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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 Railroad Foundation, operator of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. He can be reached at the museum (775) 289-2085 ext. 7 or e-mail:


To Be A Museum or Not To Be A Museum
17 May 2003


With apologies to William Shakespeare, as the Nevada Northern Railway Museum moves forward we need to answer this very basic question, ďto be a museum or not to be a museum, that is the question.Ē

Sounds simple doesnít it. After all, we call ourselves a museum, so we must be one, right? Not quite, it doesnít really work that way. To be a museum there are certain obligations that we must recognize.

The starting point would be with the definition of a museum. The American Associations of Museumís definition of a museum contains twelve points; letís see how we stack up.

1. A museum must be a legally organized, not-for-profit institution. We meet the requirement. The White Pine Historic Railroad Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization that manages the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.

2. A museum must be educational in nature. We meet the requirement. The excursion trains allows the public to experience travel by rail during the first half of the 20th century. Then there is the behind the scenes maintenance and repair where skills are passed on to the next generation.

3. Have a formally stated mission statement. Ours is, ďThe Nevada Northern Railway Museum is dedicated to the restoration, preservation, interpretation and operation of the Nevada Northern Railway historic facilities, yards, and rail collection. This evolving museum gives people the opportunity to experience a world class historic working railroad.Ē

4. Have one full-time paid professional staff person who has museum knowledge and experience and is delegated authority and allocated financial resources sufficient to operate the museum effectively. We donít meet the requirement.

There is more to being a museum than just the train rides. Here two volunteers are removing the siding from one of the American Car and Foundry 1917 boxcars prior to residing the car. Today about one-half of the car is resided. The interior of the car has not been touched and will not be. For the interior still has the station names written in chalk by Nevada Northern Railway train crews. This car is being restored because that's what we are to do as an museum, preserve and interpret for future generations. This is the first non-revenue piece of rolling stock that the museum has restored in twenty years.

5. Presents regularly scheduled programs and exhibits that use and interpret objects for the public according to accept standards. We donít meet the requirement.

6. Have a formal and appropriate program of documentation, care, and use of collections and/or tangible objects. We donít meet the requirement.

7. Have a formal and appropriate program of maintenance and presentation of exhibits. We donít meet the requirement.

8. Have been open to the public for at least two years. We meet the requirement.

9. Be substantially open to the public at least 1,000 hours a year. We meet the requirement.

10. Have an appropriate annual operating budget at least $25,000. We meet the requirement.

11. Have accessioned 80 percent of the permanent collection. We donít meet the requirement.

12. Demonstrate the characteristics of an accreditable museum. We donít meet the requirement.


So how did we do? Well. out of the twelve points we met only one-half of the requirements. This now becomes the basis of developing a road map for the development of reaching the full potential of our museum.

Does implementing all twelve points mean that character of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum will change? Short answer, yes. Does this mean we will become a bunch of stuff shirts with Locomotive 93 displayed to the public behind glass? Short answer, no. For the public to truly understand the role of the Nevada Northern Railway in the development of White Pine County and Ely, the equipment must be preserved, interpreted and operated.

We must inventory what we have in such a way that we understand what we have. A case in point is Coach 2. It was damaged in the collision in 1995. It is a Ďprettyí wooden passenger car. Should the car be restored? The project will cost about $400,000. Does the museum want to invest this much money in one piece of equipment?

The decision becomes easier to make, when you realize that Coach 2 is the last Harriman class 60C coach left in the world. In addition, to its uniqueness of being the last of its type, Coach 2 spent its entire life serving the Nevada Northern Railway. It transported hundreds of thousands of passengers; it has a story to tell. This information makes the decision on whether to restore Coach 2 easier. It also is the starting the point on defining our responsibilities as a museum. It promises to be an interesting journey.




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