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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

 


Getting Our Shop Together
09 December 2005

 

Hanging in the East Ely Depot is a photographic show of the museum complex. I took a moment the other day to study the photographs. One of the photographs is of the machine shop. In studying the photograph, I was struck at the amount of progress that has been accomplished in the shop complex. This was a perfect case of not being able to see the forest because all of those trees are in the way. Coach 5 is in the shop. Tools and stuff are scattered helter-skelter.

The heart of the museum is the machine shop/engine house complex. It is in this building that the locomotives are worked on and stored. The complex is huge. In addition to the machine shop and engine house, there is a boiler room, blacksmith shop, boiler repair shop, and a washroom. There are also two coalbunkers attached to the building. During the heyday of the railroad, a small army of men worked in the complex keeping the locomotives in operation.

There were boilermakers, millwrights, blacksmiths, welders, machinists, pipe fitters, hostlers, and firemen. In addition to the skill workers there were apprentices and helpers that all worked here. And with a small army available, the complex was kept neat and clean. Of course, all of this was supported by the copper mining. We have a copy of the labor agreement from April 15, 1943. The agreement lists all of the positions and the rates. The highest rate was 96 cents an hour. The lowest was 55 cents and hour. And there were a few hourly rates at 69.375 cents.

When the mine closed down the need for the railroad ceased. With the end of operations also came the end of jobs. And this small army was let go.

When the museum took over the complex there was barely enough money in the budget to support more than one employee to work in the shops. Occasionally funding was found to support up to three employees. Where once a small army had labored all we had were two or three people. In addition to their duties in the shop, these same individuals served as engine crew and track inspectors. Needless to say, there was nowhere near the amount of time and resources needed to keep the shop in order.

And during the early days of the museum's ownership of the complex, it was heavily vandalized. Thousands of windows were broken throughout the shop complex. The broken windows let in the snow and rain along with pigeons, sparrows, and ravens.

I have heard of pigeons referred to as flying rats. I never gave pigeons much thought until I witnessed the mess they could make inside of a building. To say it was disgusting is an understatement. But the real mess makers par excellence are ravens. Compared to ravens, pigeons are pure prairie league.

When ravens move in, they move in and bring the makings of their home with them. Ravens are builders. They are smart birds. My first time in the boiler repair shop I saw a pile of sticks against the wall and on the top of a rack. It looked like we were storing firewood. When I asked what that was and, I was told it was a raven's nest. It was huge.

In addition to broken windows, we also had a broken overhead door on engine house track one. The door had been hit repeatedly by railroad equipment. The door was braced with old boiler tubes and was bowed in. It had been pushed out of its track and was a mess.

The interior roof drainpipe had been cut opened to clear a blockage and was never repaired. So every winter, we would get a snowstorm. The snow on the roof in the warmth of the sun would melt and run down the drainpipe until it got to the opening and then the water would spread out over the floor and freeze. This left us with our very own indoor ice skating rink every winter.

Needless to say, working conditions were not first rate, not to mention it was highly embarrassing to give tours of the complex.

Today, I'm happy to report that is all behind us. There are five employees working in the shops. While they are still tapped to work as train crew, it is now rare to have them do track work. We now have a track department to handle the inspections and to repair the track.

The windows are all repaired. It makes quite the difference to work on the inside of a building and not have to put up with wind, rain, and snow. The aviary is gone. This cuts down on the mess and makes the complex more presentable. Also missing is the ice skating rink and it is not really missed.

Engine house door 1 has been replaced. And that was no small task. The doors that are on the engine house aren't made anymore—no real surprise there. We needed a new door; the door that we found wasn't close to matching. And it was important that all eight doors match.

We had a door that would match inside the engine house. There was a door in between the engine house and the boiler repair shop. We moved the door from there to the front of the engine house and put the new door in between the boiler repair room and the engine house. By doing this, we kept the building looking original. There was an extra expense to do this but it was worth it.

So now, we have access to all of the bays in the engine house. We also repaired machine shop track 1 so now it is functional. This allows us to use both tracks in the machine shop. (As a side note, to use the track a small mountain of junk needed to be hauled away.)


Steady progress is being made on the machine shop/engine house. There is now an order and a reason to the complex. The shop is being cleaned up and junk thrown away. (One of the hardest things to do is throw "junk" away. We sort the junk and keep the artifacts, even if they look like junk.)

Today, the most egregious problems have been addressed. There's still plenty of work to do and more problems to fix. We need water and sewer, more building repairs and more cleanup—but we're getting there.

 

 

 

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