“BIG ENGINE COMING – Engine 93, the fourth of the monster type in use in the ore train service, will be started from the Pittsburg shops of the American Locomotive Co. on the 15th of this month for East Ely, according to advices that have been received.” - White Pine News, January 6, 1909.
Some things lead a charmed life. They’re lucky. No matter what happens, they wind up on top. Nevada Northern Railway Locomotive 93 is one such entity; on January 13, 2018 we celebrated the 109th birthday of Locomotive 93 with a special train at 1:00 pm. Ticket price is $10.90.
Locomotive 93 was the last of four locomotives ordered for ore line service by the American Smelters Securities Co. (a Guggenheim entity) for the Nevada Northern Railway. Built in January 1909 at the American Locomotive Works Pittsburg plant (construction number 44604), there is only one reason that she not only continues to exist, but she also still steams, and that is luck!
Think about it. Locomotive 93 is still doing today what her designers and builders envisioned over a century ago! She is still steaming, still hauling trains and still making money for the railroad. Here’s a riddle for you, what device that you use today will your great-grand children be using in 109 years? It has to be the exact same device.
Considered by the White Pine News to be a “monster” locomotive she is actually a midsize steam locomotive. Her wheel arrangement is 2-8-0. That means she has two pilot wheels to guide her around curves and eight driving wheels that delivered a tractive effort of 41,890 foot-pounds, with no trailing wheels. A century ago, she cost $17,610.
In January 1952, the other three locomotives that were part of the original order with Locomotive 93 were sent to McGill to be scrapped. Finally, in 1961, her days on the Nevada Northern Railway were over. She was donated to the White Pine Public Museum where she was put on display; a remembrance of the way it was in White Pine County. For any other locomotive this would have been a death sentence. Outdoors, year after year, with no protection from the weather, she sat.
In 1990, Locomotive 93 was towed back to the Nevada Northern Railway engine house. Project 93 was started with the goal of putting Locomotive 93 back in operating condition. The work that was done was just enough - so she could pull trains again. In 1993, after three years of hard work, Locomotive 93 was back in service. Now she began her second career of pulling excursion trains instead of ore trains. This was the second time she escaped the scrapper’s cutting torch.
Life looked good for Locomotive 93; she had escaped the fate of most steam locomotives: the scrapper’s cutting torch - twice now. But just two years after her rebirth, disaster struck. As Locomotive 93 was heading up through town towards Keystone with an excursion train, unbeknownst to her train crew, a flat car of ties had broken lose from Keystone. Heading to town at over sixty miles an hour, it slammed into Locomotive 93.
The force of the collision was such that the tender tank broke free from the frame and smashed into the cab; luckily the crew wasn’t seriously injured nor was there a boiler explosion. The front of the locomotive was mangled and the frame was broken in multiple places, for any other locomotive this would have been the end of the line. It would now be cut up and sold for scrap. But not Locomotive 93; remember that charmed life?
Instead, in a remote community, 240 miles from anywhere, Locomotive 93 was repaired. In two years’ time, repairs were complete and Locomotive 93 was back in service. She had miraculously dodged the scrapper’s torch for a third time.
But, ironically, across the country, at almost the same time as the collision in Ely, a steam locomotive in Pennsylvania had a partial boiler failure. This incident would have major repercussions not only for Locomotive 93 but to all steam locomotives in the country.
Due to the incident in Pennsylvania, the federal government changed the rules on steam locomotives. For Locomotive 93 to remain in service, her boiler would have to be thoroughly gone through, examined and rebuilt. If her boiler was not rebuilt, then Locomotive 93 would be taken out of service again - permanently.
But Locomotive 93 is lucky. An event in Utah would have major ramifications for Locomotive 93. Utah had been selected as the site for the 2002 Winter Olympics. One of the venues was Soldier Hollow. There were only two ways to get in, one by bus and one by rail served by the Heber Valley Scenic Railway.
The Heber Valley Scenic Railway invited us to work with them to provide steam powered rail service to the Olympic venue. Now the pressure was on to complete the boiler rebuild and transport Locomotive 93 and two coaches to Utah in time for the Olympics. Once again, the staff and volunteers rose to the challenge and money was found to rebuild the boiler and transport everything to Utah, and another bullet had been dodged. This was for the fourth time!
Then one day axle 2, ran so hot that Locomotive 93 needed to be taken off her train and wait for the axle to cool so she could limp back into town. None of our tricks would work, the axle stubbornly overheated. Now we had to get serious. We dropped the axle to start repairs.
Axle 2 was stamped 12-30-08, as in 1908. After 99-years of service, it was at the end of its life. Calls to the warranty department of the American Locomotive Company went unanswered.
Our original plan was to just repair axle 2 and get Locomotive 93 back in service. Then in December 2007, we got hit with another whammy. Cracks were found in axle 2. We could turn out all of the cracks except for one. Now we needed a new axle. Since we found one axle with cracks, we suspected that the other axles could be cracked and sure enough our worse fears were confirmed. Axles 1 and 3 also had cracks and axle 4 was on the verge of being condemned because it had been turned so much. Short version, we needed four axles for a ninety-nine year old steam locomotive.
You just don’t call up the Acme Steam Locomotive Axle Company and order axles. It appeared that Locomotive 93’s luck had finally run out. In addition to the axles, a closer examination revealed that her entire running gear needed to be rebuilt. A decision needed to be made, We either had to put number 2 axle back in and then put Locomotive 93 on static display or go out and raise the money to do a complete rebuild of her running gear. The decision was made to rebuild and address all of the issues that need to be repaired. $500,000 would be invested in Locomotive 93. Locomotive 93’s luck was still holding and for the fifth time the bullet had been dodged!
It the spring of 2008, we had our work cut out for us. A thousand and one decisions needed to be made and the clock was ticking. We were bound and determined to have the rebuild of Locomotive 93’s running gear done by her Centennial in January 2009.
Rebuilding a steam locomotive in the 21st century is not for the faint of
heart. In addition to finding vendors for obscure parts, like steam
locomotive axles, it takes money, bunches and bunches of money.
On December 27th, Locomotive 93 rolled out of the enginehouse under her own power for the first test run. The test run showed that some adjustments needed to be made, but that was expected. On the December 28th, more test runs and more adjustments. The good news was that everything was working as planned.
Finally on January 17, 2009, Locomotive 93 hauled her first passenger train up the hill at 1:00 pm. Then at 5:00 pm the official Centennial Birthday Celebration started. Governor Jim Gibbons rode locomotive 93 from the enginehouse to the depot. At the depot, in front of a large crowd, the Governor read a proclamation proclaiming January 17, 2009 - Engine 93 Day.
In October 2016, Locomotive hit the 1,472 day or 15 year inspection requirement. This would entail stripping the boiler so it could be inspected. Starting in February 2017 the work started. In less than a year, the work is complete! On January 13th, Locomotive 93 will once again be back in service, ready for another 15 years of service.
To keep a steam locomotive in operation in the 21st century, people worked until late at night, while others start early in the morning. They worked in miserable conditions. They worked through the ups and downs. And when I say work, I mean hard, backbreaking, filthy, dirty, dangerous work.
To fund the work, others dug deep into their pockets to supply the cash necessary for the repairs. Through their combined efforts, a piece of White Pine County, a piece of Nevada’s past and a piece of our country’s past, was saved.
We commend the people who study history. But the people I believe who really deserve a shout-out, are the doers. To them history is not something in dusty books, but history is something that is alive. Operating a steam locomotive in the 21st Century is demanding. Yet, these doers are up to the task. It is not easy, but they believe it is necessary and my hat is off to them.
Was it luck or just plain cussedness? Six times Locomotive 93 dodged the bullet. How? It was because everyone pitching together, either turning wrenches or donating money. This team effort will allow Locomotive 93 to continue to tell the story of steam railroading in the Silver State and in the United States for generations to come!