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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 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

 


Going to Carson City
30 November 2002


In earlier articles I have mentioned the need to invest $500,000 in Locomotive 40. The question is, of course, where is this money going to come from? One funding source that we are pursuing is going to Carson City and asking the state legislature for the money.

Unfortunately this is not a good year to go to Carson City asking for money. Due to the tightness of finances in the state instead of an outright grant of the money, we are asking for a matching grant of $500,000. That means the museum will need to raise $500,000 too. The additional funds would be used for the Engine house and Machine Shop building.

The Museum finds itself in a dilemma. Locomotive 40 needs the repairs to go back in service. Yet at the same time the building where we do the repairs needs serious structural work for the building to remain standing. This stabilization work will cost $500,000. Itís a chicken and egg scenario. Without the engine house and machine shop building we have nowhere to maintain Locomotive 40, and without the funds to put Locomotive 40 back in service there isnít a need for the building. From a historic viewpoint the relationship between Locomotive 40 and the Engine house and Machine Shop building started 1910.

 

Steam locomotives are very labor intensive to operate and expensive to maintain. Last year the Museum spent over $300,000 on Locomotive 93 to bring it into compliance with the Federal Railroad Administrationís (FRA) new boiler code. These newly mandated rules went into effect two years ago. The Museum was able to pay for the repairs on Locomotive 93 but the repairs to Locomotive 40 defeated the resources of the Museum.

But why spend all of this money on steam locomotives? Two words -- steam sells.

This past season less than 20% of our trains were steam-powered trains. The steam trains carried 71% of our passengers. We had an international tour group come to Ely to photograph trains in September. They would not have come if we did not have a steam locomotive. That one-day meant $10,000 to the museum and $19,250 to the community. We had a movie filmed in Ely this past summer, again no steam, then no movie.

Locomotive 40 needs $500,000 in repairs. The plan is to go to Carson City and ask for a matching grant to make the needed repairs.


The fires in Colorado this past summer caused three tourist railroads to stop running steam; the results were devastating. One operator gave notice they would not operate in 2003. Eighty jobs were lost in a small community similar to Ely. Another tourist railroad tried diesel-powered trains; ridership plummeted. We even received a call from a tourist railroad, asking if we would lease them one of our steam locomotives for their operation. Here in Ely, thatís 20% of the trains, 71% of the passengers -- steam sells.

Since 1987, the Nevada Northern Railway has carried almost 83,000 passengers. This past season we carried more than 7,000 riders, a record for the museum. These people came to Ely to ride behind a marvel of 19th century engineering, the steam locomotive. No steam locomotive, no riders.

The urgency facing the museum cannot be underestimated. The museum did complete the boiler repairs to Locomotive 93 but not the running gear repairs. This means the wheels and rods that drive the locomotive need repairs. These repairs will cost about $275,000 and take six months to complete. We believe that 93 can successfully complete the 2003 and 2004 seasons. But in the fall in of 2004, Locomotive 93 will need to come out of service for these repairs.

In a perfect world, by the fall of 2004, we will have the repairs to Locomotive 40 complete. Then Locomotive 93 can be repaired and in 2005, our centennial year both steam locomotives will be operational. This would allow 7-days a week operation with steam.

When we achieve 7-days a week with steam, what could the ridership be? 30,000! There is precedent for this. There are two tourist railroads in Colorado in remote, hard to get to areas. Their ridership is over 50,000 riders per season. And they are not as close to major metropolitan areas as we are.

As we talk ridership, there are a couple of points to remember. First, our trip is two hours long. This long trip means that the passengers usually stop for a meal either before or after the trip. Secondly, because of our schedule, a sizeable percentage of our riders spend the night in Ely.

To summarize the dilemma the Museum is facing, our ridership on the steam trains is four-times as great as the diesel trains. Without steam locomotives our ridership will plummet. In addition to Locomotive 40, Locomotive 93 needs additional work. If funding for Locomotive 40 and the Engine house and Machine Shop building is not found in the near future, then the Museum will not have a steam locomotive. The bottom will drop out of the ridership with the attendant economic ramifications.

As we get closer to the legislative session, Iíll keep you informed on how you can help. Because your help is needed, if we are going to keep steam in Ely.

 

 


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