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Volunteering for W-O-R-K

by Steven Bechtold

Work, if you hadn’t noticed is a four-letter word. My son and I found out just how hard some work really is this past summer. We wrote Mark way back at the beginning of the year asking for an opportunity to come and do something meaningful for the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. We figured we could swing about a week for frivolous duties about the yard. You see, my son is too young to operate; he is twelve. Operating the steam locomotives would be his life long dream, ever since someone let him shovel a scoop of coal into the firebox of No. 40 two years ago. I don’t know who did it, but I take my hat off to you; in another hobby we would say, “Fish on!” It is these small efforts that will keep this museum interesting to future generations.

With this experience in hand, we were glum as we followed the saga of the axles. But not to worry, Alco Road Switchers come in a close second (and happen to be my favorite). When we contacted Mark, we figured that we would be pulling weeds (an endless, thankless task), cleaning stuff, and maybe some light work here and there. When Mark got back to us, he mentioned painting a caboose. It seems that one had been started but not finished and that he would send us pictures if he got the chance. I think that he purposely didn’t get the chance, for when we arrived and saw the caboose, I was a little stunned; this was a BIG project! Did we bite off more than we could chew?

To view the caboose was a sight of sadness. It had been partially stripped and was looking a little haggard and worn. It was covered in dust and soot. I looked at my son and said, “Nolan, this is going to be a lot of work. Think that you can handle it?” He was so excited that “Yes!” jumped out of his mouth so hard and so quickly that he nearly gave me a cauliflower ear. I was a little doubtful to say the least. But I could see the eagerness in his eyes as I mentally rolled up my sleeves.

The first day was spent gathering the tools and getting a start on the project. When the afternoon train was lining up for its journey, Nolan asked if we could go watch. This was where we ran into Conductor Bill. Bill and I struck up a conversation and I asked him about braking. He began to show me the particulars of what was required as he was short a brakeman that day. I must say that this was my lure. After this adventure and ride, I pestered EVERYONE for a rulebook, which, when I got one, read cover to cover with Nolan quizzing me on certain aspects of operation. When I return I will be taking the student brakeman test. But I digress.

The next day our work continued. Nolan was beginning to find out what real work was. He was scraping and sanding and took great interest in the cupola, as I think that he liked to climb the ladders and walk the running boards. I must state that this was August and the temperatures hovered in the high 90s. The RIP (Repair In Place, not the other) shop is metal and it was nothing but hot on top of that car. The sweat streamed down his face, but he didn’t quit.

After two days of scraping and sanding, we were finally able to pull the car out to wash it off with the pressure washer and TSP. Here Nolan actually got to ride on Locomotive 109 and I got to do some work with the brakemen on our movement! We were both in hog heaven. There was more hard work, continued scraping, scrubbing, sanding, and washing. We finally had gotten it ready for the primer coat and the whole movement of the cut of cars was repeated to get them all back to the RIP shop.

In performing all of this prep work, we made a number of interesting discoveries. Through photographs and physical evidence (the paint that was removed), we were able to take the car back in its “colored” life. The car, caboose three, was originally built in 1909 by the Mt. Vernon Car Company in the second order for new cabooses to be built for and used on the Nevada Northern and cost $1,256. It will be 100 years old next year with No. 93! The car was built with “Swing Motion” trucks for a smoother ride (the car has a yaw when you work on it, sailors know what I am talking about) and was originally a mineral red—we found evidence of this color on a number of the tongue and groove pieces of siding.

Not too long after purchase, the car was painted yellow with a dark trim. We found a photo from the 1920s–40s of this car in a light car side (what we assumed to be yellow) and a dark trim. Scrapping down through the layers of paint, we found the bottom layer of trim and window sashes to be mineral red (what is called by the museum as Nevada Northern Red). The images also showed that the original lettering on the car was on the siding, not on a letter board as it was in its last shopping. We found evidence of this lettering on one side. So the decision was made to take the car back, as best as we could through color, to the black and white image (about 1920–1940). We ordered up the paint and commenced to apply color.

The days wandered by—up early, mix paint, paint, lunch, paint more, leave late, eat dinner, sleep, and repeat. The shed would heat up and we would open a roll-up door, then the wind would kick up, creating some incredible dust devils and blowing our gear throughout the shop. We would have to close the door and slowly sweat. I began to think that we would not finish the project. As we pushed to finish, departure grew closer and the work seemed to have no end in sight. I managed to arrange with my wife (a really tough sell) to stay a couple of extra days, but Nolan had to go home—he had a soccer game. He deserved it: pound for pound, hour for hour, he worked as hard as I did.

In another couple of days I was finally putting the finishing touches on the black grab irons and my wife was on her way back out to pick up her wayward (or would that be way car?) husband. In all Nolan and I spent well over 220 hours of work in the 12 days that we spent in service to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Neither one of us could have completed this project without the other. It was a great opportunity for us to enjoy each other’s company and learn, through something that resembled archeology, about a great piece of equipment that is forever preserved at one of the most progressive railroad museums in the nation. We are both very proud to be members of this organization and are already planning for our next opportunity. Work, yeah it is still a four-letter word, but we enjoyed every minute of it!

Executive Directors Note: Steve is being way too modest. He and Nolan worked like dogs with very little assistance from the staff and other volunteers. This is the secret of the railroad. We have people from all walks of life and ages who come together to preserve this incredible national treasure.

Because of the efforts of the Bechtolds combined with the efforts of the Caboose 3 group who started the project, we have another piece of rolling stock back in service. Another little bit of the railroad has been spruced up.

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