Submitted by Mark Bassett

Director of Nevada Northern Railway

It’s a new year, full of excitement and optimism, but before we say good bye to 2014, let’s review it. For starters, 2014 was a good year for the railroad. Passenger wise, we carried 12,725 riders. Slightly better than 2013, making 2014 our fourth best year since passenger operations began in 1987. But the real surprise was the Polar Express, we carried 3,261 passengers to the North Pole in about a month! It was our best Polar Express ever, a 21% increase over 2013!

I recently attended a seminar and one of the speakers said, “Being a non-profit is a tax status, not a business strategy.” And that is very true, as much as I love the steam locomotives, the bottom line is that the museum needs to take in more dollars than it spends. In other words, we need to see a profit at the end of the year.

Our revenue comes from three major areas: donations, train revenue and gift shop sales. First up is donations. For the year, donations were up 24%, they clocked in at $309,425. And thanks to the Challenge from First National Bank of Ely, our donations in December were also up. We raise $128,109 in December alone, a 14% increase over December of last year! It might interest you to know that we have over 3,000 members. We have a member in every state in the union and five foreign countries!

Next, is train revenue. If you live near the railroad tracks, you might have seen one of our locomotives heading up the hill by itself or occasionally with freight cars attached. So what’s going on?

What you are witnessing, is our very successful Be the Engineer program in action. That’s right. You can be the engineer of one of our locomotives and people come to Ely from around the world to do so. And in 2014, those people paid the railroad $99,691 to do so, an increase of 53% over 2013.

We did take a hit in our regular excursion train income; it was down $7,706. Total revenue from excursion trains was $99,528. But we did make up most of that loss with our Ride with the Engineer program. Yes, we do sell tickets to ride in the cab of the locomotive with the engineer. Last year that brought in $11,924 an increase of $6,465 over 2013. All in all, our train revenue was $344,098. Up $50,755 or 17% over the previous year, not too bad, not too bad at all.

The exciting news of the year was the gift shop. Thanks to the seed money from the White Pine County Tourism and Recreation Board, our gift shop had a banner year! Sales were up an astounding $52,200 or 152%. The Gift Shop brought in $86,557. Thank you Tour and Rec!

In addition to the above, we have our popular Night at the Museum, where you can spend the night in a caboose or in the bunkhouse; our winter photo shoots; walking tours and miscellaneous income. Add everything up and total non-grant income for 2014 was $1,012,036, up $96,884 over the previous year!

Looking back over the year, in January, we installed a set of original Nevada Northern Railway Wig-Wag Signals in the East Ely yard. These signals had been restored for us by Rick’s Restoration in Las Vegas and were featured on an episode of American Restoration. Once we got them done, the next step was to install them. This turned out a little harder than I expected. The Wig-Wags were going to protect four tracks in the East Ely yard. I was going to just install them, but the track department figured that if this was going to be a show piece then all four crossings needed to be rebuilt. They were right, we rebuilt the crossings, installed the Wig-Wags and it is a show piece! In fact, we did the night photo shoot at the Wig-Wags and the results were outstanding!

In January, I took a velocipede down to Las Vegas for Rick and his crew to work their magic on. A velocipede is a human-powered three-wheel track car. The Nevada Northern used them for track inspection and the railroad had one that needed to be restored.

In February, the railroad hosts two photo shoots. People from around the globe come to Ely to photograph the Nevada Northern Railway over two and half days! And Mother Nature did a great job! One weekend had lots of snow and the other weekend had no snow. A lot of people are doing both weekends because our weather can be so variable! And award-winning photographs are taken during the photo shoots. And the Wig-Wags were the hit of the weekend!

March is maintenance month. It is time to get ready for the new operating year. Locomotives, passenger cars, track are all inspected and repaired in anticipation of a busy season.

April started off with a bang! We received $195,000 in grants for building repairs, passenger car repairs, advertising and marketing. April is also the start of the operating season. And then lightning struck. I had taken one of our velocipedes to Rick for restoration. I got a call from the Producer saying would I mind if the reveal was done in Ely? Mind, absolutely not, let’s do it, and let’s get Rick in the cab of a steam locomotive while he’s here!

So on April 24th, the production crew for American Restoration shows up at 7:00 am on a beautiful morning to begin filming. And filming lasts until 7:00 pm that evening. Rick and his crew did a great job on the velocipede. I got Rick in the cab of locomotive 40, Rick got a chance to Be the Engineer, and we went through the Wig-Wags. It was great, just great! During the day, I noticed that clouds were building and that made me a little nervous. One of my favorite sayings is attributed to Napoleon who said, “Don’t send me good generals, send me lucky generals.” We got lucky, we had snow on April 22 and a blizzard on April 25th, but for filming – Mother Nature cooperated nicely.

On April 30th, we hosted our first Murder Mystery Train for Nevada Commission on Tourism as part of Rural Round-Up. I’m happy to report that justice prevailed and the murderer was caught and dealt with.

By May, the season is (if you’ll excuse the pun) full steam ahead. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. June sees the schedule increase to trains running 6 days a week. Also in June, the railroad hosted the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society’s annual convention. The convention began in Las Vegas and chased ghost railroads through western Nevada before hitting Ely. Saturday morning of the convention started with a bang, as we had two charters and a work train all heading up the hill at the same time. The railroad also scored in June receiving $37,199 in marketing and promotional grants. July the pace picked up even more, trains operated daily until the end of August.

One of the grants that the railroad received allowed us to start a new outreach program called Railway Fun, Facts and Trivia. These are short webisodes available on our website that explain and show the different aspects and programs of the railroad. It’s a new way for the railroad to reach out and engage people around the globe. Want more information on what it’s like to Spend the Night at the Museum, there’s a video to show you. This is an exciting program funded in part by the Nevada Commission on Tourism.

To make life even more exciting, July was also inspection month. The railroad was visited by the Federal Railroad Administration, Nevada Public Utilities and the Nevada State Boiler inspector. Everything is looked at, the paperwork, the track, the cars, the locomotives and our operations. I’m happy to report that the railroad passed with flying colors.

July also brought a challenge when locomotive 204, our diesel workhorse, acted up and needed to be taken out of service. Locomotive 105 stepped up to the plate and took over. We also started our Interpretative Structure in Preservation Plaza. This new structure will become a starting point for telling the story of the Nevada Northern Railway. It was funded in part by a grant from the Great Basin Heritage Area Partnership.

August flew by. Up the hill and then down the hill daily. Then it is Labor Day weekend and time for our annual Plein Air Arts and Crafts Fair! In September, things start to slow down a touch. The steam schedule is shortened by a day. But now the property needed to be decorated for Halloween.

You might find yourself thinking, what does Halloween have to do with preservation of a National Historic Landmark Railroad? Simple, it generates revenue at what was a slow time of the year. Our Haunted Ghost Trains have turned out wildly successful! But they are very labor intensive. It takes about 70 people to make the Haunted Ghost Trains the success that they are.

Once Halloween is done there is no rest, all of the Halloween decorations come down and Christmas goes up! For now, it is getting close to the Polar Express!

November is busy with the Community Food Train, for one can of food you can ride the train. Tons of food was collected by area Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Then it is time for the first Polar Express!

Polar Express time is an all hands drill. We carry a quarter of our ridership in about a month. Everything must go right! There are no “do overs” allowed. After all, do you want to be known as the person who ruined someone’s Christmas? And as if we didn’t have enough going on, long-term volunteer Kurt Dietrich got married on the Saturday after Thanksgiving on a special wedding charter. So that Saturday saw four trains, three Polar Expresses and a wedding train. The first Polar Express went out 1:00 pm, the Wedding Train went out at 2:00 pm as the Polar Express was coming back in. At 4:30 pm, the second Polar Express departed for the North Pole as the Wedding Train arrived back in at 4:30 pm and 30 seconds.

December is our biggest month of the year. Everything is leading up to December. And if we have a bad December, we will have a bad year! So we can’t afford to have a bad December!

Santa came early and delivered $63,000 in grants and a record number of people for the Nevada Northern Railway to haul to the North Pole. Thanks to First National Bank of Ely, our end of the year fund raiser was stupendous! We met the challenge and surpassed it by over four times!

Yes sir, 2014 was a very good year for the Nevada Northern Railway. It only happened because of the dedication and combined efforts of the staff, volunteers and members! It is only because of this dynamic combination that made 2014 the great year that it was. And we will need that same dynamic combination as we move into 2015, because the challenges promise to be bigger.

Questions? Comment? E-mail me at

Mark Bassett speaks with the cast of Rick’s Restorations when the show came to film an episode at the railroad in 2014. (Courtesy photo)

Mark Bassett speaks with the cast of Rick’s Restorations when the show came to film an episode at the railroad in 2014. (Courtesy photo)