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Making Tracks—Where’s Ely Junction?

Just recently I received a series of old Nevada Northern Railway timetables. Timetables are a rare commodity at the museum. The museum has the original plans to the 1908 ashpit and most of the buildings, but we only have a few copies of the last timetables.

This is odd, because timetables were critical to the operation of a railroad, literally a matter of life and death. Trains were dispatched on timetable authority. They went from point A to point B and needed to leave and arrive at specific times because an opposing train might be coming from the opposite direction.

Having an opposing train on your track could cause all sorts of problems from a minor inconvenience to a rather spectacular collision. Remember only one train can occupy a section a track, the only way a train can pull over and get out of the way of another train is if there is a passing siding. So timetables governed the movement of trains on a railroad. So where is all of this leading to? Well in going through the old timetables one of the control points was Ely Junction. So where was Ely Junction?

Another oddity was in the East Ely yard. One of the switch stands was stenciled “NNM”. According to the switch list the museum has NNM stands for Nevada Northern Mainline. So why was a switch stand in the East Ely yard stenciled mainline? On the surface, none of this made much sense but a little research cleared up all of the mystery.

The original mainline was in front of the East Ely Depot. It went to the Ely Depot then on up to Ruth and the mines. When the railroad arrived in town on September 29, 1906, there was a huge celebration. The community was overjoyed to see the rails come to town. This was the future, Ely had rail service and the mines at Ruth could now be developed to their full potential. That’s right-the mainline of the Nevada Northern Railway ran right through the center of town on today’s Garden Street. This was great until the ore trains started to run.

The mines were developed quickly; copper ore was running through Ely behind steam locomotives. Lots of trains behind lots of steam locomotives were running right through the middle of town. All of these steam locomotives were throwing lots of smoke and ash into the air, right in the middle of town. Progress was great, but something needed to be done about the progress throwing all of this smoke and ash into the air right in the middle of town.

Something was done. The town forced the railroad to build a bypass track around the community. This track is the track that the Nevada Northern uses today for the passenger excursions and when ore goes by rail again. So where was Ely Junction and why was that switch stand marked as the mainline?

Ely Junction is where the mainline of the Nevada Northern Railway joined the bypass train on the west side of Ely just outside of the tunnel. Technically, the track ran from East Ely Junction to the East Ely Depot to the Ely Depot (the senior center) to Ely Junction where the mainline joined the bypass. This is why the switch stand in the East Ely Yard is marked Nevada Northern Mainline, because the mainline ran through the yard heading towards downtown Ely.

So where does this put us today? There is a part of the original mainline still in existence today that runs from the East Ely Depot towards the downtown. It proceeds from the East Ely Depot to the White Pine Public Museum. The boxcar at the White Pine Public Museum sits on the old mainline. The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is going to open this track between the two museums.

Why bother to open the track? The White Pine Public Museum has better visibility to the visiting public then the Nevada Northern Railway Museum does. Increased visibility will increase the number of visitors to both museums. Furthermore, even though the railroad museum has increased the number of trains for 2004 it will not be enough to meet the needs of all of the visitors. When visitors arrive at the railroad museum, their usual first question is, when’s the next train? And if there is not a train running right then, they are disappointed. Some will wait for the next train, but most will continue their journey.

With the track opened between the two museums, we can bring back the ping-pong trains. These trains ran on a frequent headway between downtown Ely and East Ely. These trains would encourage visitors to linger in Ely just a little longer and explore our community.

Then in the long term we can electrify the track between the two museums so we could run the electric locomotives between the facilities. Why take the time, effort and energy to string wire and put the electrics into operation? First, the electric locomotives are part of our heritage. They operated on about a mile of track in McGill. Secondly, this would make the Nevada Northern Railway Museum truly unique. We would be the only museum in the United States where the original steam, diesel, and electric locomotives would still be in operation. This uniqueness of operation would assist us in attracting additional visitors to Ely. Then if you really wanted to think big, why not put Ely Junction back into operation by rebuilding the mainline back through the downtown? Can you imagine what an attraction it would be to have trains running down Garden Street again?

Ely has a mining heritage. Running the trains down Garden Street through the downtown would allow the community to mine a new vein of tourists.

P.S. If you should have an original Nevada Northern Railway timetable, I ask that you consider donating it to the museum. As I mention at the beginning of this article, this is a big hole in the artifacts of the museum. If you have one and do not desire to donate it, the museum would appreciate a copy of it.

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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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