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Volunteers Rule!

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum has a secret that must be exposed. Its trains are not powered by locomotives, but by the Museum’s volunteers. These dedicated individuals are what really power the trains of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Bluntly put, without this pool of volunteers there would be no trains running.

This past summer over 100 trains operated. 99% of those trains were operated and crewed by volunteers. To operate a train the hostlers show up at 4:30 a.m. Some of these volunteers who are hostlers drove hundreds of miles the day before for the privilege of preparing Locomotive 93 for its run. At 8:00 a.m. the locomotive crew and the train crew report for duty along with the ticket sellers. The locomotive crew does the final check for that days run. The engineer fireman, and head brakeman whistle off and head for the wye to turn Locomotive 93. This is the last step in getting 93 ready for the morning run. Now turning 93 is a trick in itself. The head brakeman gets quite the workout. He or she throws the first switch on the engine house lead, then at the mainline, then the depot lead, then the first switch of the wye, second and third wye switches, and then both ends of the passing siding. That is eight switches just to get to the train and the majority of those switches need to be thrown back. (The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is an equal opportunity organization so some of our brakemen are women. But for historical authenticity I will use brakeman.) Throwing those switches means climbing up and down Locomotive 93, which is a good eight feet from the ground to the deck straight up. After the run around the wye, the locomotive then couples on to the train.

Meanwhile, the conductor and the rear brakeman are preparing the passenger cars for the morning run. This entails inspecting all of the journal boxes, couplers, air hoses, trashcans, bathroom, wheels, brake shoes, and then opening windows. If we are expecting a handicap passenger then the mobile wheelchair lift is brought to the train. More volunteers are selling tickets, answering questions, and getting the concessions ready for that day’s train. The volunteer narrator and the concessionaire board the train and make sure their areas are ready.

Once Locomotive 93 couples on to the train, then a terminal airbrake test is made. This insures that we have brakes when we head up the hill. Then there is a crew meeting to discuss the upcoming trip. When the conductor is satisfied that everything is in order, its time to load the train. As the train loads the crew helps the passengers on to the train. Meanwhile up in the cab the fireman makes sure that 93 has a full head of steam. For the next two hours the fireman will be dancing around the cab like a hyperactive 2-year old. For he or she will be shoveling about a ton of coal into the firebox one scoop at a time. Checking the water level in the boiler, adding water, wetting down the coal, ringing the bell, and watching his side of the track for the engineer. The engineer will have his or her hands full too; it is his responsibility to get the train over the track safely. Trains do not stop on a dime. The engineer will need to use his experience and judgment so our passengers are not jostled, the track is clear, and that 93 is running like a Swiss watch.

The train is loaded. The conductor gives the final, “All Aboard.” The doors are closed and the conductor high tails it to the caboose for the shove back. This is where the real teamwork comes together. The conductor is the eyes of the engineer as the train starts backing up. The conductor is communicating with the engineer letting him know track condition and whether it safe to back up. Is the crossing clear of vehicles, are the switches aligned properly? This is the responsibility of the conductor and rear end brakeman. Once the shove back is complete, the head end brakeman throws the mainline switch and off we go.

Up in the cab, the fireman is throwing in coal. The firebox is hot, over 1,000 degrees. Every time the firebox doors open this heat is radiated into the cab. Remember those 100-degree days we had last summer? The head end crew felt like they were being roasted alive.

The narrator is telling our passengers about the Nevada Northern Railway Museum and the history of the Ely area. This takes talent. The narrator is riding backwards and must time the narration with the landmarks along the railroad. The concessionaire is selling refreshments. The conductor and rear brakeman are watching the train and talking to the passengers. Off we go to Keystone. Once there, 93 is cut-off and run around the train. The head brakeman is climbing up and down, throwing balky switches, and hanging off the back of the tender for the reverse moves.

Now the real professionalism and teamwork of the crew is tested. 93 is backing down to the train that is loaded with passengers. The coupling must be make hard enough to drop the coupling pins, but not hard enough to jar or injure the passengers. After the coupling another brake test and one more reverse shove. Then it’s back to Ely.

Back at Ely, one more backwards shove to the depot. Again the rear end crew is working with the front end crew, to stop the train at exactly at the same spot it departed from. Conductor stops the train and the passengers disembark. End of the trip? Not even close. The locomotive crew must return 93 to the engine house. Does it need coal? Then they will coal up. This involves using a front-end loader to dump the coal into the tender. After every bucket dump a plume of coal dust covers the cab and everything in it. With a full tender, now it’s back to the engine house to prepare for the next day.

By Noon the hostler has been on duty just about eight hours. Someone from the train crew will conduct the walking tour. The rest of the crew will take a break until 3 p.m., when its time to get ready for the 4:00 p.m. train.

The numbers break out this way. The Holster worked 9 hours, the train crew of engineer, fireman, head brakeman, conductor, rear brakeman worked 4½ hours each or 22½ hours combined. The narrator, ticket sellers, and concessionaire worked 3 hours each or 9 hours. Total amount hours for one train – 43½ volunteer hours. The 4:00 p.m. diesel train will use another 25 volunteer hours.

In one weekend of just four trains, volunteers donated to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum 137 hours. We operated 19 weekends last season; that is 2,603 hours. This total does not include the Wednesday or Friday trains, the charters or wine trains.

Speaking of charters and wine trains, there are more volunteers that need to be recognized, and that is the servers who volunteer their time to make our wine trains a smashing success. Thanks!

This is just train service. The Museum is fortunate to have volunteers that maintain our web site, help with day-to-day operations, restore our buildings, locomotives, rolling stock and track.

To all of our volunteers a heart felt, THANKS, for a job well done, pat yourselves on the back.

Volunteering for the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is easy. Just show up or contact me. Without volunteers the Museum would have to scale back on operations. Next season the Museum plans to have three work weekends to paint buildings on the property.

We need volunteers for train service, historic preservation, the newsletter, fund raising, building maintenance, track repair, locomotive repair, rolling stock repair, and countless other tasks. Come join us.

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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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