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I Want You to Volunteer for the Nevada Northern Railway

With the start of the new year, we are getting closer to the start of the most challenging season in the history of the museum. Starting April 15 and going through December 30, trains will be operating at the museum. If you ever had a hankering to assist in train operations this would be a good year to start.

This is an aggressive schedule. Daily train operations start May 16 and continue through to September 30. The peak of the operating season is from the 4th of July to Labor Day. During this time, steam will be operating daily. For eight weeks, it will seem like it’s the 1940s in Ely. Every morning a steam-powered excursion train will depart the East Ely depot.

A lot of people think that the steam trains are powered by coal and the diesel trains by diesel fuel. But I’m here to tell you that’s not quite true. Oh sure you need to throw coal into the firebox of the steam locomotives. But what really powers the trains are the volunteers who throw the coal and operate the locomotives.

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is truly powered by its volunteers. Over 95% of the trains leaving East Ely are crewed by volunteers. For the museum to have a successful season we need engineers, fireman, brakeman, and conductors. Along with train crew volunteers, we need support staff volunteers that includes narrators, ticket sellers, gift shop helpers and tour guides. And if that isn’t enough, there are volunteer positions down in the machine shop and enginehouse. And let’s not forget the fifty-six acres of grounds and thirty miles of track that all needs looking after.

Simply put the museum does not have the manpower or the financial resources to accomplish its mission of preserving and showcasing the Nevada Northern Railway. This is where the volunteers come in as a vital part of our success. Last year volunteers donated over 18,000 hours to the museum and those are the hours that were logged. This time is conservatively worth $180,000.

When people come to the museum they want to see the steam locomotives. And to a certain extent it’s the same with the volunteers. Everyone wants to be in the cab of a steamer. This is possible but it takes a lot of time and commitment.

For people interested in being a train crewmember, everyone starts as a student brakeman. The student is assigned to a regular brakeman and shadows his every step. The student is also issued a Nevada Northern rulebook. After a couple trips, the student is tested on their knowledge. If they pass the test, they are promoted to brakeman. From brakeman the next step is to conductor. This requires more trips, training, and testing. During the path to conductor the volunteer will be assigned as head brakeman.

The head brakeman is part of the engine crew. This is the individual’s opportunity to watch and learn from the engine crew. This experience exposes the brakeman to the intricacies of locomotive operation. And if the brakeman is on the ball, the fireman will generally surrender the shovel and let the brakeman throw some coal into the firebox.

When a person is promoted to conductor, they are given a considerable responsibility: they are in charge of the train. It is their responsibility to see that train leaves on time, the passengers enjoy their trip. and that the train is operated safely over the track. The conductor must be a diplomat, be knowledgeable in train operations and first aid plus have a sense of humor.

Upon promotion to conductor, a person can then enter engine service. To a certain extent it feels like they are starting all over again and to a certain extent they are. If they want to be in the steam program, they start as a student fireman. After qualifying as a fireman they become a student engineer. Only after demonstrating proficiency and passing a test does a person become a steam locomotive engineer.

As mentioned before, there are plenty of other volunteer opportunities available at the museum. Another huge need is for tour guides. Last year, the museum combined a tour of the grounds with the excursion ride. This program was widely successful. What it needs to take it to the next level are trained tour guides. This program needs individuals who enjoy history, working with the public, and walking.

Then there are the grounds. Volunteers are needed for building maintenance, vegetation control, and track work. All a person needs is a love of the outdoors and the willingness to swing a hammer or wield paintbrush.

With the advent of spring, its time to start gearing up for the biggest and busiest season the Nevada Northern Railway Museum has ever seen. For this to be a success, the museum needs lots of volunteers. I invite you to join us. For more information, contact Mark Bassett at 775-289-2085.

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Hours of Operation

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

Our Location

1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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