We are approximately three months away from locomotive 93's 100th birthday. The new axles are done. The wheel centers are done. The spring rigging is ready. We are ready to reassemble the locomotive but additional funds are needed so we can finish.

Our commitment to doing it right is costing more then we estimated. And candidly, let's face it; this is not a really big surprise. Rebuilding a steam locomotive in the twenty-first century is a challenge. You don't go to Auto Zone for parts.

Locomotive 93's parts need to be custom made, machined, fitted, checked, machined again, fitted, and checked. This is craftsmanship on a huge scale—the tolerances are unbelievably precise. This level of craftsmanship is very expensive.

We're just about there and if you join us, we'll get 93 back on her wheels and steaming in time for her Centennial Celebration, January 17, 2009.

Membership donations provide critical funding to the museum. This is how we keep a steam railroad operating in the twenty-first century. Your membership contribution will allow us to get 93 steaming again. Now is the time to join the museum at the highest level that you can afford.

Members at the $30 level or higher receive a tangible keepsake: the 2009 Limited Edition Locomotive 93 Centennial Coin with a Certificate of Authenticity. It was struck on the original United States Mint Coin Press #1 in Carson City and bears the world famous 'CC' mintmark. This is the first coin in the Nevada Northern Railway locomotive series.

Preserving this rich historical treasure is a continuing challenge. It has survived only because of the financial support received from people like you. This commitment has made it possible for the Nevada Northern Railway to steam into its second century. Please don't delay—the clock is ticking. I invite you to join with over two thousand individuals from across the country and become a member of the Nevada Northern Railway National Historical Landmark. Your gift will keep the traditions of steam railroading alive for future generations. And with your help, locomotive 93 will steam into her second century.

A tangible keepsake of membership is the Locomotive 93 Centennial Coin struck on the Carson City coin press and featuring the "CC" mintmark. Available in 0.999 fine silver or in solid copper.


Recently, the Nevada Division of Museums and History announced that the East Ely Railroad Depot Museum in Ely is to close July 1, 2009. This state museum manages only two of the buildings on the complex. The Nevada Northern Railway Museum manages everything else. While the state has plans to close the depot, we're working hard to keep the railroad vibrant. If you want to keep the Nevada Northern steaming into its second century, then join us. It's easy: stop by the Museum at 1100 Avenue A, give us a call at (775) 289-2085, or go online to www.nnry.com.

 

 

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