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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

 


Annual Report — Part I
18 November 2005

 

Recently, the Museum had its annual Volunteer Banquet. It is a time for the museum to show its appreciation to the volunteers that make the museum, the success that it is. It is only through the dedication of the volunteers that allows the museum to operate on the aggressive schedule that we have had.

It is also a time for contemplation on what the museum was able to accomplish this past year. The first step is to realize what we are supposed to be doing. This is summed up best in our Mission Statement, "The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is dedicated to the restoration, preservation, interpretation, and operation of the Nevada Northern Railway historic facilities, yards, and rail collection. This evolving museum gives people the opportunity to experience a world-class, historic, working railroad."

When we talk about the museum, most people naturally think of the steam locomotives and the train rides. But the museum is much, much more. It actually consists of 56 acres with 64 buildings and structures. The collection contains 3 steam locomotives, 6 diesel locomotives, 2 electric locomotives, and 60 antique pieces of rolling stock. The museum is also responsible for 30 miles of track that includes 2 tunnels, 6 road crossings, including 2 with crossings signals. Last year a value was placed on the complex; the complex is worth $7,143,523 in 1984 dollars. The complex was donated to the City of Ely and the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation on October 23, 1984 by Kennecott.

A strong organization is vital to the success of the Museum. The Management Board consists of John Gianoli, Chairman; Steven Leith, Vice-Chairman; members are Patti Heinbaugh, Jerrold "Jerry" Meyer, and Scott G. Mahalick.

The current staff members are: Mark S. Bassett, Executive Director; David Griner, Chief Mechanical Officer; Evva Schaefer, Office Manager; Sharon Tilley, Gift Shop; Joan Bassett, Curator; Al Gledhill, Shop Foreman; Jason Lamb, Mechanical Depot; Chris Brophy, Mechanical Depot; Charles Peartree, Roadmaster; Ed Shurtliff, Track Inspector; Kurt Schuall, Track Worker; and Natasha Bettis, Buildings and Grounds Manager.

As mentioned earlier, the volunteers are the key to the operations of the museum. The museum currently has 119 active volunteers. In 2004, the volunteers gave to the museum 17,311.4 hours of their time. To date in 2005, we have received 14,017 hours from the volunteers. This time equates to having seven more employees on staff. The value of this time is estimated at almost $150,000.

The museum has a vibrant membership organization. Membership in the museum currently stands at 1,135. Individuals throughout the United States and Canada are supporters of the museum.

Running any business is a challenge. Running a non-profit that showcases obsolete technology is very challenging, to say the least. The museum just turned 21 years old and has never been in the black. Maintenance of buildings, grounds, track, equipment, and rolling stock has been either minimal or non-existent. The challenge facing the museum is how to become financially self-sustaining. To become financially self-sustaining, the museum is working to increase existing revenue streams and developing new ones. Over the course of the three past years, the museum has consistently increased revenue but it has never been enough to cover expenses. The museum is working towards being self-sustaining by 2007.

Existing revenue comes from the following sources: donations and memberships. Sales come from the gift shop and from concessions. Under operations, the museum raises money through train operations such as excursions, locomotive rentals, charters, and specialty trains such as the Polar Express.

The museum has been aggressively applying for grants and the hard work has paid off. Currently the museum has just over $1,000,000 under management. These grants came from government agencies such as the Commission on Cultural Affairs, the Nevada Commission on Tourism, and the Nevada Department of Transportation. The museum has also received funding from private foundations, for example, the E. L. Cord Foundation and private individuals. Lastly, the museum receives money from room tax revenue.

All of the money raised from grants is invested in the bricks and mortar of the complex along with marketing the museum. This money is not for salaries and overhead. The museum is investigating other revenues sources to include motel ticket sales, contract work for the Machine Shop, and developing the vacant land that museum owns.

In the long term the museum plans to develop an educational curriculum by partnering with Great Basin College, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the National Railway Historical Society.

For the past three years, the museum has consistently increased operations. The reason for this increase is twofold. The easiest way for the museum to increase revenues is to carry more passengers. To carry more passengers the museum needs to run more trains. It has been a question; just how many trains can the museum run in a season. The 2005 season pushed the capabilities and resources of the museum. This season showed us that we are capable of daily operations. The schedule for 2006 will be based on this season's schedule with some modifications. The changes will be an increase in locomotive rental availability and dropping some runs in late August.

Now that the museum has the structure in place to run trains, the emphasis in 2006 will be filling the trains. The museum faced a chicken and egg problem. If it heavily promoted a daily schedule and then discovered that the resources to cover such a schedule were not available, we would have left people at the station. Then all of our hard work would have been for naught. But 2005 proved that we could operate daily trains; now we will build on this success.

Secondly, by increasing the operations, we increased the number of visitors that spend an additional night in Ely. Room tax revenues for White Pine County have increased over the past three years. To a certain extent, the museum is falling victim to its own success. There have been times this past summer and last summer where volunteers and potential passengers could not find lodging in Ely. The volunteers were forced to spend the night in their car and the potential passenger just left town and continued traveling. We need more motel rooms in White Pine County. The problem will only grow if more rooms are not made available.

We carry the general public for hire; our training must be second to none. The museum uses paid staff and volunteers to operate trains. The vast majority of trains are operated by volunteers. By having volunteers operate trains, the paid staff can focus on maintaining the equipment, buildings, and rolling stock of the museum. There should be no confusion on the abilities of the volunteers to operate trains. The volunteers operate in a professional manner that is monitored by the staff. Where our current level of training is good, the staff and volunteers are working to raise it to the next level. The training program is not static but it is constantly evolving. The future will include more documentation of the required training along with the development of manuals and the reprinting of old textbooks.

The staff is slowly making progress on the backlog of work. They are playing catch-up. They have 21 years of either no maintenance or minimal maintenance to overcome. It will take years and tens of thousands of dollars to get the equipment to a point where the shop forces can move away from crisis maintenance to scheduled maintenance. At the same time, the Chief Mechanical Officer is training both the staff and the volunteers on solid practical maintenance procedures based on his 30 plus years of working on steam locomotives.

 

 

 

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