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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 or e-mail:


Projects Three — Locomotive 40
05 October 2020

There are three major projects that the Nevada Northern Railway Museum is investigating funding sources for. The projects are the McGill Depot, the East Ely Machine Shop and Engine House Building, and of course Locomotive 40. The three projects share similar characteristics: they will cost about $500,000 apiece; they are all in need of immediate help; and they are vital to the Museum. This week will review Locomotive 40.

Locomotive 40 is a 4-6-0 steam locomotive built by Baldwin Locomotive Works for the Nevada Northern Railway in 1910. Locomotive 40 has spent its entire life on the Nevada Northern and was still steaming last year. 40 is now out of service. After 92 years of service, where it seem like nothing could stop her, the federal government finally did. New regulations from Washington D.C. require the boiler and firebox of Locomotive 40 be completely disassembled, inspected, ultrasonically tested, and rebuilt. At the same time her running gear, rods, springs, and wheels will be rebuilt. When the rebuilding is finished, 40 will be better then when she left the shops back in 1910. Price tag for the rebuild is $500,000.

Why invest that type of money in Locomotive 40? Fair question. Simply put, she is one of the last of her type still in existence. She is a contrast to Locomotive 93. 93 was built for power, 40 was built for speed. In fact, itís been said, open her throttle and sheíll gallop. Rumor has it, that in Steptoe Valley, she broke 100 miles per hour.

Locomotive 40 in front of the East Ely Depot ready for another day. Currently out of service, Locomotive 40 needs $500,000 in repairs before she can again pull passengers.


Steam locomotives are very labor intensive to operate and expensive to maintain. Last year the Museum spent about $300,000 on Locomotive 93 to bring it into compliance with the Federal Railroad Administrationís (FRA) new boiler code. But why spend all of this money on steam locomotives? Two words - steam sells.

This season less than 20% of our trains were steam-powered trains. The steam trains carried about 79% of our passengers. Last weekend an international tour group came to Ely to photograph trains. They would not have come if we did not have a steam locomotive. That one-day meant $10,000 to the museum and $19,250 to the community. We had a movie filmed in Ely this past summer, again no steam, then no movie. The fires in Colorado caused three tourist railroads to stop running steam; the results were devastating. One operator gave notice they would not operate in 2003. 80 jobs were lost in a small community like Ely. Another tourist railroad tried diesel-powered trains; ridership plummeted. We received a call from a tourist railroad asking if we would lease them one of our steam locomotives for their operation. Here in Ely, thatís 20% of the trains, 79% of the passengers - steam sells.

So why not run steam all of the time? Right now only Locomotive 93 meets FRA regulations but it has running gear problems. In two years the museum plans to have Locomotive 40 back in service, then rebuild Locomotive 93ís running gear, price tag $300,000. In 2005, the Nevada Northernís 100th birthday, we could run steam locomotives every day. Rotating Locomotives 40 and 93 in and out of service would allow us to offer a steam train every single day.

If we were to start on Locomotive 40 by March 2003, then we would have just enough time to get it ready for our Centennial. Where will the money come from? The Museum tried a Save Americaís Treasures grant and was turned down. Next January the White Pine Legislative Coalition Committee will be asking the State Legislature for a $500,000 matching grant to rebuild Locomotive 40.

What happens if we are not successful with the Legislature? We could run out of steam literally. The Museum will continue to try and raise money for Locomotive 40 but the clock is ticking on Locomotive 93ís running gear. We think we can keep Locomotive 93 going until fall 2004, when ideally Locomotive 40 will go back into service. If we have no success in Carson City this spring, then it is possible that in 2004 and definitely in our Centennial year we would have no steam locomotive operating on the Nevada Northern Railway. Our ridership will drop like a rock. We could lose 6,000+ riders a year! With a drop of ridership comes a drop in revenue. This would put a freeze on projects and jobs at the museum and could threaten having operating trains in Ely.

You can now see why steam is so important to the Museum; it is not only our heritage but also our lifeblood.



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