Nevada Northern Railway - Official Blog

I am Mark Bassett, President of the Nevada Northern Railway.  This blog is designed to keep you up to date on what is happening here. The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is a historic passenger railroad featuring train rides pulled by century-old steam engines. It is also a registered National Historic Landmark consisting of the original railway locomotives, rolling stock, track, passenger station, and buildings that served the historic copper mining region of Central Nevada for over a century. All of this is being preserved by a non-profit historic foundation, so you can come and enjoy a piece of American history. Come, enjoy history with us!

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, 08:56 - Permalink

The only constant in life is change. Life is not static. We like to think that it is, but it isn’t. People, organizations and countries all change and evolve. In 2015 and 2016 the Nevada Northern Railway went through growing pains. The railroad needed to evolve to keep up with current circumstances and it did.

The only constant in life is change. Life is not static. We like to think that it is, but it isn’t. People, organizations and countries all change and evolve. In 2015 and 2016 the Nevada Northern Railway went through growing pains. The railroad needed to evolve to keep up with current circumstances and it did.

If you took a casual glance at the railroad all would appear to be same. But on a closer examination, we reinvented ourselves with two massive programs, the Phoenix Dare and a corporate reorganization. The Phoenix Dare is explained in its own article, I’ll focus in on the corporate reorganization, first some background. Before the railroad was gifted to the community by Kennecott there needed to be a mechanism in place to accept this extraordinary gift. In 1984, the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation was established by the City of Ely to accept the railroad. The Foundation was created as a tax exempt corporation under IRS rules 501(c)3. In other words, a non-profit corporation.

All corporations have founding documents, the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. The Articles of Corporation establishes the corporation and the Bylaws govern the corporation. Our bylaws were odd, they created two boards to govern the Corporation, the Board of Trustees made up of the Ely City Council and the Management Board, community leaders appoint by the Board of Trustees to manage the affairs of the corporation.

The two board system worked until 2013. In 2013 a new City Council was elected that started to review all aspects of city government including the governance of the railroad. Unlike the City of Ely that relies on tax dollars, the railroad relies on ticket sales, memberships, donations and grants. Because of how our revenue is raised it comes in cycles. In the beginning of the year, the Foundation hemorrhages red ink. This continues through July, in July we start raising more money than we spend. By November and December with Polar Express and our end of year fund raising we slip into the black and squirrel away some money for the first half of the next year when the cycle begins all over again. The Management Board and the Staff raise the money and decides how the money will be spent. The City of Ely’s contribution is the payment of our insurance policy and provided legal services. Short version, the City Council and the Management did not agree on how the Foundation was being managed. This led to a request from the Management Board for new bylaws that would change how the Foundation was governed. The new bylaws would create a new governing structure, the two boards would be replaced with a new board of directors. As you can imagine, this radical idea caused a lot of soul searching and lots and lots and lots and lots of meetings!

There are two things that are always in short supply in a non-profit, time and money. The days are way too short and the list of project is way too long. And the most precious thing is time. If we have the time, we can find the money and we can accomplish the projects. Remember those lots and lots and lots and lots of meetings? They burned through staff time like there was no tomorrow.

And all of those meetings raised doubt in the minds of staff and volunteers about the viability of the railroad and Foundation. This caused staff members and volunteers to leave. When they left, it put more work on the remaining staff and volunteers. Because in addition to figuring our new structure and governance, we still had a railroad run. Time was like water in a desert, there just wasn’t enough of it. And because the staff was stretched so far they were just about transparent, available time was spent on core tasks. Ironically, in the middle of all of this activity, the railroad experienced a growth spurt, $1.3 million were released for a track improvement project and vital repairs needed to be made to locomotive 93.

So we had to figure out who we were going to become and at the same time run a railroad. There’s a scene in a Bruce Willis movie, Armageddon that became my mantra. In the movie, Bruce and his team travel to an asteroid on the space shuttle to drill a hole in it. The plan is to put a nuclear bomb in the hole and split the asteroid, thereby saving the Earth. The scene is the clock is ticking, the nuclear bomb needs to explode before the asteroid reaches the zero barrier, the shuttle’s engines won’t start and the survival of the shuttle crew and Earth hangs in the balance. The shuttle’s engines are repaired by banging on them with a large wrench (just like a steam locomotive) the engines come on and the shuttle’s pilot says, “Come on, we gotta go, gotta go, there’s no time, no time.” That sentence became my mantra, “Come on, we gotta go, we gotta go, there’s no time, no time.” It would repeat over and over again in my head. It didn’t matter how many hours were put in, there just wasn’t enough time to do everything that needed to be done. Things start falling through the cracks. If it wasn’t core to keeping the doors open, getting trains over the hill and making repairs, it wasn’t done.

One of those things that fell through the cracks was our newsletter, Ghost Tracks. I’d start it and it would get sidetrack because of a new demand. We tried to plug the gap with social media, but not all of our members do social media.

On July 11, 2016, a solution was found to our corporate governance. After another long meeting, restated Articles of Incorporation and new Bylaws were approved by the Ely City Council sitting as the Trustees of the Foundation. It was a historic vote.

The outcome? The name of the Foundation was changed. We are no longer known as the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, instead our new name is the Nevada Northern Railway Foundation. This new name is more in keeping with what our mission is – preserving the Nevada Northern Railway.

The new Foundation has a new seven member Board of Directors. Two of the Directors are Ely City Council members appoint by the Mayor for the duration of their term. (The City of Ely co-owns the railroad with the Foundation.) The remaining five directors are elected by the MEMBERS of the Foundation. In other words, the people who put the money in, have a say in electing the directors. The new bylaws also create an annual member’s meeting. This meeting is March 11, 2017, make your calendar now.

Also as part of the reorganization, my title changed from Executive Director to President and CEO, again this change is more in keeping with my duties.

Is all of the trauma over? No, but the vast majority of it is behind us. We’re trying to cram three years’ worth of work into three months. BUT if you’ll excuse the pun, we’re now on the right track! Now we need to develop new procedures for the new Foundation. There are also a few outstanding issues that need to be addressed. But the votes on July 11th gave us a new start. It gave us a future that is determined by the members of the Foundation. That means – you! This new start also lets the Foundation focus in on what needs to be done. It’s a win-win.

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