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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in the Saturday edition of the Ely Times 
Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the White Pine Historical Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail:


Steam, Smoke and Photographers
08 February 2021

This past Friday afternoon, the museum hosted the 4th Annual Nevada Northern Railway Photo Shoot weekend and it was a smashing success. Photographers came from across the country to photograph Locomotive 93 with an authentic ore train and caboose.

We had photographers from New Jersey to California descending on Ely in the middle of winter to photograph the last authentic standard gauge railroad facility left in the country with its original equipment.

Putting together a winter photo shoot is perhaps the most difficult project that we undertake here at the museum, for a variety of reasons. Yet at the same time, it also can provide the biggest pay off for the museum.

The difficulties start with the simple fact that water freezes at 32-degrees. Doesnít sound like much of a problem until you realize it would be bad form to have a 90-ton locomotive that holds hundreds of gallons of water turn into a 90-ton popsicle. This would get us plenty of publicity but not the type we are looking for. Another danger is that when water freezes it expands. It expands with such force that it can break pipes and equipment on the locomotive, again not the type of publicity we are looking for.

Another difficulty is the weather. In the invitation we mention, ďSnow, we've had it on previous winter spectaculars, 6-inches of it during the 1999 version. Sub-zero? We hit -5°F in 2001, and you should have seen the frost on the sagebrush. Sun? How about cobalt blue skies during the shoot. Point being, we've offered up just about every type of meteorological conditions that wintertime Ely experiences, including shirtsleeve weather.Ē Now when we sent the invitations out I thought that section on shirtsleeve weather was a little too much. Come on shirtsleeve weather in Ely in the end of January, beginning of February, yeah right.

Well the high on Friday the day before the official photo shoot was 65-degrees. We had the cobalt blue skies, but no snow. The photographers were arriving on Friday and we put on a little show in the yard, doing a little switching with Locomotive 93. Where was the snow and cold? People had traveled across the United States to photograph a hard working steam locomotive in snowy, cold weather. And we are standing around in shirtsleeves in January; itís enough to add to the gray hair of the executive director.

Then Saturday dawns with overcast skies and warm weather. It doesnít get much worse than this from a photographic angle. Well, off to the High Line the train sets out. 93 charges up the hill with its authentic ore train as the photographerís head for Adverse. The morning goes by and 93 backs its train down the hill. We feed the photographers lunch and then its back to Adverse with 93 backing its train up the hill. The photographers are disappointed. The lighting is poor. The weather too warm to show the steam in all of its glory, what else could possibly go wrong? BAM! The train goes into emergency. (Well, I asked and got the answer awfully quick.) When a train goes into emergency, a couple things happen really fast. First, all of the brakes are applied and the train comes to a rather abrupt stop. Secondly, anything in the caboose that wasnít tied down becomes airborne including the photographers.

The crew walks the train, finds the problem, and off we go again until BAM! The train goes into emergency. The brakes apply instantly and photographers shoot around the caboose like billiard balls from a break by Minnesota Fats. Oh, the joys of using seventy-year-old equipment.

Well, we make it to the top of the hill and everyone unloads to take pictures. The wind is blowing 40-mph but itís warm. The cloud cover is getting thicker and killing the light even more. Ah, the joys of a winter photo shoot. After having 93 back up and come forward a half dozen times itís time to load up and head back to Ely. Then BAM. The brakes set up again. But the photographers have gotten smarter and have been holding on.

Once back to Ely itís time for dinner and then the night photo shoot. The wind swings from the south to the north, temperature goes down, and it starts raining. Yet the hardcore photographers have the engine crew position 93 in front of the coaling tower for the night photography session in the rain with the north wind blowing. They are going to get their monies worth.

Out of everything, that Iíve seen this is the most interesting. The way itís explained to me is that, ďthey are painting with light.Ē 93 is posed in front of the coaling tower and on command, all of the camera shutters are opened. Then a flash, then 93 turns on its headlight for a few seconds. Then another flash, but from a different angle, yet another flash also from a different angle and then the command is given, closed shutters. This goes on a half dozen times and then itís time to call it a night.

Next morning, SNOW, saints be praised. This time itís off to Keystone. Will the airbrakes work like they should? (Yes they did, no problems at all on Sunday.) First photo stop, everyone bails off. Cold weather, lots of steam and smoke this is what itís all about. The day continues to be great with sun, steam, and smoke. It was worth it! We pulled it off again.

The 5th Annual Nevada Northern Railway Photo Shoot weekend will be the first weekend in February 2004 -- come join us.



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