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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 II
25 November 2005

 

As a museum, we have certain obligations to maintain and preserve our resources. September 29, 2006 is the centennial of the railroad. Most of the structures, buildings, and rolling stock date from the period of 1906 to 1916. What this means is that the museum's infrastructure is also approaching its centennial. This is a double edge sword. The complex is a National Historic District. Work has commenced on upgrading the complex to National Landmark Status. Once this is complete, the complex will be on the same plane as Mt Vernon, Monticello, and Pearl Harbor to name a few. National Landmark Status is an honor; it will open more doors for fund raising efforts, but in of itself does not provide any funds.

As mentioned earlier, the complex was worth over $7,000,000 in 1984 and it needs millions of dollars for repair and maintenance. The museum has been addressing the worst problems of complex. So of the projects undertaken include:

Machine Shop/Enginehouse Building
The machine shop/enginehouse building is the anchor of the property. This brick structure was built in 1907 and expanded in 1941. The structure was in very poor repair. Starting in 1999, the museum started to work on the structure. The first area was repairing the windows, followed by the doors. In 2003 and 2004, work started on the structure itself. This work commenced not a moment too soon. A structural engineer's report had stated that the building was weak and could collapse without warning due to either seismic activity or high winds. The building regularly experiences high winds. In doing the repairs it was discovered just how close to collapse the structure was—it was a near thing. As of today, the vast majority of the structural problems of the building have been repaired. To quote our structural engineer, "The building will be able to stand for another 100 years." Where this is good news, there is still hundreds of thousands of dollars that need to be invested in the building for utilities.

Utilities
Electrical wiring is a patchwork. Lighting in the building goes from poor to non-existent. Heating is also a mishmash of systems going from potbelly stoves to expensive forced air propane heaters. Water and sewer is another area to goes from poor to non-existent. A grant was written to address these problems, but it will entail hundreds of thousands of dollars and years of efforts before the problems are solved.

McGill Depot
Under the museum's stewardship the McGill Depot went from a usable structure to one on the verge of collapse. The reason for the disintegration of the building was principally "out-of-sight out-of-mind" and no use. This past year the museum was able to save the building. It still requires hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work, but the building still stands. If the building has a purpose, then its long-term future looks bright. The current plans call for the building to be used as a depot again, as a display for an extensive model railroad collection, and as a museum showing the smelter and milling complex. The museum was able to secure a grant to extend our track into the McGill Depot.

Master Mechanic's Building and Storeroom
Located just south of the machine shop, the Master Mechanic's building is in critical condition. It has a suffered fire years ago and repairs were never made. The structure is suffering old age; the utilities are poor in the extreme yet it houses the irreplaceable drawings, records, manuals, and books of the railroad. It is in daily use by the staff and the volunteers. This building has now moved up on the renovation list. The renovation will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

RIP Building
It was one of the last structures built by the railroad and it is in good shape. In the past year, through a generous grant from one our members, all of the windows in the building have been repaired. The building is now used for storage and repairing equipment.

Chief Engineers Building
The museum is working on this building to convert it to a volunteer dormitory. So far, this building has received a roof, a door, and window repairs. This building will need utilities and interior remodeling before it can be used a dormitory.

Transportation Building
Built in 1910, the structure is relatively solid but suffers from needing utility upgrades.

Pipe Shop
Located just east of the machine shop is a small cinder block building that is the pipe shop. This building has been cleaned up and the windows have been repaired. This building is now being used to service airbrakes. Airbrake parts are stored in bins clearly marked and stored neatly. This is a big help in repairing airbrakes. Prior to this, the airbrake parts were helter-skelter in multiple locations.

Boiler Building
Just west of the depot is a cinder block building that sheltered the boilers that provided heat to the Depot and Transportation building. These boilers have long since been out of service. The museum was successful in receiving grant money to convert this building into ADA restrooms. This project is scheduled for the spring of 2006.

Water System
In conversations with the City Engineer, it was found that to provide modern fire protection for the complex, about $1.25 million worth of water improvements are needed. The museum will be investigating different sources for funding this project. Currently there is only one working hydrant on the property.

Railroad Out Buildings
This category is a catch all for the wooden structures that are scattered through out the yard. None of the buildings is particularly large. The common traits that they all share are that they were put up cheaply, have received no maintenance, and now need upgraded roofing, utilities, window repairs, and paint. The roof of the airbrake building blew off last September and is still waiting for permanent repairs.

Locomotives
The museum was successful in bringing locomotive 40 back in service this past year. The reason for this was two fold. First, we needed a back up to locomotive 93. Customers come to Ely with an expectation of seeing steam. Secondly, we needed to develop the expertise in-house to maintain steam locomotives. The 40 project accomplished both goals. In the long term, we will need to bring locomotive 81 back to service.

The 81 restoration will be from the ground up. There are two aspects of a steam locomotive: the boiler and the running gear. Both 40 and 93 have had boiler work and they will be compliant with FRA regulations for the next 15 and 13 years respectively. But both locomotives need running gear work. In both cases, this work will be expensive. It may touch $100,000 for each locomotive. By having 81 done from the ground up, we will then have one locomotive that is completely repaired. Then we can take either 40 or 93 out of service for running gear work. We won't have three completely serviceable locomotives until 2009 at the earliest.

On the diesel locomotive front the news is not much better. All three diesel locomotives (105, 109, and 204) need extensive work. Current plans call for 109 to be done first, followed by 204 and 105. To fund this work we plan to part out two locomotives on the property left by BHP. Neither locomotive operates nor could without a sizeable cash investment. The thinking is to use these locomotives to generate cash to maintain the locomotives that we need.

Passenger Equipment
On the passenger cars, both of the cars need repairs. The museum has purchased two cars that are in Ohio. We are in the process of bringing the cars here. This will gives us really only three passenger cars. The two cars that we currently have are semi-permanently connected together. The cars cannot be taken apart easily. The coupler between the cars is a non-standard coupler and will not connect with other equipment that we have. The danger here is if one car goes down, then we could lose both cars. Until the new cars get here, our only back up is the original passenger cars. These cars were bought used by the Nevada Northern back in 1906. Due to their age, these cars are only used for special events and do not lend themselves to daily service.

Wrecking Crane
The museum received a generous grant to complete the repairs to steam wrecking crane A this past spring. This completes a project that was started years ago.

Track
The museum currently maintains the track to Federal Railroad Administration Class 2 standards. In the past 21 years, the track has seen minimal maintenance. Maintenance on the track began two years ago. The museum now has a two-person team to maintain the track. The backlog of work is being addressed. But there is a tremendous of amount of work that needs to be accomplished. The museum will need to purchase ties and ballast. The track equipment that we have is museum pieces, no pun intended. We can make them work but they are not production pieces and require excessive babying to get them to work. Also, the museum sold the ballast regulator years ago when they needed money. Now we have no way moving ballast and cleaning the track surface. We need a ballast regulator. In addition, the hirail vehicles that the museum has are all high mileage vehicles that need to be replaced.

Ashpit
With support from the E. L. Cord Foundation, White Pine County Tourism and Recreation Board, and the members of the museum, we were able to complete the ashpit this year. The completion of this project will save us manpower and protect the equipment and the track in the yard.

Curation
For the first time in the museum's twenty-one year history, we have a curator. Unfortunately, the lack of a curator over the past years has harmed the museum deeply. Artifacts are now missing. The curator is responsible for inventorying the entire property and protecting the records, artifacts, and fabric of the complex. The job is daunting.

We have been recognized as the best-preserved rail facility in the country. The museum has the opportunity to be a major economic generator for the community. Yet this won't happen unless we tell the public that we are here. In fact, it could be argued that for eighteen years we were the best-kept railroad secret in the country.

The museum has been working hard to change this with an aggressive marketing program. We have had record passengers loads for the past three years and we should have a fourth record year this year. The museum is projecting over 14,000 passengers for 2005. If the increases continue, we should have a season of over 31,000 by 2008. This steady growth will allow the museum to move towards self-sufficiency. The marketing plan of the museum features many aspects—from our Ghost Tracks newsletter to brochures, advertising, and table tents.

Tremendous strides have been made in the past twelve months. Yet these strides are just scratching the surface. For the first time of the history of the museum, we have a professional staff that has the knowledge and skills to address the pressing challenges of the facility and the equipment.

Our growth has taken us to the level where the individuals that are in place can begin overcoming the eighteen years of neglect. This is just a start. It will take time and resources to get on top of the problems. Yet, at the same time, the most egregious problems the museum faced have been corrected. The enginehouse was saved and indirectly our priceless collection. The McGill Depot has been saved. The ashpit was completed.

Pressing mechanical problems on locomotive 93 were addressed this past year and locomotive 40 was brought into service. These two locomotives are the reason that people journey to and spend the night in Ely. Without them, our ridership would only be a third of what it currently is and revenue would be less.

Work needs to be completed on locomotives 105, 109 and 204. We have a plan on how to address these shortcomings.

As we enter the Centennial year of the railroad, we are on the brink of developing the resources that the museum needs to achieve its goal of self-sufficiency. There is a tremendous amount of work that needs to be completed to arrive at this goal. There is no guarantee that we will be successful in our endeavors. Although we are in the best position since our founding twenty-one years ago, the future success of the museum is by no means assured. We have to overcome the challenges facing the museum to attain a solid foundation for this national treasure. That will be our goal for the upcoming year.

 

Down the Tracks at the Museum

  • The museum gift shop and ticket office is open Monday through Saturday.
  • Polar Express Trains begin November 25 at 4:00 p.m. and continue through December 22.

  • Polar Bear Trains begin December 27.
  • Memberships in the museum are available: Basic $15; Active $30; Family $50; Centennial $100; Business $500; and Lifetime $1000. Contact the museum for more information.

 

Call Us 1-866-40STEAM or 1-866-407-8326
email: info@nnry.com

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All Rights Reserved - Page Last Updated 25 November 2005
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