and Yang, good news, bad news or as a friend of mine once said, your weakness
are your strengths and your strengths are your weakness. So what does
this all have to do with running a railroad museum? Plenty.
you read last week's column, one would be lead to believe that everything
down at the museum is just hunky-dory. After all membership is up to over
745 members, the volunteer pool is up, train operations revenue is up,
donations are up, fund raisers are up and gift shop sales are up. We even
managed to decrease expenses last year. So why aren't we dancing in the
call the Nevada Northern Railway the best-preserved short line in the
country. This National Register Historic Site, dating from 1906, consists
of forty acres including fifty buildings and structures with over fifty
pieces of original locomotives and rolling stock. The uniqueness of this
collection and facility bring people from around the world to Ely, Nevada.
It is the originality of the site that brings these people (our strength)
and everything on the site needs intense maintenance and money (our weakness).
though last season was a great season, we were not able to scratch the
surface of the needed repairs and maintenance to the facility, to the
equipment or to the track.
I was hired on as the Executive Director in August 2002, I estimated that
we needed over $5,000,000 to invest in the property. One good season does
not even begin to address all of the needs of the museum. As I plan on
making investments in the property, the exercise is to balance the greatest
need versus the resources available. Simply put, there is nowhere near
enough money available to do all of the repairs needed. So we examine
everything closely and try to squeeze the most out of every dollar.
apologies to David Letterman, this is my top ten list of most critical
projects with costs:
would be nice to have. Yes, where we do have electricity in three of
our buildings, none of the buildings are wired to current code. The
Transportation building is stilled wired with the original 1917 knob
and tube wiring. Our fuse box looks like something out of Dr. Frankenstein's
laboratory. The enginehouse is just plain scary. Two years ago I went
to open one of the overhead doors and was treated to my very own lightening
show directly over my head. I estimate the cost of upgrading the electrical
service to be north of $50,000.
One of the things that would really be nice
to have are windows with modern
heating and cooling. The railroad
has got to be the broken window capitol of White Pine County if not
all of rural Nevada. We need windowsstorm windowsand it
would be nice to have modern heating and cooling. Right now the transportation
building has baseboard heaters. Not the most efficient way to heat a
building. The machine shop and the master mechanic's office have propane
heat. The heater in the master mechanic's office is the wrong type and
needs to be replaced. Walking by the machine shop building causes me
to wince every time. The propane line into the building just sings and
all I can see are twenty-dollar bills going up in smoke. And I must
confess, the shop crew does not keep it overly warm in there, maybe
55 or 60 degrees. Hardly what I, would call, banana belt temperatures.
And the enginehouse has no heat, unless you count the one coal stove
from the late 1800's as a heat source. Why is heat necessary in the
enginehouse? As we do more winter steam trains there is a danger of
having something on the outside of the engine freeze. This actually
happened a few years back when the air compressors froze just before
a photo shoot and caused over $6,000 damage to 93. Heat will cost the
museum upwards of $60,000.
We are dependent on volunteers. They operate
over 98% of our trains. As we build our passenger count, we fill up
the motels. The motel operators have been incredibly generous in donating
rooms to the railroad for volunteers. The problem is the weekends that
I need the most volunteers is also the weekends that we fill up motels
and there is no place for the volunteers to stay. The museum's plan
is to convert the engineer's building into a volunteer
dormitory. This will give the volunteers a place on the property
to stay. It will also cut down on vandalism. Cost about $75,000.
Here's a riddle: name a facility that you never
give a second thought to, until you need it and then you want it now!
Give up? Bathrooms. Last year the
railroad had several sell out trains. Our most successful train was
our fireworks train, with 227 passengers. Before these people rode the
train, we feed them a great BBQ in Preservation Plaza with plenty of
soda, water and beer. The problem is we only have two toilets available
to the public. As we build our ridership the need for toilets will increase.
Currently, we are looking at the old boiler building to the west of
the depot; the plan is to turn this structure into a public restroom.
Estimated cost, $80,000.
passengers ride in coaches that
are over 80 years old and they are showing their age. We need to spend
money on wheels, brakes, diaphragms, sound system, couplers, a bathroom,
a heating system, repairing windows, seat repairs, and the electrical
system. Estimated cost of repairs is $30,000.
We are railroad. Our trains run on track, this
should be no surprise, right? What this means is that you need to maintain
the track. In the five years from 1997 to 2002 less than
$1,000 was spent on the track. Doesn't matter how much you spend on
your steam locomotives, if you don't have the track, you can't go anywhere.
Last year the museum spent just over $20,000 on the track. We plan to
spend $22,000 on the track this year.
The railroad has two branches: the Keystone
route with the tunnels, the ghost town, the trees, the mines and then
there is the Adverse branch, which is boring and has a depot on the
verge of collapse. If we were to develop the
McGill depot and bring the trains into McGill we would have
a destination. What could a destination do? Increase our ridership (read
revenue) for starters; put some life back into McGill; and preserve
a unique structure, the depot, from collapse (kind of our mission in
life). Estimated cost of the McGill project is $350,000+.
need an ashpit. The museum is caught
between a rock and hard place. Running steam seven days a week will
bring in additional visitors and revenue. Running that much steam will
exacerbate our ash problem. In between the fire hazard, our expensive
way of dealing with the ash, and the damage to track the ash causes,
we desperately need an ashpit. Cost is $45,000.
Stabilize and repair the
machine shop and enginehouse building. The B & O Railroad
Museum suffered a catastrophic roof collapse last Presidents' Day due
to snow load. The B & O Museum did not know that their building
had a structural flaw; we do. I have an engineering report that warns
of the possibility of catastrophic collapse of the building. The museum
has already invested over $100,000 in the building. We will be spending
another $200,000 on it this year and have applied for more grants. Final
repair bill on the enginehouse will probably approach $800,000.
Put locomotive 40 back
into service. Why? Steam sellsthe vast majority of
our riders come to Ely for the steam. If locomotive 93 should break
(remember its 95 years old now) our ridership would plummet along with
our revenues. And if I learned nothing else here, everything that has
to do with steam is expensive. So the museum would be caught in a squeeze
play, minimal revenues and expensive repairs. The cost to repair locomotive
40 is $40,000.
amount of money needed for my top ten? Somewhere north of $1,500,000 is
needed. So what to do? We will continue our fundraising. (If you're not
a member of the museum, please join us.) We will again aggressively write
grants from local, state, and federal agencies. And the easiest way for
us to raise money is to run more trains and haul more passengers. And
that is precisely what we are going to do. We will be running six days
a week from Memorial Day through the end of September. We have increased
our steam runs to four days a week in 2004, Friday through Monday, inclusive.
We have also increased our locomotive rental program.
Museum is heading full steam ahead as we approach our centennial, which
starts in just seventeen months, six days and five hours (as I write this).
There is a ton of work to do, come on down and join us.