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Preservation of the Nevada Northern Railway

by J. Joan Bassett

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is over twenty-two years old. During that time, the organization has been focusing in on operations and has to a degree overlooked the museum aspect. The museum’s mission is to collect, restore, display, and interpret the history of the Nevada Northern Railway. To do this, an individual is given the responsibility to make the displays, collect the paperwork, protect it, and file it. Another responsibility is to inventory the artifacts that are part of the museum’s collection. This is the responsibility of the curator. As Curator of the Nevada Northern Railway, it is my job to oversee all of those things. Since 2004, various activities have been done in this regard.

The museum now has a Welcome Center to explain the railroad and how it came to be in this area. This display includes pictures of the McGill smelter and the pits at Ruth. These are an integral part of the story of the Nevada Northern Railway.

In our air-conditioned, push button world, we tend to forget it wasn’t always that way. In the yard are two displays that show what it was like to work for the Nevada Northern. In the scale house, a mannequin is posed as if he is checking the scale. This display was only made possible due to the support of the local Rotary Club that provided the funding to repair the building. New windows and a door protect the inside of the building from the weather.

The office of the Car Shop Foreman has been cleaned and put on display as though he just went to lunch. Hanging on the wall are his bibs and hardhat. Behind his desk is his radio. There is a funny story about that radio. When I was first cleaning out that building, Mark, the Executive Director came by. There I was cleaning up the room and he started testing light switches. The radio was still plugged in and when he turned on one light switch, the radio came to life, loudly, playing a march. Mark jumped up and back. The office had not been used for twenty years. But still plugged into the wall and working is the foreman’s radio. It was just eerie.

Next to the foreman’s office is the air brake building. The air brake building shows the tools that were used to rebuild the air brakes and then test then before they were put back on the railroad cars. There is also a continuing display in the Jailhouse Restaurant and Casino window to show the current events at the museum. This is all part of the responsibilities of the curator.

But the part that you don’t see is the filing and caring for papers that are found in various buildings on the museum property. These are being archived and stored for the interpretation and to preserve the history of the railroad. There are also books that have been catalogued and numbered to create a future library of the Nevada Northern and railroading in general. Objects that are part of the museum are also being cleaned, stored, or put on display. A big project that the museum has undertaken is to build a computerized database of all of the rolling stock at the museum.

Recently a volunteer took pictures of all of the railroad cars on the property. The next step is to identify all of the cars. This is not as easy as it sounds. On many of the cars, the car numbers are missing. Paper records will be to be reviewed looking for clues on the car numbers as well as old photographs. Once this is done, the information will be combined with the photographs and this will be put in a database. Then an explanation of the type of car and what it was used for will be added to the car description. What many people don’t realize is that the cars themselves are part of the museum’s display. The cars tell a story about the Nevada Northern.

In the future, we are planning for a building to store the paperwork and objects under the best of possible conditions. It would require constant temperature, low lighting, constant humidity, and dust-free air circulation. This is in the planning stages and we would need to get the funding before we can build it. This would also have displays and the story of the Nevada Northern in details not achievable in the rail yards.

This is the first time a curator has been at the Nevada Northern. We are always looking for more items that are part of the railroad. Some of the items that we have received are on display in various buildings.

Recently an employee pass was donated to the museum and put on display in the Welcome Center. Most people don’t know that the railroad would issue passes to employees and their families for travel on the railroad. So by displaying the pass, we can show a small piece of the history of the railroad and personalize it.

These items are all important to the story of the Nevada Northern Railway. So instead of stumbling over those old and dusty railroad objects and papers that you have lying around, please donate them to the museum and we will take good care of them. This is the job of the curator.

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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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