By Mark Basset

For over a century, steam locomotives 40 and 93 have called White Pine County home. Amazingly, both locomotives are still in operation, now hauling excursion trains that delight thousands of visitors a year.  In the course of a year, visitors spend about $4,000,000 in the community annually. In fact, since the first excursion train operated in 1987, the railroad has brought in over $69,000,000 into the Ely economy. Not too bad for two old steam locomotives located 240 miles away from the next closest city.

But this success story almost didn’t happen. When Kennecott was closing down in 1983, they were considering scrapping the entire railroad. All of the buildings, track, locomotives and cars were going to be either sold, leveled or melted down until nothing remained.  This should have been the fate of the Nevada Northern, and it would have except for a handful of far-sighted individuals who thought that the railroad could be developed as an economic generator for the community. They were able to persuade Kennecott to give shops, tracks, locomotives and railroad cars to the community.

The City of Ely and the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation accepted the gift in 1984 for the express purpose of operating a railroad museum.  While the City and the Foundation each own half of the railroad, the Foundation has been responsible for the operation of the railroad museum.  As trustees for the Foundation, the City Council created a Management Board to handle the day-to-day activities of the railroad museum.

While the Management Board has utilized its extensive powers to successfully operate the railroad, the role of the Management Board and the role of the City Council as trustees have long been an area of concern for both the Management Board and the City. The documents developed years ago no longer meet the needs to the railroad.

We have the opportunity to continue the Foundation’s success by amending the articles and bylaws to create a better platform for the railroad and to foster a mutually-beneficial relationship between the City and the Foundation. The Management Board proposes that a new Board of Directors take the place of the management board and trustees. This new Board of Directors will allow the Mayor and the Council to each appoint members to the Board, thereby giving the City a significant voice in the operation of the Foundation. The City will also remain a co-owner of the railroad.

By creating a Board of Directors, the Foundation would be able to truly operate as a charitable organization, rather than as a function of the City Council. Through an effective and stable Foundation structure, the Council will not have to directly involve itself in the operations and the financial affairs of the Foundation. The new structure will have two representatives from the City on the new Board of Directors of the Foundation.

The railroad has grown significantly, since its first audit in 1996. The Foundation has raised more than $17,000,000. Buildings have been saved from collapse, and tracks, locomotives and cars have been repaired. In 2012, for example, the Management Board of the Foundation raised $1,733,540. Of this money, 83 cents of every dollar raised was invested back into the railroad, 13 cents was spent on administration of the railroad, and just 4 cents was spent on fundraising. While these numbers are impressive, we can do better and need to do better.

For 30 years, the Foundation, through its Management Board, has successfully operated the railroad.  The continued success of the railroad depends on an effective, stable structure from which the Foundation may solicit donations, obtain grants, and implement a long-term plan for the railroad.  The proposed amendments to the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws will foster a mutually-beneficial relationship between the City and the Foundation. They will allow the Foundation to operate as a charitable organization, rather than as a function of the City Council. This will allow the railroad to develop major funding initiatives while also separating the Foundation’s finances from the City’s finances.

The railroad is on the verge of truly developing into a larger economic generator for the community. The approval of the revised Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws are the first steps to this bright future.