By Mark Bassett
Special to The Ely Times
“BIG ENGINE COMING – Engine 93, the fourth of the monster type in use in the ore train service, will be started from the Pittsburg shops of the American Locomotive Co. on the 15th of this month for East Ely, according to advices that have been received.” was the headline in White Pine News, Jan. 6, 1909.
On Jan. 13, Nevada Northern Railway will celebrate the 109th birthday of Locomotive 93 with a special train at 1 p.m. Ticket price is $10.90.
Locomotive 93 was the last of four locomotives ordered for ore line service by the American Smelters Securities Co. (a Guggenheim entity) for the Nevada Northern Railway. Built in January 1909 at the American Locomotive Works Pittsburg plant (construction number 44604).
Considered by the White Pine News to be a “monster” locomotive she is actually a midsize steam locomotive. Her wheel arrangement is 2-8-0. That means she has two pilot wheels to guide her around curves and eight driving wheels that delivered a tractive effort of 41,890 foot-pounds, with no trailing wheels. A century ago, she cost $17,610.
In January 1952, the other three locomotives that were part of the original order with Locomotive 93 were sent to McGill to be scrapped. Finally, in 1961, her days on the Nevada Northern Railway were over. She was donated to the White Pine Public Museum where she was put on display; a remembrance of the way it was in White Pine County. For any other locomotive this would have been a death sentence. Outdoors, year after year, with no protection from the weather, she sat.
In 1990, Locomotive 93 was towed back to the Nevada Northern Railway engine house. Project 93 was started with the goal of putting Locomotive 93 back in operating condition. The work that was done was just enough – so she could pull trains again. In 1993, after three years of hard work, Locomotive 93 was back in service. Now she began her second career of pulling excursion trains instead of ore trains. This was the second time she escaped the scrapper’s cutting torch.
Life looked good for Locomotive 93; she had escaped the fate of most steam locomotives: the scrapper’s cutting torch – twice now. But just two years after her rebirth, disaster struck. As Locomotive 93 was heading up through town towards Keystone with an excursion train, unbeknownst to her train crew, a flat car of ties had broken lose from Keystone. Heading to town at over sixty miles an hour, it slammed into Locomotive 93.
The force of the collision was such that the tank broke free from the frame and smashed into the cab. The front of the locomotive was mangled and the frame was broken in multiple places. It would now be cut up and sold for scrap.
Instead, in a remote community, 240 miles from anywhere, Locomotive 93 was repaired. In two years’ time, repairs were complete and Locomotive 93 was back in service. She had miraculously dodged the scrapper’s torch for a third time.
But Locomotive 93 is lucky. An event in Utah would have major ramifications for Locomotive 93. Utah had been selected as the site for the 2002 Winter Olympics. One of the venues was Soldier Hollow. There were only two ways to get in, one by bus and one by rail served by the Heber Valley Scenic Railway.
The Heber Valley Scenic Railway invited the Nevada Northern Railway to work with them to provide steam powered rail service to the Olympic venue.
Rebuilding a steam locomotive in the 21st century is not for the faint of heart. In addition to finding vendors for obscure parts, like steam locomotive axles, it takes money, bunches and bunches of money.
On Dec. 27, 2008, Locomotive 93 rolled out of the enginehouse under her own power for the first test run. Finally on Jan. 17, 2009, Locomotive 93 hauled her first passenger train up the hill at 1 p.m. Then at 5 p.m. the official Centennial Birthday Celebration started. Governor Jim Gibbons rode locomotive 93 from the enginehouse to the depot. At the depot, in front of a large crowd, the Governor read a proclamation proclaiming January 17, 2009 – Engine 93 Day.
In October 2016, Locomotive hit the 1,472 day or 15 year inspection requirement. This would entail stripping the boiler so it could be inspected. Starting in February 2017 the work started. In less than a year, the work is complete! On January 13th, Locomotive 93 will once again be back in service, ready for another 15 years of service.
To keep a steam locomotive in operation in the 21st century, people worked until late at night, while others start early in the morning. They worked in miserable conditions.
To fund the work, others dug deep into their pockets to supply the cash necessary for the repairs. Through their combined efforts, a piece of White Pine County, a piece of Nevada’s past and a piece of our country’s past, was saved.
The people I believe who really deserve a shout-out, are the doers. Operating a steam locomotive in the 21st Century is demanding. Yet, these doers are up to the task. Six times Locomotive 93 dodged the bullet. How? It was because everyone pitching together, either turning wrenches or donating money.
Keeping steam locomotives operating in the 21st century, just doesn’t happen, it is the combined efforts of lots of people. Mark Bassett, President of the Nevada Northern Railway said “nothing happens without money.” Annually, The First National Bank of Ely challenged the friends and members of the museum to a $30,000 Challenge. The bank committed to match memberships and donations, dollar for dollar up to $30,000. As years in past, the friends and members of the museum met to the challenge and surpassed it. Bassett said “a big hearty thank you, because of your contributions, Locomotive 93 will be steamed up for her 109th birthday celebration on Saturday, January 13th at 1:00 pm. And perhaps more importantly, because of the work accomplished with your donations, Locomotive 93 will be steaming through 2033”.