By Mark Bassett

Dear Santa, the railroad has been very good this year. We will bring about 28,000 visitors to Ely this year, who will spend about $4,000,000 in our community. And Santa as you know, our Polar Expresses have been super busy. Why it looks like the railroad will have brought almost 4,000 visitors to the North Pole this year! And most of those visitors were from outside the community so they spent the night here. Wow!

I know how busy you get at this time of year so I thought I should send you a letter on what the railroad would like for Christmas.

First on our list is the success of the Phoenix Dare project. We need to raise $2,000,000 in 2 years to keep our steam locomotives in operation. And Santa, be sure to put First National Bank of Ely and Mt. Wheeler Power on the Nice list. First National Bank of Ely will match all memberships and donations to the railroad up to $30,000! And Mt. Wheeler Power will match all donations up to $10,000! That’s $40,000! If we match their generous donations, that will mean $80,000 to start the work on the Phoenix Dare.

The needs of the railroad are great. But I have a special request Santa! I want to repaint Locomotive 204 as Nevada Northern Railway 402. What’s so special about that? The Nevada Northern Railway purchased an SD-7 locomotive and numbered it 401. It was painted in what is referred to as the Desert War Bonnet paint scheme. It is a very attractive paint scheme; it is tan, scarlet and black. Locomotive 204 is an SD-9, the next model in that locomotive line. It would be very appropriate to paint it in the original Nevada Northern Railway paint scheme, after all, it is our principle passenger locomotive. I know it’s expensive, but it would really add to the experience for our visitors. The estimated cost is $60,000. As a 60 year old locomotive, it does have some issues that need to be taken care too. Nothing serious, but if we’re going to repaint the locomotive, we should address some of the mechanical issues too. That will cost about $100,000. And, oh Santa, our long term goal is to bring Locomotive 401 back home too.

And since we’re on the subject of locomotives Santa, I do have a very special request and that is for the return of Kennecott Locomotive 201! Currently, Locomotive 201 is in a railroad museum in Washington State. The museum has said we can have her, if we move her. The cost of bringing Locomotive 201 back home is $100,000. I know it’s a lot, but Locomotive 201 is a very important locomotive. Only 34 were built and Locomotive 201 is the only survivor; she needs to come back home Santa!

And I know it’s a lot to ask, but since we’re talking about painting locomotives, Locomotive 109 needs a paint job too! We need to repaint it back to its original Kennecott colors and lettering. That’s another $60,000. And the demands for paint doesn’t end with the locomotives; coaches 05, 07, 08 and 09 all need painting too! And coach 05 is going to be really expensive. It is an original Nevada Northern Railway coach. The Nevada Northern Railway took real pride in its passenger equipment and it shows on Coach 5. For under its current cream trim is gold leaf! So to do it right, we’ll need to use gold leaf. And as a museum, we have to do it right.

So Santa to paint all of those coaches the bill will be about $180,000. And we need to do it, after all, it’s the passenger coaches that our visitors see first when they come to the railroad.

And speaking of painting, Santa, we have an existing building where the railroad did its painting! It is called the paint shed. It’s a huge building that we have invested lots of money in already. It could once again be used to paint the railroad’s cars and locomotives if we could get the four huge front doors repaired and made useable. Because the doors are so huge, they will cost about $45,000 a piece to repair so that’s another $180,000.

Santa, I’ve talked about the locomotives and railroad cars, but I can’t leave out the track. I can have the locomotives and cars in tiptop shape but if I don’t have track, I have nowhere to go with them. So in regards to track. I need to get our ballast tamper repaired and placed in service. It’s original to the railroad and has been referred to as a museum piece. But that’s ok, after all we’re a museum. If we had the tamper in operation we could do some serious track work. But in addition to the tamper we need a ballast regulator. A ballast regulator smooths the ballast before and after tamping. And as a bonus, it also takes care of weeds too! The combined cost of the tamper and regular is about $95,000.

And speaking of track Santa, I really want to get the track in service between the East Ely Yard and the White Pine Public Museum and I also want to get the track in service to the McGill Depot. That’s another tall order but it makes a lot of sense. If we can get the track open to the White Pine Public Museum, then we have visibility on Aultman Street which, as you know Santa, is the main drag here in Ely. Also, opening that track would allow us to do short train rides at a very low cost. That way, when we have visitors who missed the excursion trains, we can offer them an inexpensive train ride and show them two museums.

And getting to the McGill Depot is a long held dream of the railroad. Santa, we have invested lots of money in saving the McGill Depot. Our plan is to use the McGill Depot to tell the story of the copper industry here in White Pine County but more importantly we want to use the depot to tell the story of the people who came to White Pine County in search of the American dream.

The McGill Depot tells the story of America. It’s the story of immigration. Of people leaving their homes, crossing oceans, to come to this magical place called America. It is a story well worth telling because it is a grand story of our history. It is also a story of what can be accomplished, when we work together. And that is something well worth remembering today.

Opening the track to the White Pine Public Museum and the McGill Depot will be really expensive Santa because of all of the road crossings, but it is doable. The big expense will be crossing US 93 at Pole Line road. Figure $1,500,000 for that crossing, plus another $600,000 for the crossings in McGill and figure another $600,000 to get to the White Pine Public Museum. That’s about $2,700,000 but it is well worth the investment. It would help our communities with visitation and it would bring tourism to McGill that would give that community an economic boost.

Santa, I know I listed some big money items, but what I really, really want is to once again open the railroad from Ely to Cobre! Now this is a really big ticket item! We’ll need about $25,000,000 to do the entire job. Santa, I know that’s a lot to ask, BUT it would be grand gift because not only would it a gift to the railroad but it would be a gift to the residents of White Pine County too!

You see Santa, the price of metals, gold and copper are on a downwards trend. This is scary to the community, because when that happens, the mines can and do close. When that happens people lose their jobs. It has happened here before, and if we got the railroad opened, we might be able to prevent the mines from closing again. How?

Its economics. If the railroad was open, we could dramatically lower the transportation costs to the mines. That means their operating costs would be lower. The lower operating costs, might give the mines a cushion against falling metal prices.

And Santa, there is another reason to open the railroad, economic development for White Pine County. We found out this year that the Grinch has routed the new Interstate 11 through the US 95 corridor, not the US 93 corridor that goes through White Pine County! So Santa, the best chance for economic development in White Pine County would be the reopening of the railroad! That would be a Christmas present for everyone!

Well Santa, I added up the total costs and it comes to $30,475,000. I know that’s a huge chunk of money. If you can’t put all of these railroad presents under the tree, I do have one last request Santa.

Could you give us one present that might make all of our requests possible?  Could you give us a meeting with Warren Buffet?  That would make a very Merry Christmas here at the railroad and in White Pine County! Thanks Santa!

Down the Tracks at the Museum

Museum, gift shop and ticket office hours are: Mondays through Thursday, 8:00 to 5:00, Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 to 7:00, Sundays 8 to 4, Closed Tuesdays. We will be closed Christmas Eve and Day and New Years’ Eave and Day.

Currently there are some tickets available for some of the Polar Express trains, but reservations are strongly encouraged. Train schedules and tickets are available online at or call the ticket office (775) 289-2085.

Volunteers are always needed at the museum. We need tour guides, narrators, concessionaires, gift shop helpers and train crew members. If you have some spare time and would be interested in helping out, give the railroad a call at (775) 289-2085. You don’t need to live in Ely to volunteer.

Mark Bassett is the Executive Director of the museum. He can be reached by e-mail:; or by first class mail at:  1100 Avenue A, PO Box 150040, East Ely, NV 89315.

Caption Image Drawing of Locomotive 401: This is the desert war bonnet paint scheme as applied to Nevada Northern Railway Locomotive 401. Locomotive 401 is currently in Delta Utah.

Caption McGill after 1910: Locomotive 1 at the McGill Depot in 1910. Locomotive 1 is gone, but the McGill Depot survives.

Courtesy photo Drawing of Locomotive 401. This is the desert war bonnet paint scheme as applied to Nevada Northern Railway Locomotive 401. Locomotive 401 is currently in Delta, Utah.

Courtesy photo
Drawing of Locomotive 401. This is the desert war bonnet paint scheme as applied to Nevada Northern Railway Locomotive 401. Locomotive 401 is currently in Delta, Utah.

Courtesy photo McGill after 1910: Locomotive 1 at the McGill Depot in 1910. Locomotive 1 is gone, but the McGill Depot survives.

Courtesy photo
McGill after 1910: Locomotive 1 at the McGill Depot in 1910. Locomotive 1 is gone, but the McGill Depot survives.