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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Saturday 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

 


Cable Cars and the Nevada Northern Railway
22 November 2003

 

What do the world famous Cable Cars of San Francisco and the Nevada Northern Railway have in common? Give up? In the case of the cable cars, they are the only items on the Department of Interior's Register of National Historic Landmarks that travel on rail. In the Nevada Northern Railway's case, we may be joining the cable cars as a National Historic Landmark!

I need to back up a little bit here and define terms. The Nevada Northern is already a National Historic District. Our full name is the "East Ely Shops and Yards National Historic District," quite the mouthful. National Historic Landmarks have been recognized by the Secretary of the Interior as possessing national significance. The importance of nationally significant properties is that they help us understand the history of the nation and illustrate the nationwide impact of events or persons associated with the property, its architectural type or style, or information potential. A nationally significant property is of exceptional value in representing or illustrating an important theme in the history of the Nation. Properties listed on the National Register are primarily of State and local significance.

Of the 76,000 entries on the National Register, only 2,300 or just 3% qualify as a National Historic Landmark. National Historic Landmark Status is the highest form of recognition that there is for historic properties. In the words of the National Park Service who administers the program, "National Historic Landmarks are buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects that have been determined by the Secretary of the Interior to be nationally significant in American history and culture. Many of the most renowned historic properties in the Nation are Landmarks. Mount Vernon, Pearl Harbor, the Apollo Mission Control Center, Arcata, and the Martin Luther King Birthplace in Atlanta, Georgia are Landmarks that illustrate important contributions to the Nation's historical development."

And you thought we had just an old railroad down here. I'll bet you never realized that in the broad scheme of things the Nevada Northern's contribution to our country ranks up there with Mount Vernon and Pearl Harbor, did you?

For those of you following closely, I said, "We may be joining the cable cars" as a National Historic Landmark. What this means is that a representative of the National Park System will be visiting Ely the first week of December to start the evaluation process.

So why go through the process? Well first of the Nevada Northern in my opinion qualifies as a National Historic Landmark (of course, I have a bias). Once upon time in America at about every 100 miles along a rail line there would be a complex of buildings very similar to what we have here in Ely. Today this is no longer true. The Nevada Northern is the only complete standard gauge complex left in the country. Where there use to be literally thousands of complexes like the one here they have all been bulldozed. And now, only three survive and we are the only standard gauge one left.

What makes our property even more unique is that the equipment, rolling stock and a vast majority of the paper trail still survives too. As I mentioned recently, I found a carbon copy of the typewritten speech given by Mark Requa, the builder of the Nevada Northern on September 29, 1906. Chances are Mr. Requa handled this copy of the speech and now it's in our archives.

On a national scale, railroads were directly responsible for the development of our country. They made the settlement of the frontier possible and directly contributed to our nation's development as a world power. Here in Ely we have the only surviving example of a complete standard gauge facility left in the country-that shows how railroads contributed to the country's development.

Since only 3% of the properties on the National Register qualify for National Landmark Status, it goes without saying, that all of those properties are pretty special to say the least.

When I took over this position, I estimated that $5,000,000 was needed to be invested in the complex to arrest decay, protect it, and preserve it for future generations. In the past year, the estimate is beginning to creep up. What National Landmark Status will do, is make fund raising just a little bit easier, because if we receive it, then the Nevada Northern Railway has entered a very exclusive club, one that had only one member before-those cable cars. Now locomotives 93, 40, 105, 109, 301, coaches 5 and 2, the freight cars, the buildings, and the facilities will all be nationally recognized for their significance to our heritage and our country's heritage. And that is what makes Nevada Northern Railway a very special place.

 

 

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