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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:


07 October 2005


Back on October 4, 2003, my column was on the need for an ashpit. I said, "With our centennial fast approaching and the desire to operate steam locomotives five or more days a week, we really needed an ash pit." Well here it is October 4, 2020 and I am pleased to report that the Nevada Northern Railway has an ashpit back in service! On Friday, September 30, locomotive 40 went to the ashpit and dumped her ashes. The next morning the same thing happened and a General Order was published putting the ashpit back in service and prohibiting the dumping of the ashes in front of the enginehouse.

It doesn't sound like a big deal, but it is. When steam locomotives burn coal, they create ash and we've burned a whole lot of coal so far this year. In fact, we've burned over 726,000 pounds of coal. That has created a small mountain of ash. As I said back in 2003, "Currently, when the ashes need to be empty from Locomotive 93; we do it in front of the enginehouse. This is bad for a couple of reasons. The first reason is the rails holding 93 up are anchored by wooden ties. Drop hot ashes and cinders on top of wooden ties and guess what happens? The ties catch on fire and start burning—not a good plan. Secondly, after you drop the ashes between the rails, you need to remove the ashes or they build up and you bury the rails, which leads to derailments, another bad idea. To remove the ashes we use the bucket on our backhoe and remove them one-bucket load at a time. Not the best use of resources, to say the least."

Loco 40 on the first day the ashpit returned to service

Locomotive 40 on the first day the ashpit
returned to service.


Working on the ashpit 03 July 2020
Crews placing ashpit I-beams 07 July 2020
Inspecting the ashpit 05 Sep 2020

(Left) Ashpit construction, 03 July 2005. (Center) Using the Brownhoist crane four days later, staff and volunteers are placing the I-beams for the ashpit. Locomotive 93 (right) is in the background as crews inspect the ashpit on 05 September 2005. Locomotives 40 and 93 have burned over 363 tons of coal so far this year. That coal created tons of ash. We need place to dump the ash and service the steam locomotives—that's why we need the ashpit.


In fact, within four months of writing how badly we needed ashpit we did suffer a derailment. It was during a photo shoot. We had dropped the photographers off at the depot for lunch and took locomotive 93 down to the enginehouse for water. As the locomotive approached the enginehouse, the engineer opened up the cylinder cocks and prepared to stop the locomotive before going into the enginehouse stall. The head brakeman dropped down to escort the locomotive into the stall, and noticed that it was off the rails. The pilot truck and six of the eight driving wheels were on the ground. Reason: the ashes had not been removed and had mixed with water and froze. As the locomotive moved over the rails, it hit a low joint and off popped the pilot wheels and the drivers just followed along.

So now, we faced the problem of how to get a 100 ton locomotive back on the rails and do it as quickly as possible. (I was imagining $20 dollar bills flying away because I thought we would need to give refunds to the photographers.) As it turned out, it took us one hour and forty-five minutes to re-rail locomotive 93. The photographers used it as a photo opportunity and to quote the old saying, "All's well that ends well."

So here we are at the beginning of our Centennial. We have locomotive 40 back in service, along with the ashpit. We pushed ourselves hard and proved that we could operate steam on a daily basis. One of the big hindrances to our steam program is now history: the lack of an ashpit.


Welding on 05 Sept 2020
Closeup view of welding 05 Sep 2020
Loco 40 at ashpit 01 Oct 2020

(Left & Center) Welding I-beams, 05 September 2005. (Right) Locomotive 40 over the ashpit on its second day of service, 01 October 2005.


To build the ashpit we found the original 1908 ashpit drawings and the original concrete pit. We used the plans as a guide in constructing the new track structure. We used heavier steel I-beams for a bigger safety factor. And we put walkways on both sides of the pit.

There is another aspect of the ashpit project that I need to brag about. We did the majority of the work in-house. We did receive help from Keith Carson of Carson Unlimited who dug out the old concrete structure and checked the plans for the new pit.

The E.L. Cord Foundation, White Pine Tourism and Recreation Board, and the members of the museum provided the funding to complete the project.

David Griner, master mechanic of the museum, was the driving force behind the project. Leonard Cassieri, Dennis Winger, Don Hepler, and Skip Allen placed the steel beams over the pit. Allen Jones and Jim Blaylock had removed the old rails and ties from over the old pit. David spent hours down at the pit welding the steel together to form the structure. He was assisted by Ron Taylor, Jordon Oxborrow, and Don.

Once the welding was done, it was time to place the rails and raise the track. This was done by Robby Peartree, roadmaster of the museum. Robby was assisted by Kurt Schaull, museum track worker, Ron, Dennis, and Leonard.

Then it was the moment of truth. Jason Lamb and Chris Brophy brought over locomotive 105. Weighing-in at more than 100 tons, Jason and Chris inched the locomotive on to the ashpit structure under the direction of David.

Success! The structure and the repaired track did exactly what it was suppose to do—support the weight of a locomotive.


40 at the new ashpit 01 Oct 2020
40 dumping ashes 01 Oct 2020
Ashes in the pit

(Left & Center) Locomotive 40 arrives at the newly reconstructed ashpit. (Right) Ashes in the pit mean no more ashes fouling the engine house leads. All photos 01 October 2005.


It was with the combination of the skills of the staff and volunteers and the generous financial contributions of the E.L. Cord Foundation, White Pine Tourism and Recreation Board, and the members of the museum that made this project possible.

It's not glamorous. In fact, it's very utilitarian. But the ashpit is a key facet of our steam program. By commissioning the ashpit, we've removed a dangerous roadblock to steam operations. On behalf of the museum, I want to thank all who participated, Thanks!




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