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More Good Old Days on the Nevada Northern

In the museum’s collection is an autobiography of Mr. Harold Millard Peterson. Mr. Peterson worked for the Nevada Northern Railway from 1937 to 1975. He retired from the railroad as General Manager. With the Centennial of the railroad rapidly approaching, I thought I would share with you what it was like on the Nevada Northern from Mr. Peterson’s recollection. What follows is an excerpt from his autobiography.
     I rode ore trains on a regular basis, one or two days or nights a week, and went to Cobre on the freight train once or twice a month. I rode in the locomotives, sitting next to the steam boiler just ahead of the fireman, or in the caboose, sitting up in the cupola with the conductor and rear brakeman. I walked along the trains with the brakemen while they made the air tests and signaled the engineer that it was safe to proceed.     Mr. Fravel said I had a “Hex” on the Cobre freight train. Within the first few months, I was riding two trains that were derailed. On the first one, I was riding in the engine going to Cobre, when an empty coal car derailed, taking 15 empty cars off the track, some of them as far as 50 feet. This happened about 9 p.m. and after checking the track and the derailed cars, we called dispatcher by using our emergency phone. It had a long pole which would reach up to the telephone wires, with clips to attach to both wires, and wires down to our phone box. We then took the front of the train on to Shafter and Cobre, then went to dinner and bed. Mr. Fravel was unhappy when he had to call an extra crew and bring a work train to the site of the derailment. The train had our 100-ton crane and the men from the Car Department we called the Wrecking Crew. They had two passenger coaches, equipped and ready to at all times to go out on the line. In one coach, they had the rear end equipped with bunk beds. The front had a kitchen and a long table with benches, where the entire crew, plus trainmen, enginemen and trackmen could be fed. I remember taking a prepared list to a grocery store in the middle of the night and waiting while the order was put up in boxes to take to the cooking car. The second car was filled with tools for the carmen. On derailments that took more than a day to clear the track, the men were fed in groups of ten so the work could go on without interruption. They had enough food for Mr. Fravel and me too.     On this first derailment, Mr. Fravel came with the worktrain from East Ely, but because it was 100 miles from East Ely, he did not arrive until 8 or 9 a.m. In the meantime, I had gone to Cobre with the train, had four or five hours sleep, then came with the Cobre Section Gang on an open motor car. Thank goodness it was summertime. We had good luck rerailing the empty cars, and by dark, the worktrain and Mr. Fravel had started back to East Ely, taking the damaged coal cars with them.

I stayed and when the freight crew came with the locomotive from Cobre, we took the rear of the train to Shafter and Cobre. The next morning, we started again on the regular trip to East Ely, picking up carlods of coal, lumber, gasoline, diesel oil, etc., and went on to McGill and East Ely.     I should tell you that the State Law required that trainmen and enginemen could not be on duty longer than 16 hours, which meant that the worktrain had to stop at Currie for 8 hours rest before they could continue on to East Ely. However, the carmen all caught the bus home.     Two weeks later, I was sitting in the caboose on the freight train leaving Shafter about 10 a.m. with at least 75 loaded cars and two locomotives. We were going along about 30 miles per hour when we derailed 10 carloads of coal, tearing up the track for 300 feet, and badly damaging the coal cars. This was at a point not 10 miles from the point where the first accident occurred. I am sure I could hear Mr. Fravel cussing. Again, we checked the track, put up the portable phone and called the dispatcher to report the derailment. We found that the rail leading into a turnout switch had buckled into an “S” curve and caused the derailment.

This happened before due to 90 degree heat during the summers.     Again, we proceeded with the front cars of the train to McGill and East Ely. The next morning, as soon as the crew had 8 hours rest, off we went with the wrecking crew and their outfit cars, the 100 ton crane, and also a clamshell crane, which we needed to unload many of the carloads of coal before we could bring them back on the track. Mr. Fravel stayed home, but we called him regularly to keep him informed. When the 16-hour Law caught us, we were only partly finished, so we had to go back to Currie and tie up for 8 hours. We also had to fill the engine with water. The second day we finished rerailing the cars, and the track was repaired so we could reach the rear of the train and the caboose, but again we ran out of time and had to stop for rest, this time at Cherry Creek. We all had our meals with the carmen and had bunks in the sleeping car. A roundhouse man from East Ely arrived to take care of the locomotive. We finally got back to East Ely with the worktrain, the damaged coal cars, and the rear of the train. Inasmuch as we were then behind schedule, the freight crew was called after 8 hours rest and started out again to McGill and Cobre. In the meantime, we had the switch crew running back and forth to Ruth and Kimberly, then over to McGill to push the rear cars of coal into McGill yard.

 I must admit we had some bad ore train wrecks also. One was on the hill just above Ely, where ten carloads of ore derailed and ended up side by side like an accordian. We had to bring Kennecott crew down from Ruth, through the tunnel, to work on the rear of the train. They had a large diesel-electric crane. We worked on the front end with the 100 ton steam crane. The work was all taking place right about Ely’s Red Light District. The girls all waved at our crews from the Big Four and Green Lantern.

Today the museum still has the two cranes that Mr Peterson mentions. The diesel electric crane is still used by the museum for track projects and the 100-ton steam crane is undergoing restoration and should be in service this year.

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1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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