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Where’s the Museum?

The number one question asked by visitors to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is, “Where’s the museum?” This question is generally asked by a person who is standing between the depot and the transportation building looking puzzled. They come here expecting a traditional museum, such as a building with equipment and displays in it. What they find is a series of buildings and structures, a rail yard with antique freight equipment in it, and on occasion an excursion train ready to go someplace.

Our visitors’ confusion is easy to understand. We have one sign on the side of the transportation building that says, Nevada Northern Railway Museum and then really to confuse visitors we have a second sign next to the depot that says East Ely Depot Museum. The two signs are located about 40 feet apart, about the same distance as two gunfighters in a Hollywood western.

As the visitor passes through the dueling signs, they walk north towards the track and then signage gets more meager or just disappears. Monday through Friday there is a sign hanging from the depot over the door that goes upstairs, it says Museum. Under the museum sign is a second sign that says Open or Closed. On the weekends, the sign disappears because the East Ely Depot Museum is closed on the weekends but the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is open on the weekends.

So now, the visitor is looking out over the rail yard wondering where the museum is. So when a staff member walks by, the visitor asks, “Where’s the museum?”

The staff member launches into a spiel that says the entire rail yard is the museum and you can wander through the yard and look at the equipment. But what the visitor really wants to see are the steam locomotives. Standing in front of the depot, there is no clue where the steam locomotives are. The steam locomotives are stored in the engine house, which is two blocks west of the depot.

The distances involved come as another shock to our visitors. The main museum grounds encompass 56 acres. Yet if a person wants to watch a locomotive come out of the engine house, turn on the wye, and then couple up to a train, they are looking at about a mile journey. They go from 9th Street to 14th Street, from Avenue A to Avenue B, then back down from Avenue B to A, then from 14th Street back to 9th Street and then finally from 9th Street to 11th Street—quite the journey.

This works when the locomotives are operating. But when the locomotives are not running, our visitors still want to see the locomotives. In the past, visitors were allowed to go to the engine house and just wander through the building looking at the locomotives. If a staff member or volunteer was free, then they may or may not give a guided tour. Most of the times, the visitors were allowed to wander about unsupervised.

There are major problems with this system. First off, visitors were told, “Do not climb on the equipment.” This usually lasted as long as museum personnel were around, then the moment their back was turned, the visitor would be in the cab of a locomotive. And it was not the young visitor who broke the rule, but it was the visitor who is a kid at heart.

Secondly, repair and maintenance is constantly going on in the shop. This means that we’re welding, using a lathe, or using the overhead crane to move heavy parts. We have had cases where someone is welding, they flip-up welding helmet, reach back for a tool, and only then realize that they have gathered round an audience. Not the best of circumstances, to say the least.

These are the challenges that the museum faces. As we get ready for our Centennial one of the principle projects will be signage. We have a kiosk, but there is nothing in it. We are developing a walking tour book for the museum grounds and we are working to develop a walking path through the complex.

As we grow, things will change. We are implementing two major changes now. The first is that museum grounds now have an admission charge. To cross the freight house track there is a $4 fee for adults and $2 for children. Secondly, the only way into the engine house now is via a tour. The era of just wandering into the building at your leisure is over.

The money raised from the admission will be invested right back into the property. We are working on a $120,000 project that will create walking paths, signage, pavement around the depot area, and public restrooms. These are the basic facilities that the visiting public expects and it is our responsibility to provide it.

Providing tours will mean that we will need more tour guides. So if you want to get a little exercise, meet people, and show off the Nevada Northern complex, give us a call—we’ll sign you right up.

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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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