Submitted photo
The Nevada Northern Railway is celebrating its 35th anniversary.

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum (NNRy) is getting ready to party like it’s 1987. The national historic landmark is celebrating its 35th anniversary on Memorial Day weekend, with events happening from Thursday, May 26 – Sunday, May 29. The railway is acclaimed as the best preserved and most original example of an American railroad facility; consisting of the original railway steam locomotives, rolling stock, track, passenger station and buildings that served the historic copper mining region of Central Nevada for over a century.

“This is a place where the past, not only comes alive, but where visitors can experience it up close and personal,” says Nevada Northern Railway President, Mark Bassett. “Over the past 35 years, we have had many successes – rebuilding locomotives, repairing buildings, tracks, railroad crossings and cars. It hasn’t been easy, but anything worthwhile is never easy; and what we do here is very worthwhile.”

The weekend is jam packed with fun activities, including guided tours of the museum, railroad pump car rides, a narrated steam powered excursion into Robinson Canyon, a silent auction and a screening of the movie “Poderosa Victory,” which was shot onsite at the railway. There are also the usual favorites, including the “Sunset, Stars and Champagne” ride – a guided evening train ride with an astronomy interpreter on board; and the new “Silver State Express” ride – an informative, guided journey into the region’s rich history. For complete details, visit NNRY.com.

Looking to the Future

Still, while celebrating the past, the staff at the railway is always keeping an eye on the future and making sure the railroad is around for many generations to come. “This is a place where challenges are overcome every day,” says Bassett. “Things break or wear out and going to the Auto Zone for parts is not an option. We need to find the young individuals who will take over from the ones with a lot of gray. The need for training is a constant necessity. And of course the need for fundraising is constant too.”

The Great Salvage Mission

Memorial Day Weekend 2022 will mark the 35th Anniversary of the start of visitor train excursions for the year. In that time, the railroad has carried over 330,000 passengers – quite the accomplishment for a 100+ year-old railway. The rebirth of this historic landmark has served as a huge economic generator for the community. It’s been estimated that the visitors to the railroad have spent $100,000,000 in Nevada and the Ely community. But it almost never came to be.

After the mines and smelter closed in the 1970s and 1980s, unemployment hit 20% in the region. To bring revenue into the community the Chamber of Commerce formed the White Pine Tourism Committee to investigate starting a tourism attraction at the railroad.

At the time, the railroad was owned by Kennecott. The closure of the mine, smelter and mill meant that the railroad had no reason for existing and it was now a liability to Kennecott. The corporate solution was to scrap everything. But the members of the White Pine Tourism Committee traveled to Salt Lake City to meet with Stuart Nebeker, the general manager of Kennecott. Mr. Nebeker listened to the group. He did not say no, but did say that he would take their proposal to the top management of Kennecott in Salt Lake City.

It worked. In October, 1985, Kennecott gave the City of Ely and the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation the East Ely depot with its furnishings and records, the transportation building, the freight house and the four tracks in front of the buildings. Then the rest of the railroad followed in bits and pieces. In May, 1985, Locomotive 40 and the four passenger cars were gifted to the museum.

The museum hired Short Line Enterprises to return Locomotive 40 to operation. The locomotive was found to be in good condition and the big day came on May 23, 1987. Locomotive 40 was steamed up, coupled up to passenger cars 2 and 5 along with flatcar 20, and once more hauled passengers from the East Ely Depot. The rest is living history.