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"At The Throttle"
by Mark Bassett, Executive Director

A weekly series of columns originally published in 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:


Climb Aboard
09 December 2009


Sitting in my office, I can hear locomotive 93 whistling for the schoolhouse crossing about a mile away. It is a reminder of why, "This Place Matters." Locomotive 93 is only in operation today because individuals from across the country banded together. It mattered to them that a piece of Americana is kept in operation. In 2008, locomotive 93 received new axles, new crown brasses, refurbished tires, and wheels to list just a few of the improvements. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested in a century old steam locomotive.

Subconsciously, I count them off the whistle toots. There's a long, another long, a short toot, then a long mournful wail as the locomotive enters the crossing. The whistle echoes throughout the surrounding canyons. You're transported back in time. Pretty soon, I'll hear locomotive 93 whistling for the Lackawanna crossing and the sequence repeats itself. This is it. The real deal. It's authentic. It is a piece of our collective past. For the past century, locomotive 93 has blown its whistle throughout this valley.

Here's why "This Place Matters"—Kayla, age 4. Members' support keeps the railroad functional so this great American story can be shown to the next generations.

John Langford, more commonly known as Bear, is the engineer today. Bear drove six hours to be here. He'll work eleven grueling hours, get a short eight-hour break, and he's back working for eleven more hours. His wages for twenty-two hours of hot, sweaty work? Nothing—nada, zero, zip, a goose egg. In fact, it cost him to come to Ely and stay the weekend. Bear believes that 'This Place Matters.' And thankfully, he is not alone in this belief.

Thanks to our members, donors, and volunteers you can actually hear steam locomotives whistling again on the Nevada Northern. (In fact, as you're on a computer you can hear it right now: The Return of 93 by Mike Massee.)

A year ago, this wasn't the case. Both our steam locomotives were out of service needing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of repairs. Being able to hear a steam whistle in 2009 is a steam miracle! Now locomotives 93 and 40 are back in service. That is an inconceivable reversal from a year ago. It was only because of the financial support from people like you that this steam miracle was accomplished—getting not one but two century-old steam locomotives back in service.

A Nevada Northern Railway member Michael Lee puts it succinctly, "On the other side of this miracle is the cost of projects such as this. Just so we are all on the same page…miracles such as this do not just happen by themselves. They need to be encouraged by people who care. Perhaps the more miraculous part of the entire process is that there were so many people and dollars aligned with this cause and that cared enough to make it happen." Thanks Michael, I couldn't say it better myself.

Michael continues, "You are part of that miracle by your annual membership and additional contributions. The more support [the railroad] receives, the more it is able to fulfill its mission in this wonderful but nearly steam-less world of ours." Your membership is part of that support. It counts.

Operating a steam era railroad in the 21st century would be impossible with the financial support of our members. The revenue that we receive from our visitors and riders simply does not cover the cost of keeping a one hundred year old steam locomotive in service. It is the passion of our members that allow us to do the impossible—keep the steamers steaming on the Nevada Northern.

We are an anomaly. If you look up the word anomaly, the definition is "something that deviates from the norm." That does define us to a "T."

We have the original steam locomotives still operating from the original enginehouse on the original track. In a recent grant application I stated, "We are proactive and complete our projects." And we do, yet, we have no time to sit back and admire our successes; we still have lots of work to do.

Locomotive 93 is pushing the rotary snowplow into the enginehouse. The rotary and enginehouse were built in 1907. Locomotive 93 came in 1909. When was this picture taken: 1909, 1929, 1939, 1949, or 1959? Answer: 2009. This is the magical part of our work; here we captured a moment from the past in the present.

And this is where your help is needed. Specifically, I need you to become a member of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. If you want to continue to hear locomotive 40 and 93 whistling up and down the track, then you need to step up to the plate. You already know and appreciate the significance of our work. I'm asking you to join with people from across the country and around the corner whose membership allows us to continue the work of preserving this incredible time capsule.

Please join at the highest level you can afford. Your membership allows us to do this important, grimy work every day. This is what keeps the railroad functioning. We can find something to do with every level of membership:

• $50 purchases one month's supply of journal box oil to keep the wheels turning
• $100 installs one tie under the rails to support the operations of the trains
• $250 is a year's worth of cat food for our Shop cats Blackie and Kennecott (their jobs—keep the
    vermin away. This helps to preserve our century-old paper records)
• $500 covers the operational cost of one day of steam operations
• $1,000 purchases and installs ten new railroad ties
• $2,500 repaints one 100+ year-old building
• $5,000 purchases two loads of coal, providing one month of fuel for the steam locomotives
• $10,000 puts diesel locomotive 105 back into service
• $15,000 gets us one (new to us) hi-rail pick-up truck

These are just a few examples of how your investment helps preserve the railroad.

Members' support saved the railroad. If you look around the grounds, you can see that support everywhere. The enginehouse is an excellent example. Once it was in danger of collapsing on the locomotives stored in there. Today, the structure has been saved. How? Members' funds were leveraged with grants that addressed the critical structural problems of the building.

In 2008, both of our steam locomotives were down for maintenance. The future looked bleak. But in 2009 that all changed. Now in its centennial year, steam locomotive 93 is back in operation. Why? Members' donations were leveraged with grants and loans and major repairs were made. And we got locomotive 40 is back in service. Now three pieces of Nevada Northern Railway steam are back in operation. Locomotives 40 & 93 and the steam powered wrecking crane.

Look around the yard. Do you see any weeds? No. Why? Because members' donations allow us to annually spray the fifty-six acre yard and thirty miles of track. No weeds not only recapture the look of the yard during the railroad's heyday, but also remove a fire danger that could threaten the hundred-year-old buildings.

No matter where you look throughout the fifty-six acre complex with the sixty-six buildings and structures members' donation were responsible for preserving the Nevada Northern Railway.

I know that "This Place Matters" to you. We need you to step up to the plate and become a member. Your financial support is critical and literally keeps the doors open. Please take a moment right now to join with us in preserving the Nevada Northern Railway. (Membership application*)

And we have two "thank you" for joining. All who contribute to the railroad between now and the end of the year will be entered into a drawing. The first prize is the Ultimate Locomotive Rental—you in the cab operating one of the steam and one of our diesel locomotives that your contribution helps keep alive. Second place is a steam rental and third place is a diesel rental.

The 2010 Limited Edition Locomotive 40 Centennial Coin with a Certificate of Authenticity will be available December 16, 2009. It features locomotive 40's centennial in 2010. This is the second coin in the Nevada Northern Railway locomotive series. It is a benefit of membership in solid copper, silver, or gold plated silver. These coins are only available as a benefit of membership.

The 2010 Nevada Northern Railway commemorative coin is now in production. It features locomotive 40's centennial in 2010. One side of the coin features locomotive 40 with a full head of steam. The reverse side features locomotive 40's builder's plate highlighting the year 1910. The coins are only available as a benefit of membership and are available in solid copper, silver, or gold plated silver. These are truly a keepsake that will be handed down from generation to generation.

If the Nevada Northern Railway matters to you, show your support by joining with others that believe that "This Place Matters." Now is the time. I really, truly, hope that you join today. We need you.

* If you are interested in joining us in preserving the Nevada Northern Railway, memberships in the museum are available at these levels: Active $30; Family $50; Centennial $100; Sustaining $250; Patron $500; Friend $1000; Supporter $2,500; Benefactor $5,000 and Leader $10,000. Please contact the museum for more information.




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