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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:


All Aboard the Polar Express
08 November 2003


It is that time of the year again, the days are getting shorter, the weather is definitely colder, we have snow on the ground, and the Nevada Northern shop crew is preparing steam Locomotive 93 for some very special annual trips. What trips? Why, they are the most special trips of the year. On November 29th and 30th and then again on December 6th and 7th Locomotive 93 will couple up to passenger cars Ely and Nevada, for an extraordinary journey to a far away place—the North Pole, for a visit with Santa Claus.

Based on the children’s book, The Polar Express, this is a story of a young boy and his sister who learn from their friends that there is no Santa Claus. On Christmas Eve, however, the boy hears a distant whistle and sees a locomotive pull into his front yard. He boards it and is on a journey northward; the destination is the North Pole.

After he and the other children disembark, they learn that it is nearly time for Santa to begin his annual Christmas Eve journey. However, he will select one of them to receive the first gift of Christmas, which can be anything that they wish. The young boy is selected, and, after much thought, he chooses a bell from the harness of Santa's reindeer.

Santa visits with passengers on the Nevada Northen Railway Museum's Polar Express.

When he begins his trip to his home, the boy discovers that he had a hole in his pocket, and he lost the bell. The next morning, though, he receives an extra present—the bell with a note from Santa. His parents are disappointed because they do not hear the sweet jingle from it, and they think that it is broken. However, the boy and his sister DO hear the clear, sweet sound because of their faith.

Many years later, the sister could no longer hear the jingle, but the boy always could. He always believed in the spirit of Christmas.

We invite everybody to join us for these six special trains, as we fire up Locomotive 93, hook up to passenger cars, Ely and Nevada and journey northward on the Nevada Northern Railway Polar Express to the North Pole on November 29th and 30th and then again on December 6th and 7th.

I am one of those children who never grew up and I love Christmas. While I invite all of our friends and supporters from White Pine County to ride the Polar Express (remember White Pine residents receive a discount) there are just 840 tickets available. Sounds like a lot until you realize these trains are being marketed to Las Vegas and Reno.

Now for the Grinch part: the reason for the Museum for putting on the Polar Express is to raise funds for both the museum and the community. It was the dream nineteen years ago that the Museum would become an economic generator for the community; again, as it was before it closed.

It is the goal of the Museum, working with other community groups, to build a large community event that attracts visitors from all over. Due to the success of last year’s trains, the Museum doubled the number of trains running this year. This of course doubles the number of tickets available. With our haunted ghost trains completed only a week ago, we already have seventy-four reservations for the Polar Express Trains this year and the advertising has barely started. (Both haunted ghost trains sold out; if you want to go on the Polar Express trains reserve your seats ASAP.) Most of those reservations are from out-of-towners coming to Ely to ride the Polar Express. In fact, a California grandmother will be bringing her eight grandchildren to ride the Polar Express.

That means out-of-town passengers will be filling up our motels, having meals in our restaurants, and filling up with gas at our gas stations. This will be bringing money into the community after the traditional tourist season has ended and just before Christmas; when that extra money can be put to good use.

How successful will we be? Good question. Polar Express trains in the other parts of the country sell out by mid November. Since this is our second year, we are still learning more on how to improve it for 2004, but I see the Polar Express growing a little bit more each year, especially next year when the Polar Express movie staring Tom Hanks is released.

Building on the excitement, the Convention Center is putting on a community event: the Sights, Sounds, and Smells of Christmas, of which the Polar Express is just one aspect. Other components include a Christmas Ball, Festival of Trees & Auction, Craft Bazaar and Christmas Parade. The advertising campaign has barely started in Las Vegas and as mentioned earlier, people are already responding.

After all, how can you really celebrate Christmas without snow? And what are the chances of snow in Las Vegas? Now all we need is snow in Ely those two weekends.

N.B. Story review provided by teacher Katy Smith, Pratt Elementary School, Pratt, West Virginia.



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