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Volunteer Training

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: our secret weapon that we use at the museum is the volunteers. Without volunteers, frankly, the trains would not run, track would not be maintained, buildings would not be painted, and rolling stock would not be maintained.

Recently three volunteers spent the week in Ely painting one of the boxcars. They scrapped the car, made minor repairs to the car, then primed it, and painted it. The car looks great. Another volunteer recently scrapped the flat car and painted it. But where we really use the volunteers is in train service.

It is in train service where they really shine. Even though I started my career on the Nevada Northern as a volunteer and know the sacrifices that the volunteers go through, I still can’t get over how many volunteers we have and how hard they work. Most of our train service volunteers do not live in Ely. That means they must travel to Ely to help out.

These train service volunteers are the ones who operate and fire steam locomotive 93, they are our conductors and brakemen. They are the ones who come down in the wee hours of the morning to assist the shop staff in getting the locomotive ready for the day. These are the people who operate a ninety-six year-old steam locomotive and last year hauled 8,003 passengers.

Least you think you think that volunteer means non-professional, nothing could be farther from the truth. The volunteers of the Nevada Northern Railway are professionals who operate the trains following the same rules and regulations as a “real” railroad.

Recently, we had our annual training for the train service volunteers. Due to the large size of the volunteers we had the classroom part of the training at Great Basin College on the first day. The second day consisted of hands on training, with a written test and a practical test. To be in train service all volunteers needed to past all components.

Rather than me telling you about the training, I thought I would let one of the participants, Robby Peartree, share his views on the training weekend. As a new volunteer, this was his first visit training weekend.

I recently decided to begin to volunteer for the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. This past weekend I went to Ely, Nevada for rules class. I headed to Ely with the excitement and interpretation that I have not experience since my start in the steam world with SP 3420 in El Paso. While I have 19 years working on steam locomotives, this was a new experience for me. My experience up to this point has been a diverse experience of both volunteer and paid professional environment but never mixed and this is the first time that I have dealt with a mixed staff environment.

I showed up to the Great Basin Community College for class and the first person I ran into was Jack Anderson, their new Master Mechanic. I have always admired Jack’s boiler series in L&RP and it was nice to be able to finally express my appreciation for the series. After signing in, we started with introductions and a brief description of the day’s events. The group I was in started with a presentation by Mark Bassett on various issues and then lead to an airbrake class by Jack Anderson. This class taught a lot about the basic functions of various air brake systems. While the schedule was extremely tight questions were encouraged and time was taken to answer them. I also enjoyed the presentation by Vic Crumley on track. Vic is a very personal inspector and used to work the line at one time. His pleasant personality made the experience for many a positive one. His insights into the line will help the railroad with its future plans.

After lunch came the section that concerned me the most-the Nevada Northern uses its own rulebook and I did not know what to expect. Yet Joel Jensen managed to bring in three railroaders with 95 years of combined railroad experience. Barry Green (26 years), Keith Clingingsmith (28 years), and Jerome Barth (41 years) did a fantastic job with their presentation. They gave the audience a solid perspective of railroading with a strong emphasis on safety. The presentation of the rules brought up concerns but the volunteers showed their professionalism by addressing the concerns about the issue and not the human cause to the issue. At 4 o’clock the classes recombined for a final discussion before heading to the volunteer party. The discussion allowed some concerns to be brought up openly. Ideas and thoughts were openly discussed and I walked away with a much better understanding of the situation. The party was a great social event that a lot of people attended.

Sunday was the hands on day. The experience was diesel familiarization and inspection, steam locomotive familiarization, throwing a switch, and hand signals. The switch part of the test brought out my first story from the NN. They discovered a switch did not throw so they decided to use it as a demonstration tool in class. When C.W. went to throw the switch Barry Green did a double take as C.W. actually got the points to move. It seems that the attention the switch got finally convinced it to move. C.W. response was “Mongol throw switch,” which fit the situation to a tee. It became a conversation piece for the rest of the day. After all of this we took our exam, which was rules, hand signals, car inspection, and whistle signals.

A strong program had been crammed into two days. While I am sure they wanted to do more they did do a lot. “Safety First” is the slogan for the NN and it showed during this class. The class had another flavor-friendship. The friendliness of the veterans showed. Being able to spend time with the volunteers there was a truly pleasurable experience for me. The people not only enjoy railroading but they also enjoy sharing it.

For many of you Ely, Nevada is off the beaten path. Yet if you want a true railroad experience it is one of the few places to go to experience it. I am impressed with the overall professionalism of the NN and its efforts to improve.

Safety is #1 with them yet they keep the human experience apart of every visit there. For me the NN is what a tourist railroad should be. I hope you head there and enjoy the NN experience.

I should note that Robby works for the Grand Canyon Railroad as an engineer and a dispatcher. This is the caliber of the individuals that we are attracting to help us here in Ely. We have a great secret weapon in our volunteers; they are professionals, which allow us to run trains. They work hard and there is not a finer bunch of people anywhere, then the volunteers of the Nevada Northern Railway.

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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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