Nevada Northern Railway
National Historic Landmark      Ely, NV

Mark Bassett, Executive Director, Nevada Northern Railway

Hi this is Mark Bassett, Executive Director of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely Nevada.

Fast Facts

WHAT: Capital campaign to restore Locomotives 81 and keep 40 and 93 rolling through their major maintenance cycles.

COST: $1,623,164

HOW: You can make a donation now.

If you are not a member, you can start your membership, and then make a donation here

Project: Phoenix Dare

Time stopped at the Nevada Northern Railway. It’s as if the workers went to lunch and never came back. They left behind a complete railroad. It’s the last of its kind, the sole survivor from a grand era in the American West.

Now a National Historic Landmark, the Nevada Northern Railway is considered the best preserved historic railroad, left in the country. The grounds include over 70 buildings, structures and 30 miles of track. The collection consists of operating historic steam and diesel locomotives with over 70 pieces of rolling stock. The oldest railroad car dates to 1872, when President Grant was in the White House and not on the $50 bill. Here you can put your Hands On History. Instead of relics in glass cases or repainted old equipment on static display, here you witness a working 19th century steam railroad. It’s gritty. It’s dirty. It smells of coal smoke, creosote and sweat. The railroad excites all of your senses.

You have to be daring just to get to Ely

There is no other place like the Nevada Northern Railway. It’s not prettified, it’s the Real McCoy. When you visit the railroad, be sure to set your watch back 100 years.

To preserve the Nevada Northern Railway we have undertaken a bold project, which we’ve named the Phoenix Dare! It’s daring, audacious and critical to the continued success of this National Historic Landmark railroad.

Our objective is to preserve this 19th century railroad and keep it operating long into the 21st, if not the 22nd century. Our immediate goal is to bring two of our original steam locomotives back in service, Locomotives 93 and 81. But to do so we need your help!

Why a Phoenix?

From mythology, a Phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. A Phoenix typically dies by fire and rises from the ashes. The symbolism of a Phoenix fits a steam locomotive to a ‘T’.

Steam locomotives go through the same cycle as a Phoenix. Every time we light a fire in a steam locomotive, we consume a portion of it. A steam locomotive boiler’s life cycle is fifteen years. This is mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). At the end of this fifteen year cycle, a steam locomotive dies. But, just like a Phoenix, a steam locomotive can be reborn, to begin the cycle all over again! And that’s what the Phoenix Dare is all about, regenerating this 19th century railroad to face the challenges of the 21st century!

Locomotive 40 and 93 at East Ely, ready for departure

Our steam locomotive program is facing a crisis. We now only have one steam locomotive in operation, Locomotive 40. She cannot carry the work load by herself. She just can’t do it. She has issues dating back to the 1930s that could sideline her for months, if not years. If this happens, it would be a financial catastrophe to the museum not to have an operating steam locomotive!

The simple fact is that people come to Ely, Nevada to see our steam locomotives in operation. If a person is going to commit to making a 1,000 mile, or more, round trip then they want to see one of our steam locomotives hot. We learned that lesson in 2008. We had no operating steam locomotives and it was devastating. Our visitation dropped by almost a third, causing a massive loss of revenue. We cannot, and will not, allow this to happen again. And we won’t, with your help!

Become a Partner

We need you to partner with us in the Phoenix Dare! Why a Dare? Because our goal is audacious. In the most remote city in the continental United States, we’re going to keep a 19th century railroad in operation! And we have our work cut out for us!

91 ready for boiler overhaul

First up, is to complete the mandated 15-year boiler inspection on Locomotive 93. This work must be accomplished by July 1st!

To do the inspection, the boiler needs to be stripped down to its shell. All tubes are removed from the boiler. The boiler is then cleaned and tested. If it passes the test, then the tubes are reinstalled and the locomotive is put back together. The estimated cost of the rebuild is $73,000.

The work has started, the clock is ticking. Locomotive 93 must be ready to roll by July 1, 2017, no if’s, ands, or, but’s!

If you climb on board, we can do it! Join or donated today!

While we’re working on Locomotive 93, we also need to be working Locomotive 81. To insure the success of the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark, we need two operating steam locomotives.

Our plan is to get Locomotive 93 out the door by July 1, and then focus on Locomotive 81. Why? As I mentioned earlier, Locomotive 40 has issues that date back to the Great Depression. At any time, she could be sidelined with a serious mechanical issues and we can’t survive with just one locomotive.

Since Locomotive 93 was needed to finish the 2016 season, we started the repairs on Locomotive 81 in the summer of 2016. As lot of work was accomplished. Today the boiler has been stripped.

The last time Locomotive 81 looked this way was a century ago at the Baldwin Locomotive Plant in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Restoration of Locomotive 81 will allow us to operate our steam trains more efficiently.

Locomotive 81 was purchased new by the Nevada Northern Railway in March of 1917. She is our “Goldilocks” locomotive. Locomotive 93 is too big for what we do, and Locomotive 40 is too small. Locomotive 81 is just right! She is also our “newest” locomotive. Of course, “newest” is a relative term here. Locomotive 81 was delivered with all of the latest technology for 1917.

Restoring Locomotive 81 will allow the museum to take advantage of this technology. What does this mean? Because of the improvements that Locomotive 81 received and her size, this should equate to lower operating costs for the Museum.

The same holds true today as it did a century ago; businesses are always trying to lower their operating costs. The Museum is no different, we need to stretch every dollar.

81 in Active Service

Why We Are Here

There was a time when the United States was the industrial powerhouse in the world. Walking through our machine shop and engine house complex today is like walking through a morgue. You can see the names of great companies that are no more – Baldwin Locomotive Works, American Locomotive Company, Cincinnati Machine Company and many, many others.

If you have some grey in your hair, chances are you took shop in school, turned wrenches on your first car, and today you continue to fix things. We are no longer a nation of people who fix things, instead we are now a throwaway society. Repair something? Maybe, if you could find the person with the tools, parts, skills and knowledge.

This is the crucial challenge that is facing our museum and our nation. Where do you find the necessary mechanical and industrial skills needed to maintain our century old locomotives, rolling stock and buildings? On a national level, where is the next generation of mechanics and craftsmen coming from?

By joining us in the Phoenix Dare you will be creating the opportunity and supporting the dreams of young men and women who want to learn these skills. And, who knows, maybe those dreams started by watching a steam locomotive in operation!

But to accomplish the Dare, we need your help. We need you, yes, you - to become a member of the museum by joining today or to contribute to the Phoenix Dare! Keeping this railroad in operation is a team effort which relies on memberships and donations from people just like you!

Kevin and John Henry in our 1907 machine shop. John Henry is leaning on Locomotive 93’s headlight. Both young men are involved with the restoration of 93 and 81.

The Mission

Is the Phoenix Dare a tall order? Yes! Is it ambitious? Utterly! Is it audacious? Absolutely! So why is the Dare so gosh darn important? Why is it worth doing?

Everything that we have as a society, has roots in steam railroading.

The steam locomotive changed everything. It freed society from animal power and wind power. It opened continents and it changed the way we live at the most basic levels.

How basic? Look at your watch and the time that it displays is an echo of steam railroading.

The Nevada Northern Railway is an extraordinary place. In fact, it is a National Historic Landmark. National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places designated by the federal government, because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.

A visit to the Nevada Northern Railway illustrates those lofty words. But here illustrating and interpreting is hands on. We are not your typical museum. Here, instead of artifacts in glass cases, exhibits behind ropes, or repainted old equipment on static display, the Nevada Northern is a working steam railroad. We encourage our visitors to explore and interact. Our mission statement requires us to operate the railroad for future generations. Here, the technology that built our country, engages you!

Our 30th Anniversary of running steam locomotives is this year, 2017. It is also the 100th birthday of Locomotive 81.

This year is a celebration of can do itness. 32 years ago the copper mine and the smelter were closed. It looked the end of the line for the railroad and the City of Ely.

But as mentioned earlier, the Nevada Northern Railway tells the story of dreameing BIG. Taking risks and accomplishing MIGHTY goals!

That is the take away of the Phoenix Dare - it is the story of BIG Dreams and NEW Beginnings and don’t you want to be part of it?

If you are not yet a member, join and contribute here

If you are already a member contribute to Phoenix Dare here