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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

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


Where Do Our Visitors Come From?
06 April 2007


We're gearing up. Opening Day is a week away and there are hundreds if not thousands of tasks that need to be done in the next week. And our Opening Weekend is also White Pine Weekend. The museum is offering adult residents of White Pine County half price tickets that weekend and better yet, kids get to ride FREE, when accompanied by an adult family member. This is our way of thanking the community for their support.

But for the trains to run there is lots of work to be done in the next week. Right now, locomotive 40 has its third driver set sitting on the machine shop floor, one main rod is off locomotive 93, locomotive 105 has a cracked cylinder head, and that's just the big jobs. The interior of the coaches need cleaning or as one volunteer said, "They need to be GI'd."

The new brochures need to be distributed, new tickets printed, a new walking tour brochure needs to be done, and the gift shop needs to be restocked. Plus there are also hundreds of little tasks that all need doing. Every one these jobs needs to completed in preparation for our visitors and we are expecting thousands of visitors this year.

Last year 14,742 people rode our trains. This was our largest year ever and it was an increase of 13% over the previous year. And let us not forget, last year was when gas hit more than $3.00 a gallon and my anxiety level shot up at the same rate.

Since museum operation started in 1986, the museum has carried 131,965 passengers. The dip in 1995 was caused by the accident. It's taken the museum seven years to capture the momentum that was building in 1992-1993.

2006 was more than a record-breaking year for us; it was the twelfth year in a row of ridership increases. Since the museum started offering excursion service in 1987, we have carried 131,965 passengers. Not to bad for a railroad that is in the middle of nowhere.

2006 was also notable for another reason. We carried passengers in every month of the year. That was a first. Also noteworthy was December. The popularity of our Polar Express trains is changing our season. December was our fourth largest month of the year! We carried 1,919 passengers that month. This pushed our resources to the limit. As the Polar Express trains gets more popular, it is very conceivable, December could become our biggest month of the year. This will present new challenges, such as where do you keep hundreds of people warm while they wait to board a train in a blizzard? Also having some street lights on Avenue A would help. It gets very dark down here at night.

July is king, followed either by June or by August. Each year there are different trends. May 2004 was great-the weather cooperated. In 2005, we had blizzards three weekends in a row. You can see that December is really picking up speed!

So where did all of our riders come from? Well for starters, they came from forty-seven states and sixteen foreign counties. If you look at our ridership closer, just over half of our riders come from Nevada; 8,872 riders or just a little over 60% came from the Silver State. And if you start slicing and dicing Nevada's numbers, you find that 60% or 5,292 of our Nevada riders come from southern Nevada. 23% or 2,001 riders come from northern Nevada and the remaining 17% or 1,579 riders are from White Pine County.

Sixty percent of our riders come from Nevada, followed by California and Utah. Our advertising and promotion will be shifted to focus on the Vegas market and southern California.
Of our Nevada ridership, over 60% comes from southern Nevada. Considering Las Vegas has been the fastest growing city for the past decade, this trend should continue. And it is good to see the support from White Pine County. Considering the population base is only about 7,200, it's heartening to know almost a quarter of the population rode the train last year.

Our neighboring states contribute a little more than a quarter of our ridership. As you might expect California is the largest, fifteen percent of our riders came from the Golden State. In quick succession, it is Utah with nine percent, Arizona with two percent, Idaho adds two percent to the total with Oregon adding one percent to our ridership. There were a couple of surprises in the numbers. People from Colorado, Washington, and Texas travel a long way to ride steam-powered trains. Each state contributed almost one percent a piece to the grand total.

Our foreign visitors came from around the planet. The most visitors came from Canada followed by Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, Holland, France, and New Zealand. We also had visitors from South Africa and Japan. In fact, our visitors from Japan rented locomotive 93. It was a little unusual to have an engineer's test done in Japanese. It was also a little tough to grade.

This year the emphasis of the museum will be on the weekday excursion trains. Our specialty trains and locomotive rentals are doing excellent. In fact, locomotive rentals for April and May are almost sold out. The first wine train is two-thirds sold. Where we are having difficulty is the weekday excursion trains. So this year we will premier a new program at the museum. From Mondays through Thursdays, kids will ride FREE on excursion trains when accompanied by an adult family member. The thinking behind this offer is very similar to the reason McDonald's builds Playplaces at their restaurants—get the kids and you get the parents.

2007 promises to be an exciting year on the railroad. If our growth continues and I didn't jinx it by this article, by the end of this year, we should hit close to 18,000 passengers. It promises to be an interesting journey. Come ride the train this year.




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