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An Olympic Achievement

I had the opportunity to give a presentation to the White Pine County Commissioners on Wednesday. As part of the presentation I reviewed the Museum’s experience at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. I would like to share this Olympic Achievement with you this week.

A little background on the Olympics, the venues for the games were spread out all of the Salt Lake area. The Soldier Hollow venue was not accessible by automobile. There were only two ways to travel to it either by bus or by train. Soldier Hollow is located along the right of way of the Heber Valley Railroad, approximately 4 miles from the Heber Depot. It was estimated that daily attendance at this venue could range up to twenty thousand spectators per day during the sixteen days of the Olympics. This was more than the Heber Valley Railroad could handle. So they went looking for help and asked the Nevada Northern if they would like to help.

At the same time Locomotive 93 was down for Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) required repairs. And Locomotive 40 would become unserviceable due to the FRA required repairs. For the Nevada Northern to assist Heber, Locomotive 93 would need to meet the FRA requirements. For Locomotive 93 to operate during our 2002 season it would need these repairs or the Museum would not have a steam locomotive in 2002. The Olympics acted as a catalyst to insure that Locomotive 93 would operate in 2002. The Museum had money for the repairs, but how to get the locomotive and the passenger cars over to Salt Lake City?

The locomotive and passenger cars would have to go by truck. Cranes would need to be brought to Ely for the loading. All of this was going to be expensive.

So why do it? The Management Board felt this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. For this was the first time in Olympic history that the quintessential American icon, the steam powered passenger train will be providing transportation at an Olympic event. This was our opportunity to receive regional, national and worldwide exposure for the Museum, the City of Ely, and White Pine County.

Then it was how to do it? The estimate for moving the equipment to Salt Lake and back again was at $85,000 to $90,000. As work continued on Locomotive 93, fund raising went into high gear to raise the money needed. Local businesses purchased signs inside the passenger cars. Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and the State of Nevada came forward and purchased additional signs. Appeals were made in local and regional media, and the public responded with cold cash.

In January, it all came together. Locomotive 93 was finished, the coaches repainted and we had a media day in Ely to try everything out. It was a success, Locomotive 93, whose 93rd birthday was in January, preformed flawlessly. The coaches looked great and everything was ready for Salt Lake.

Locomotive and coaches were successfully loaded and unloaded at Heber. Our locomotive and coaches were part of the “Torch Train,” traveling to Soldier Hollow. Here an Olympic torch runner boarded the train to light the cauldron on a special car of the train. They then returned to the Heber City Depot where the next runner boarded the train, lit the torch from the cauldron, and went on her way on the next leg of the journey of the torch run to Salt Lake City. It was an exciting and very moving experience for all those on board.

Then the work began; the Nevada Northern Railway provided daily transportation to the Soldier Hollow venue. The daily attendance at this venue ranged up to twenty thousand spectators per day during the sixteen days of the Olympics. The days were long, early call was at 4:00 a.m. Days lasted until midnight, and then the locomotive needed to be tended all night long in arctic weather conditions.

This is all well and good, but was it worth it?

Well, winter weather created a list of problems, but cold plus coal-fired locomotives equates to steam plus dramatic imagery. The media flocked to the railroad. They were able to record steam railroading at its visual finest, day and night. In an era when attentions spans are short and media competition is fierce, dramatic video and photography is a must. And this was provided.

Cameramen from across the globe raced from crossing to crossing, juxtaposing people, horses and cattle against clouds of steam and snow-covered backdrops. From “USA Today to the “NBC Today Show” the list of media outlets focusing on the steam operations seemed endless. Even the Wall Street Journal got in on the act featuring a color photo of Locomotive 93 in Ely, along with an article covering the event from a financial viewpoint.

At the County Commission meeting I was asked if we had to purchase this type of exposure how much would it cost? I replied about $1,750,000 and this is a low estimate. A commercial during the Super Bowl costs $1,000,000; we had six minutes on the Today Show during the Olympics! My estimate doesn’t include USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and regional papers in Salt Lake, Las Vegas and Reno. Then there was additional television in Salt Lake, Reno, and Las Vegas again. And these are just the ones we know about.

But was it worth it? Yes!

Tourism is up in White Pine County. The ridership is up on the Nevada Northern. The Museum raised $95,142.93 to go to Olympics. We spent $87,247.11. That left us in the black to the tune of $7,895.82. Locomotive 93’s boiler is good for the next five or more years and the coaches were repainted and named the Ely and the Nevada. Contacts were made in the steam railway fraternity. This will come in helpful as we start on Locomotive 40. Most of all it showed that Museum could successfully undertake and complete complicated projects.

And to all of you out there that helped, please pat yourself on the back, you deserve it and THANKS.

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Monday - Saturday | 8AM - 5PM
Sunday | 8AM - 4PM

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1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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