Submitted photo  Locomotive 81 is at the halfway point of its restoration.

Submitted photo | Locomotive 81 is at the halfway point of its restoration.

By Mark Bassett

Special to the Times

The Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark started our Phoenix Dare two years ago to preserve this National Historic Landmark. In the past two years we have completed two very important Phoenix Dare projects.

The first project was rebuilding the diesel engine in Locomotive 109. The second project was completing the 1472-day inspection on Locomotive 93. Now we’re onto our third and biggest project, the return of steam Locomotive 81 to operation! If you were raised in Ely, you may remember two steam locomotives by the White Pine Public Museum. They were Locomotive 93 and 81. We restored Locomotive 93 and now its Locomotive 81’s turn.

And to do the restoration, we have help; through the generosity of First National Bank of Ely and other anonymous donors we have the Phoenix Dare $100,000 Challenge! We have until Dec. 31, to match the $100,000.

Why the push to restore Locomotive 81? In 2020, Locomotive 40 will go out of service for two years, for her federally mandated 1472-day boiler inspection. On top of this we know she has running gear issues that must be repaired. That would leave Locomotive 93 as our sole operating steam locomotive.

We need two operating steam locomotives. We learned the hard way, if we don’t have an operating steam locomotive, visitors won’t make the long trek to Ely! In 2008, we experienced a year without steam. The results were devastating, our ridership dropped almost 30% and even worse, our revenue dropped over 40%! We cannot, we must not, let that happen again.

Since 2008, like a Phoenix, due to the incredible hard work of our staff, volunteers, donors and members, we rose up from the ashes. Today, our annual income has grown by almost 70%. Our annual ridership has grown by incredible 58%! We learned our lesson. By 2020 we must have two operating steam locomotives. If we don’t, we are setting ourselves up for a catastrophe!

We are asking for community financial support, so we can have Locomotive 81 in operation by the 2020 season! I invite you to become a member of the Nevada Northern Railway Foundation membership starts at just $30 per year and if you are able, I ask that you make a donation to the Phoenix Dare $100,000 Challenge. We have until December 31, 2018 to reach our goal.

Why support? The Nevada Northern Railway is a very special place, so special it has been recognized by the federal government as a National Historic Landmark (NHL). NHLs are so designated because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating and interpreting the heritage of the United States.

From now until Dec. 31, your financial support is matched dollar for dollar up to $100,000. Become a member, matched! Renew your membership, matched! Buy a Part for Locomotive 81, matched! Add a donation for the Phoenix Dare Challenge, matched!

If we’re successful, that means $200,000 that can be invested in this National Historic Landmark Railroad! It is your financial contribution that makes the difference! The clock is ticking, we must have Locomotive 81 done by the 2020 operating season.

Locomotive 81 is a National Historic Landmark in her own right. She was purchased brand new by the Nevada Northern Railway in 1917 to haul the trains from Ely to Cobre, the interchange with the Central Pacific Railroad. That was her mission until she was replaced by Locomotive 201, an ALCO RSD-4 in 1951. Then she sat for 30 years as an outdoor display in the community.

Today, we’re almost to the halfway point in restoring Locomotive 81. The exciting news is, the Project Manager recently told me, “I feel confident that we can get Locomotive 81 operating by 2020.” To join or donate come by the depot at 1100 Avenue A in Ely or visit us on line at