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Steaming in the Silver State for a Century — Part II

by Keith Albrandt

The second and final installment describing the 1905–1906 construction of the Nevada Northern Railway from Cobre to Ely. Part I of this article is available here.

New Year’s Day 1906 saw grading practically abandoned on the line due to frozen ground. Crews had graded some eighty miles to just north of Cherry Creek. Rails were far behind; only twenty to thirty miles of track was in place. Six grading crews with 150 teams of horses moved through Ely on their way to the warmer climate of Las Vegas and work on the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad. The particularly harsh winter—the worst seen in twenty years—essentially stopped progress on the line for the next two months. Work resumed on March 1 and by this time the estimated arrival of the railway in Ely was June 1.

As spring arrived, the railway employed some 300 laborers on construction. To hasten progress, the Nevada Northern added a steam shovel and forty ballast cars to the three locomotives and thirty freight cars purchased the previous fall and suggested the line would reach Ely by July 1. While that projection again proved too optimistic, more rapid progress followed better weather conditions. The first passenger train, a special for Requa and associates steamed from Cobre to the new station at Currie on May 22, 1906. Regular tri-weekly passenger and freight service began between the two stations on June 2 taking three hours between points. The trip between Ely and Currie via automobile service consumed twice that time.

The line pushed south reaching Cherry Creek by July 4, where local citizens hosted a celebratory Railroad Day banquet on the evening of July 16. Three hundred-fifty graders in eight camps along the route (the closest but twenty miles north of Ely) joined 115 men on the steel gangs and an additional 85 laborers on the surfacing gangs. Progress was estimated at an average of one and one-half miles per day. With ten months, 115 miles of grade, and 95 miles of track behind them, officials estimated the line would reach Ely August 18-25.

By the end of July, grading crews were almost within site of Ely but the site of the Nevada Northern station had not been decided. Nevertheless, local citizens formed the Railroad Day Committee, which held its first meeting on August 11. Two days later, the Board of County Commissioners was also grappling with important railway issues, namely changing the franchise of the railway from Aultman St. to Garden (now Clark) St. Leading merchants feared that a double-tracked line down the main business artery of Ely would prove disastrous to local business establishments. While the commissioners tabled a decision, Requa finally set September 29 as Ely’s Railroad Day. Half-fare excursion rates would be in force between Salt Lake City, Ogden, and Ely for the big event.

With less than two weeks before the Nevada Northern Railway entered town, on September 17 the Board of County Commissioners granted a change in the railway’s franchise from Aultman St. to Garden St. The agreement included a provision that the Nevada Northern construct a passenger station in Ely proper within ninety days. The board extracted this concession after the railway decided to establish its general offices and main freight and passenger terminal on land deeded by the Ely Townsite Company at what would become known as Ely City and later East Ely.

Some 4,000 people celebrated the arrival of the Nevada Northern on September 29, 1906. The special train, in three sections, brought businesspersons and political dignitaries from Salt Lake City, Ogden, Reno, and Carson City to Ely for a program including speeches, music, dances, and a grand barbeque. Even as the specials approached Ely, track gangs frantically worked to complete the line down Clark St. to the temporary depot erected at its intersection with Murry St., behind W. B. Graham’s mercantile establishment. On that Saturday afternoon nearly a century past, Mark L. Requa, general manager of the railway, hammered the last spike—fashioned from locally mined copper—at a ceremony held just west of the courthouse. The celebration continued on Sunday and the Nevada Northern inaugurated regular passenger service between Ely and Cobre beginning Monday, October 1.

Reporting on the Railroad Day celebrations, the White Pine News wrote: “The first blow that fell on the ‘last spike’ told the story and when Manager Requa declared the Nevada Northern open to traffic it meant more for White Pine county than can be told in a day or month or for years for that matter; it will be a ‘continued story’ of the bounty of the copper beds, to be ‘continued’ long after the present generation has passed away and others have come onto the stage to take our places.” A new generation of actors has taken the stage, marking the centennial of the story’s beginning, when men first scraped the earth and gave shape to the Nevada Northern Railway.

Down the Tracks at the Museum

  • The museum gift shop and ticket office is open daily.
  • Daily excursion trains run Monday through Friday at 9:30 a.m. On Saturdays steam locomotives run at 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. with a diesel excursion at 4:30 p.m. On Sundays the steam excursion is at 9:30 a.m. and the diesel excursion is at 1:00 p.m.
  • The last Steptoe Valley Flyer is Saturday, September 17 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Memberships in the museum are available: Basic $15; Active $30; Family $50; Centennial $100; Business $500; and Lifetime $1000. Contact the museum for more information.

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Sunday | 8AM - 4PM

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1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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