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The Queen of Steam

If you where within ten miles of Ely last Tuesday or Wednesday, you knew the Queen was back! After an eleven month rebuild, the pride of the Nevada Northern Railway steam locomotive 40 was back in service. As she went through the yard, the engineer used locomotive 40’s whistle liberally. A very distinctive whistle, you could hear it throughout town and then some. I was out at Steptoe Creek and could hear 40’s whistle roll up the valley.

Rolled out for testing on Tuesday, she joined her long time companions baggage/RPO 20 and first class coach 5. From 1910 until 1941, locomotive 40 pulled baggage/RPO 20 and first class coach 5 on daily round trips from Ely to Cobre in passenger service.

The significance of this event was not lost on the photographers we had at the East Ely Depot on Tuesday. They treated locomotive 40 as royalty and could not get enough of her. In fact, they stayed over an extra day to take more pictures of locomotive 40 and her train on Wednesday morning in what was to be a three-hour event. But after five hours, locomotive 40 needed water and that finally caused the end of the event.

Purchased new by the Nevada Northern Railway in 1910 from the Baldwin Locomotive Works, locomotive 40 has been a fixture of the railroad ever since. Locomotive 40 is a 4-6-0 locomotive. What this means is that there are four wheels in a pilot truck followed by six driving wheels. The zero indicates that there are no trailing wheels. This wheel arrangement was very popular around the turn of the last century for both freight and passenger locomotives.

Locomotive 40 is a passenger locomotive—the tip off is her driving wheels. They are five feet nine inches tall. Such tall driving wheels mean one thing: speed. According to the 1913 Nevada Northern timetable locomotive 40’s average speed between Cobre and East Ely was 45 miles per hour. If the train was delayed for any reason, it’s easy to imagine the engineer pulling out the throttle a little more to make up lost time. As a guess, speeds of 55 to 60 mph probably were not that uncommon as the train raced to make up time.

Locomotive 40 is a lucky engine; she is a survivor. Purchased new in 1910 for $13,139, she has spent her entire life on the Nevada Northern. When passenger service ended in 1941, instead of being scrapped, locomotive 40 was stored in the enginehouse. She was pulled out on special occasions to help the Nevada Northern celebrate. She was pulled out in 1956 for the fiftieth anniversary celebrations and for other noteworthy events.

She was given to the community when Kennecott transferred the entire complex to be developed into a museum. Brought back to service 1987 by the staff and volunteers of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, locomotive 40 did what she was built to do—haul passengers. Instead of going to Cobre, locomotive 40 went to Copper Flat, but she was in her element out on the rails pulling people.

In 2001, it looked like 40 might be sidelined for good. The Federal Railroad Administration issued new boiler rules. The Museum concentrated its limited resources on steam locomotive 93 and did the required boiler work so locomotive 93 was compliant. In fact, looking at the amount of money that the boiler work required, it was feared that locomotive 40 would become a static display. In 2002, locomotive 93 made its debut, ready for another fifteens years worth of service and 40 was sidelined.

Locomotive 40 was pushed into the enginehouse and started to gather dust. That the Queen of the Nevada Northern should be treated in this way was unacceptable. Locomotive 40 was re-evaluated. Inventory of the necessary parts were taken and it was found that the new boiler tubes were already on hand. Steam locomotive experts were consulted and a budget of $30,000 to $40,000 was developed to put locomotive 40 back in shape.

In March 2004, locomotive 40 was rolled into the machine shop to start the process of rebuilding. Under the direction of Jack Anderson, Master Mechanic, locomotive 40’s boiler was stripped down and the old tubes were cut out.

The last sentence, “locomotive 40’s boiler was stripped down and the old tubes were cut out,” does not even begin to tell the story. The real story is that anything bolted to 40’s boiler was removed. And then someone had to climb into the smokebox and remove the components there. And after decades worth of service there was soot everywhere. When you went in you came out black. This is where all of the superheater tubes are. You unbolt the tubes and they need to be hauled out all covered in soot.

Then there are the tubes themselves all of them needed to be removed. Remember, these tubes had been in the boiler for decades and could handle steam pressure of 175 pounds per square inch. They are not something easy to remove. They need to be cut out.

Cutting out the tubes requires that a person go into the locomotive’s boiler with a trouble light and a cutting torch. Drop down onto their stomach on top of the old tubes, shimmy to the front of the boiler, and cut out the first row of tubes. Then they turned around, shimmied to the rear of the boiler, and cut the other end of the tubes. Once this had been done, an assistant on the outside of the boiler could pull out the old tubes. Then the next row of tubes were cut and hauled out. This process continued until all of the tubes were removed from the boiler.

Once all of the tubes were removed, the entire inside of the boiler was needle scaled. This process entails some lucky person crawling into the boiler with a needle gun. The needle gun is air operated and has about a half dozen metal fingers sticking out of the front of the gun. The operator pulls the trigger, the metal fingers rotate and are applied to the interior boiler surface, and all of the scale, rust, and corrosion are removed.

This project was done during the summer. Imagine yourself in a metal tube about five feet in diameter with this air operated needle gun going after all of the scale. And every square inch of the interior surface must be done. Oh, and the only way into the boiler is through the steam dome at the top of the locomotive. The noise, the dust, and the heat were truly incredible and the work went on day after day.

Then there was the outside of the boiler shell. Now exposed and stripped of everything, it was naked. It too was examined closely and every square foot of metal was tested to see how thick it is. This doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that you need to examine the bottom of the boiler in between the drivers and axles. In addition to testing, all of the values found in regard to thickness needed to be recorded. This work also went on all summer long.

Finally, as the days grew shorter the work on the boiler shell was coming to a close. The new tubes were then prepared to go back into the boiler. This entailed measuring every tube and comparing it with its place in the boiler. Then the tubes needed to be cut to their proper length and their ends polished. As you can imagine, this was slow work. As we were getting to the end of the tubes, it become evident someone had miscounted. We were short almost two dozen tubes!

Now, you just don’t go down to your local boiler shop and get more tubes because there is no such thing as a local boiler shop. Tubes have to be ordered. This isn’t too bad except there are just a few places left in the country that have boiler tubes in stock. And the clock was ticking.

Those photographers mentioned earlier were promised that locomotive 40 would be available for their photo shoot. It was a week before Thanksgiving when the tubes were ordered with a promised delivery right after Thanksgiving.

It was going to cut it close, but we believed we could have locomotive 40 done for the February photo shoots. After all, we thought we had all of the bases covered and that we were ready for anything when fate intervened and really put us to the test.

Next week I’ll continue the saga of getting 40 back in service and the challenges faced by the museum.

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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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