By Mark Bassett
Recently, every mailbox in the area received an invitation to become a
member of the Nevada Northern Railway Foundation. You might of thought, why should I join?
2016 was an extraordinary year at the Nevada Northern Railway. The biggest initiative the museum has ever undertaken – the Phoenix Dare is off and running for a grand start! For the almost 30 years, we’ve operated a 19th century railroad in remote, rural Ely, Nevada. To insure our mission continues, we’ve launched the Dare to develop the financial resources needed to keep the railroad on track for future generations!
We’ve accomplished a phenomenal amount of work this past year, but a phenomenal amount of work needs to be done, too! That’s the yin-yang aspect of the railroad. The more that we do, the more that needs to be done.
It’s been said that Ely is the most remote city in the continental United States. That remoteness is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because the
remoteness was instrumental in preserving the railroad. It’s been said, “It’s as if the workers went to lunch and never came back again.” And what they left behind is amazing – a complete 19th century railroad complex. Over seventy buildings and structures, the original locomotives – both steam and diesel, over 100 antique railroad cars and 150 miles of track! (Though we only operate on the southern 30 miles.)
That’s the good news! The curse is maintaining a complete 19th century railroad in the most remote city in the continental United States. So how do we do it? Membership! And that’s why you received an invitation to become a member of the Nevada Northern Railway Foundation. Membership starts at just $30. It may not seem like much, but, boy-howdy, it keeps the wheels turning at the railroad! What we do is leverage your membership. And here’s the first example.
The First National Bank of Ely knows how important membership is for the railroad. For the third year in a row, the bank has issued us a fund raising challenge. It will match all memberships and donations – dollar for dollar – up to $30,000 until December 31, 2016. It’s very simple on how it works, become a member at the $30 level and throw in a $59 Phoenix Dare donation. Your $89 investment instantly becomes $178 to the railroad thanks to The First National Bank of Ely! The more you give, the more the railroad receives, it’s that simple. Your financial support today will make a huge difference next year!
2017 will be a watershed year for the railroad. It is the 30th Anniversary of the rebirth of the railroad. In our remote community, a steamin’ miracle happened. When the mine closed down, instead of scrapping the railroad, it was saved. For three decades, we’ve kept the steamers steaming, but to continue to do so, we really need you to become a member.
To insure the future of the railroad, last year we undertook a bold project, which we’ve named the Phoenix Dare! The objective – preserve this 19th century railroad and keep it operating in the 21st century for generations to come. We can do it, if you climb aboard and become a member!
In our first year of the Dare, a lot has been done. Thanks to our members, all of steam locomotive 93’s drivers were turned. This allowed her to operate in 2016. On Locomotive 109, an ALCO RS–3 built in 1950, all twelve, yes, twelve cylinder liners were replaced with get this – new, old stock liners! Our next step; new batteries, and this is where I really need your help. A set of batteries will cost over $7,000 delivered to Ely! And you thought your car battery was expensive. But this will put Locomotive 109 back in service. This will give us two operating ALCO locomotives – 109 and 105!
Our member’s contributions allowed us to dump 8,000 tons of ballast on our track last year. But the biggest news is that, thanks to our members, we were able to start on the restoration of Locomotive 81! This major accomplishment would not have been possible without member support. This is why I need you to “catch the train”! (If you grew up here in Ely, you might remember the two steam locomotives next to the White Pine Public Museum. One was Locomotive 93, the other Locomotive 81. Locomotive 93 has been in operation since 1993, now its Locomotive 81’s turn.)
Why a Phoenix? The Phoenix is a long-lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn; a Phoenix typically dies by fire and rises from the ashes. Steam locomotives go through the same cycle as a Phoenix. A steam locomotive’s service cycle is fifteen years, at which time a steam locomotive is removed from service, or you could say, it dies.
A Phoenix and a steam locomotive both die as the result of fire! A portion is consumed each time we “fire up” a locomotive. However, like a Phoenix, steam locomotives can be regenerated or reborn to begin the cycle again!
However, the Dare is not simply about preserving and operating our historic steam locomotives. More importantly, it addresses the number one challenge facing our museum and our country! Where do we find skilled workers who know and understand the power of industrial manufacturing and mechanical skills?
We are doing a disservice to our youth by ignoring this aspect of their education. Today’s click-and-go technology teaches them that everything can be done with the click of a mouse. No hard work required. However, the digital world is only one aspect of reality. We need to encourage and support our young people, give them the opportunity to learn the mechanical skills necessary to keep our original locomotives in operation. Your investment in the Phoenix Dare allows young adults to learn the industrial skills needed to do just that! The number one takeaway of the Dare – teaching the skills needed to keep the railroad running!
We’re more than a train ride. People ask all the time what is the take away from the museum? Why is the railroad worth preserving? My answer usually surprises them. It’s not about remembering the locomotives, the buildings, and the train ride. Instead, this National Historic Landmark railroad tells the story of when we, as a country, dreamed BIG. We took risks and accomplished MIGHTY goals! We conquered a continent and reached for the stars! As a country, we overcame huge challenges and created a country envied by the world.
Was it easy? No! Were there costs? Yes! There was also a vision, a burning desire to succeed. This determination to succeed is the takeaway we want our visitors to understand. Last year that determination was evident in our success with the Dare. We rehabbed 7 miles of track, turned locomotive 93’s drivers, we’re just about finished rebuilding Locomotive 109’s prime mover and the biggest news, Locomotive 81’s boiler have been stripped down to bare metal. We’ve accomplished a lot in the past year, but we have lots more to do and that why I’m counting on you! Our century-old steam locomotives motivate, intrigue, and inspire daily. But without the financial support of our members they don’t run.
Today, everything has been removed from Locomotive 81’s boiler including the asbestos! The last time she looked this way, was a century ago – on Baldwin’s erecting floor in Philadelphia! Our goal is to put her back in service, possibly in her Centennial Year – 2017. But to do so, we’ll have to roll up our sleeves and really dig in. That’s why your membership is so important!
2017 will be challenging, no doubt about it! We need to continue on steam locomotive 81 and steam locomotive 93 needs boiler work too. Our crossing on U.S. Highway 93 needs major repairs. And, of course, there’s always one of the 70 buildings and structures that needs repairs too. And did I mention our track; we have 30 miles of it and it has some issues too. It’s a mountain of work! And on the surface, it seems hopeless and overwhelming. But, and it’s a huge BUT, it’s your membership that makes all of the difference!
Frankly, without your membership, it would be hopeless. BUT because of our members, for almost 30 years, we’ve operated a 19th century railroad our remote rural community. How did we manage to do this? It’s our members that make the difference! We have members from every state in the union and eight foreign countries. Now I need you to become a member. Again, thanks to The First National Bank of Ely, your membership will be matched – dollar for dollar – up to $30,000 if you join by December 31, 2016!
So, there you have it; people talk all the time, about how they want to make a difference. Well, here’s your chance: become a member – make a difference! Join with us in the Phoenix Dare! With your help, we’ll keep this 19th century railroad running in the 21st century. Your membership will help preserve this historic railroad for the next generation. Remember, every dollar you contribute will be matched – dollar for dollar – up to $30,000 by The First National Bank of Ely! By joining the Dare, you can double your donation and be part of our success! Be Daring! I double dare ya!
Down the Tracks at the Museum
Museum, gift shop and ticket office hours are: Mondays through Saturday, 8:00 to 5:00, Sundays 8 to 4, Closed Tuesdays.
Currently we do have tickets on all of the Polar Express trains, but reservations are strongly encouraged. Train schedules and tickets are available online at www.nnry.com 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 President of the museum. He can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or by first class mail at: 1100 Avenue A, PO Box 150040, East Ely, NV 89315.