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Museum Update

It was a very busy summer. The museum is on track (sorry, pun intended,) to beat last year’s record year of 12,415 passengers. So far this year we have carried 9,832 passengers. This year tested the museum’s capabilities and I’m happy to report, we passed with flying colors.

On May 16th, we started daily operations. After Memorial Day, the tempo increased to two daily trains a day. The period from the 4th of July through Labor Day was the big test. The schedule increased to three trains a day with the 9:30 train being steam. Frankly, the daily steam operations really pushed the museum. There’s a reason why the railroads scrapped tens of thousands of steam locomotives in a decade and went to diesels. The reason was the intense amount of work that a steam locomotive requires. For the steam locomotive to be ready for its 9:30 a.m. train, the shop crew would show up at 4:00 a.m. Then after the run when the locomotive was put back into the enginehouse, the fire was banked and the locomotive simmered until the next morning. During the evening and the night, members of the crew would come in and check the locomotive and maybe throw in a few pieces of coal. This tempo went on for eight weeks.

Since steam operations started this year on April 15, we only missed one trip. Locomotive 40 experienced a breakdown traveling from the enginehouse to the train one morning in late August. Because the museum has two steam locomotives up and running, the shop forces were able to put 93 into service until repairs could be made to 40. The wizards at the shop were able to put 40 back in service the next day.

By having two steam locomotives, we were able to rotate the locomotives in service. This allowed the shop crew to do maintenance on one steamer while the other was in service. As a rule of thumb, for every hour the locomotive is hot, there are two hours of maintenance that need to be done. And remember it takes four to six hours for a steam locomotive to get ready from lighting off the fire to moving it out the door.

If maintaining the steam locomotives were not enough, the shop crew was also able to get steam wrecking crane A back in service. This 100-ton crane was purchased new by the Nevada Northern in 1907. Crane A was used by the railroad to clean up derailments and in the construction of the McGill Smelter. On August 8th, Crane A was put back into service.

One of the dirtiest jobs undertaken by the museum this year is the repairs to the pit jack and the drop pit. The enginehouse has a very deep pit that is under machine shop track two and goes under the wall into the enginehouse and is under enginehouse tracks one and two. The drop pit is used for dropping locomotive axles. In the pit is a jack that comes up and holds the locomotive axle and then lowers it so repairs can be made. After the repairs are made, the axle with its wheels can then be raised and put back in the locomotive. The jack has not been used in years. Locomotive 40 is going to need a set of drivers dropped this winter. To do this job, we need the pit jack to work. To complicate matters, on August 1 the machine shop and enginehouse flooded. There was a cloudburst and it looked like all of the water from East Ely found its way into the Nevada Northern yards and most of that water found its way into drop pit. So to start the project, we needed to pump out over 20,000 gallons of water and sludge. Once all the water was pumped out, then the muck in the very bottom of the pit needed to be attacked. The only way was with shovels and barrels. Now the pit is cleaned out, but the pit jack still needs work.

The shop crew also cleaned, serviced, and put the wheel lathe back in operation. Wheels were then turned for the Grand Canyon Railroad. We now have the capabilities to turn wheels for ourselves and others.

Not only was a lot of work going on inside the enginehouse, but a lot of work was going on to the enginehouse. The museum completed a next phase of the enginehouse stabilization project. This entailed rebuilding the northwest corner of the building and various walls of the structure. There is still work to be done on the walls, roof, and building utilities like light and heat.

Out in the yard, work continued with the yard tracks by replacing ties, repairing frogs, and spraying for weeds. A project that was started years ago was tackled and that is the yard crossover track. The remaining ties have been installed and ballast has been dumped. All that remains is tamping and lining. Then out on the mainline another culvert was repaired, ties replaced, and soft spots tamped.

Emergency stabilization of the McGill Depot was completed. Now we’re moving forward to repairing the roof and finishing the exterior repairs. Speaking of buildings, Bill Holht adopted the Pipe Shop building and repaired all of the windows in the building. Thanks Bill! The MOW speeders group was in town over Labor Day weekend. They did tremendous work removing sagebrush at Lane City; now you can actually see the rails.

They also undertook the Chief Engineer’s building. I’ve considered this the second biggest eyesore in the yard. Standing at the depot, you can see a boarded up building—not the best impression you want to give the public. The MOW group repaired all of the windows on the south and west sides, painted the window frames, and repaired the front door. But to get to the windows they needed to clean out the building. In the process of cleaning up, boxes of old correspondence were uncovered with some of the letters dating back to 1912.

In the process of cleaning up the building, we started to study the building a little closer and noticed that the building was actually divided in half once upon a time. It appears that the two sections were brought into the yard, put on a foundation, and pushed together. This of course creates a new mystery—why? As a guess, could this building be the first depot for Cherry Creek and McGill? According to old records the railroad built a temporary depot at Cherry Creek and then moved it to McGill. Once the current McGill Depot was built there is no mention of the temporary depot again. Could it have been moved into the East Ely yard and taken by the Chief Engineer for his office? Don’t know, just another Nevada Northern mystery.

Also out in the yard, a concrete coal pad was constructed. This pad allows the museum to keep its coal out of the dirt, which makes firing the steamers a lot easier. Work is also ongoing on the ashpit. The I-beams have been placed and the bracing and the walkways are almost complete. Next up is to place the rail, and the ashpit will be ready for service. Slowly but surely progress is being made on all fronts.

Then to cap off the summer season, the PBS show Great Scenic Railway Journeys spent two days filming the Nevada Northern. That was exciting, fun, and a lot of hard work. We steamed up 40, 93, and the crane. The highlight was when we ran a diesel pacing train in front of 93 for filming and 40 was in the hole at Lane City. As we came through Lane City, a photo line appeared to capture 40, 93, and 105 out on the tracks all at the same time. It made for a great run.

A phenomenal amount of work has been accomplished this past summer. Yet there is a phenomenal amount of work that still needs to be done. As we move into the fall and winter months, the staff and the volunteers will be as busy as bees working on the property. If you’re bored and looking for something to do, come join us.

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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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