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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:


Volunteers Recognized
21 November 2007


On November 17, the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark celebrated their volunteers with the annual volunteer banquet. As part of the festivities, we recognize the volunteers for their contributions to the railroad. Before presenting the awards, I had the opportunity to say a few words. What follows is are my comments from that evening.

There is an old saying that occasionally you can't see the forest because all of those trees are in the way. All of us on occasion fall victim to this human weakness. And to a degree, I fell victim to it this year; I couldn't see all of the accomplishments of the volunteers, because stuff kept getting in my way.

Every year, we celebrate our volunteers with this volunteer banquet and that is a very good thing. It gave me a chance to reflect on what the volunteers do for the railroad. One volunteer recently stepped up to the plate to take over editing duties of Ghost Tracks, our quarterly newsletter. Sandy Harmon is excited about his new duties and he recently sent me an e-mail titled "It's interrogation time, fella." In the e-mail, he had a list of questions. The questions were pretty basic, but they opened my eyes.

His first question was, "How many volunteers do you have?" It's a pretty straightforward question. Well, let's see here, we have train crews of course, everyone thinks of them. Then we have people who volunteer in the shop, and more people volunteer in the gift shop, and more people yet volunteer to help us push paper. Then even more people volunteer to act as servers on the trains, along with narrators, tour guides, train decorators, and concessionaires. Then we had the MOW Speeder club who rebuilt two of our speeders and repaired all of the windows in the Chief Engineer's building. We have a webmaster in San Diego, board members in Washington DC and San Diego, along with our local board members. And then there's the Ely Ghost Riders who not only rob the train on schedule, but also pitch in as ghosts for our successful Haunted Ghost Trains. Then there's the ghosts themselves who aren't ghost riders. Then there are the ghost stories that were written by Mary Sorenson, who graciously allowed us to use her stories.

And starting next week, even Santa will volunteer for us, along with his elves and helpers as we start the Polar Express. So when you start counting up noses, our volunteer pool is rather large, we have over 171 people who volunteer at the railroad. And it is this combined effort that lets us successfully preserve the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark for future generations.

Sandy's next question was, "So how many hours have the volunteers contributed?" That question really opened my eyes. If you work full time, fifty-two, forty-hour weeks add up to, two thousand eighty hours. In 2001, volunteers contributed 3,931 hours, which equates to adding almost two full time people to our staff. In 2002, the volunteers added a thousand hours to the previous year; the total for the year was 4,912 hours or almost 2.5 people. In 2003, volunteer hours almost doubled the previous year to 9,325 hours, the equivalent of 4.5 people. In 2004, our volunteers contributed an unbelievable 17,346 hours, comparable to adding eight people to the staff. 2005 proved that the previous year was not a fluke; the volunteers came through again with 17,615 hours. The two previous years were grand but in our Centennial year 2006, the volunteers really ramped up, they contributed an astounding 20,363 hours. So far this year the volunteers have contributed 13,379 hours. When you total the hours for the past seven years the total is a mind blowing 86,871 volunteer hours. And this number is really higher, because not all of our volunteers record their time. These numbers are more incredible when you realize we have volunteers who come to Ely from around the country. Some fly in, most drive here, but with our local volunteers, they all have one thing in common—once they get here they all work hard. And now it's the time recognize some of our exceptional volunteers.

In 2002, a new award premiered, called the Silver Hammer. The first recipient was Joel Jensen. The next year the award morphed into the Silver Wrench to recognize Richard Barnes's contributions. 2004 saw the award morph again to the Silver Hammer with Dennis Winger and Leonard Cassieri to recognize their work on track. In 2005, to acknowledge Bill Hohlt's contributions on repairing windows, the award became the Silver Paint Brush. In 2006, two individuals were recognized: Jordon Oxborrow with the Silver Wrench for his assistance in the shops and Dan Braddock with the Silver Bell for his role as being Santa Claus.

This year the award morphed again to recognize a group of individuals for their extraordinary service they have provided to the museum over the years. In 2002 when I took over there were only four wine trains. Over the years, this has grown to where we have a specialty train every Saturday night from mid-May through the end of September.

Some of the recipients of the Silver Tray award who were recognized for their service to the railroad at the annual volunteer banquet.

The 1:00 p.m. train comes back into the depot at about 3:00 p.m. The train crew, with help from the shop, sets up the tables and then they leave. A special group then climbs aboard the train, vacuums the train, cleans the train, and sets the tables. To set the tables they close the windows, to keep the dust down and so the wind doesn't blow the place settings around. This isn't too bad in May, but by the middle of June, it gets toasty and by the middle of July and through August, it feels like Hades. Then in September, it cools down so it's just tropical. After the train is setup, they go home and change clothes. Then its back to the train dressed up to do final preparations. Finally, the passengers board and then these people serve our customers.

The specialty trains are unique trains. The passengers are very relaxed when the train comes back into the depot. I've had trouble getting the passengers off the train. But after the train is emptied, the servers then tear down the train and get it ready for the next morning. Buy the time it's all done it is almost 10:00 p.m. Every Saturday the cycle repeats. And it is these people that we want to recognize tonight with the Silver Tray Award. The recipients are Linda Bellander, Chris Oxborrow, Chris Ricci, Trudy Hollinger, Kathy Ricci, Wendy Anderson, Katie Gianoli, Patti Heinbaugh, Sandi Clum, Sandy Johnson, Judy Nelson, Holly Wilson, Pat Rogers, RaeNell O'Donnell, Beverly Carter, Sondra Blaylock, Sandy Allen, Bonnie Jones, Alta Patterson, Kathy Ashworth, Yvette Rowley, Patti Sturgeon, Kelly Sturgeon, Tammy Moore, Tammy Bohrn, Britani Bohrn, Teresa Adams, Elaine Blackham, Rocki Bratich, Dahn Puckett, Dawn Brown, Sammi Blackham, Pam Cook, Beverly Cornutt, Andrea Westland, Jannel Doutre, Jerry O'Donnell and Chuck Clum.

In 2002 another new award was created—the Appreciation and Dedication of Service. The first recipient was Ron Taylor to recognize his long service to the railroad. In 2003, Scott Hase was so recognized. Next year, Evva Schaefer was the recipient. 2006 saw Albert Gledhill as the winner.

When people think of the railroad museum they think of the trains. There is the glamour of running trains, but the trains will not run without behind-the-scenes help. For nine years, this person has been part of the staff and has answered the question, "When do the trains run?" at least a million times if not more. Anyone can answer the question the first time, but to answer it for the umpteenth time on a hot summer's day with a smile takes a special individual. This person has worked in the gift shop, selling tickets, administration, setting up the dinner trains, on the trains as a server, and a firewatcher. And if that isn't exciting enough, she is also the board secretary responsible for taking the minutes. And when something goes south, you can count on Sharon to help pick up the pieces. Sharon Tilley is the winner of the 2007 Appreciation and Dedication of Service Award.


Sharon Tilley is the recipient of the Appreciation and Dedication of Service award at the annual volunteer banquet. Her award is a framed picture of her favorite locomotive No. 93.

There was a special presentation made the night of the banquet. We needed to recognize another one of our volunteers who helps out the train crews. The excursion trains cross 7th Street on every trip. From the train crews perspective this is a dangerous crossing because visibility is restricted due to trees and a steep hill. This volunteer is at the crossing providing an extra set of eyes for the train crews. In recognition of his service, the railroad will rename the crossing to the Dale Heckethorn crossing.

In 2005 a new award was establish to recognize volunteers who went above and beyond to help the railroad in the myriad of tasks it takes to keep the railroad running. Robert Dallons was the first individual to receive the Lantern Award. In 2006, the railroad recognized Allen and Bonnie Jones for their contributions.

Albert Gledhill presents Dale Heckethorn with a sign that says, "Dale's Crossing." The sign will be mounted at 7th Street railroad crossing.

This year the railroad wants to recognize a special individual who goes out of his way to make the volunteers feel welcome here at the railroad. This person has not only helped me, but has helped hundreds of other volunteers and has always made us feel welcomed. He patiently answers all of our questions. He has served as crew caller. I have worked with this person on track, in the shops, and in train service. He helped me move Outfit Car 06 from the enginehouse to the paint shop. During that move, I discovered that he can move real fast. He has served as a railroader for years and continues to serve today. In fact, I need to schedule my check ride with him. This year's winner of the lantern award is Kelvin Martinez.


Long time volunteer Kelvin Martinez is presented with the lantern award by Executive Director Mark Bassett.


The next and final award is perhaps the most difficult to choose, it is the Volunteer of the Year Award. Over the years, a wide representation of museum volunteers have so been recognized for their outstanding service. In 1994 Helen Reck was the first recipient followed by T J Lani in 1996, Barlow White in 1997, Don Hepler in 1998, Darrel Hall in 1999, Brett Covlin in 2000. Kicking off the new millennium in 2001 it was Susan Dailey and in 2002, Dan Cornutt was honored. In 2003, a special group of individuals were honored: Pat & Gene Rogers, Ray Moser, and Richard Patterson. 2004 saw the exceptional help of Skip and Sandy Allen recognized. Ron Miller was the winner in 2005, followed by our webmaster, Keith Albrandt in 2006.

When this year's recipient is informed that he is the Volunteer of the Year, he will say, "I don't deserve it. I didn't do anything special." And that's just hogwash. This individual just made the transition from being a steam engineer to a diesel engineer. He doesn't believe there's much of a future for those diesel locomotives. He'd rather stick with steam. In addition to being a locomotive engineer, this year's winner is also a civil engineer who has helped us out with two bridge projects and various surveying projects. When he does the surveying, he looks a lot like a knight. He has a 4-wheeler and an antenna that looks like a lance. To volunteer at the railroad, he must drive across the width of the state and he does this multiple times each year. Ask him how he's doing and he'll always answer, "Top Notch." This year's volunteer of the year is John Langford. And if you don't know who that is that's okay, because you probably know him by his real name, BEAR.

The success of the railroad is due to its volunteers. Without the volunteers trains would not run, buildings would not be repaired, and visitors would not get a behind-the-scenes look at the museum. It is the combined efforts of the volunteers, the tens of thousands of hours of their time that they have donated to the railroad that allows the railroad to keep growing and improving. THANKS!!!



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