Nevada Northern Railway
National Historic Landmark     Ely, NV 

"At the Throttle"

A Series of articles on the Nevada Northern Railway
By Mark Bassett, Executive Director, NNRY


The Queen of Steam — Part III
11 March 2005

. . . The number one question was when would locomotive 40 be ready? It was a question we didn't have an answer to.

 

Finally, the answer became "it will be ready when we throw the first match into the firebox and not before."

It was easy to see the progress being made on locomotive 40 and think that the work being done is the be all to the end all, but that is not the case. The work takes money. In November, the railroad sent out an appeal for money to fund the work on the locomotive. Everyday it seemed like Christmas—we received checks in the mail to support the locomotive 40 project. Which was good, because we were burning though the money. How fast? To our office manager Evva, it seemed lighting fast.

Then there were the photographers. They had all sent us $375 apiece to come out and photograph locomotive 40. Since we could not guarantee locomotive 40 would be ready, we offered refunds. I'm happy to report only one person took us up on our offer. The rest told us to keep the money—it was more important to support the project.

We kept working. For the core staff, the phrase "day off" only had meaning if they looked it up in the dictionary. By February 1, it was evident that locomotive 40 would not be ready for the first photo shoot. In fact, some of the photographers showed up early and asked if they could help and they were put to work and joined the o'dark-thirty to the dark-thirty club. Joel Jensen and Gordon Osmundson were two photographers who pitched in. In fact, Joel worked so hard that he missed the Friday night portion of the photo shoot.

Well, we missed the first photo shoot. The big question was would we be ready for the second shoot? We just didn't know. The second shoot was made up of individuals from the east coast. They were, for the most part, flying out here for a once in a lifetime experience. If locomotive 40 wasn't ready, there would be major disappointments.

Even during the first photo shoot, work continued on locomotive 40. The days were not getting any shorter but there was light at the end of the tunnel and it was not an oncoming train. Challenges arose and were blown through. Problems developed and were solved. The last pieces for the locomotive were being installed. It was getting close, oh so close. The photographers for the second photo shoot were beginning to arrive; it was going to be a very close call.

On February 12, it was time—we were going to light off locomotive 40 for the first time. At the same time, we also lit off locomotive 93. First, for the first time in years we had two steam locomotives with fire in their belly. We built the fires in both locomotives very slowly. Hours went by and the steam pressure gauge still read zero. Then, agonizingly slowly, the pressure gauge needle on locomotive 40 began to quiver and lift off the peg. We had pressure building—success! Right? Wrong! We had water leaks. This was to be expected after all. We knew we would have some but it was still disappointing and the fire was dropped.

The pressure continued to build in locomotive 93 and it would go out on runs on Sunday. Meanwhile the big question was, "how soon could the repairs be made to locomotive 40?" Well, that depended on how soon the boiler would cool. Slowly the boiler pressure came down and the boiler cooled off on Sunday. On Monday, we were in the thick of the photo shot with locomotive 93, while back at the shop work was being done on locomotive 40. On Tuesday, another fire was lit in the boiler of locomotive 40. While 93 and the photographers were out on the line, the shop forces were working on locomotive 40. At a photo stop at Steptoe Creek as we were getting ready, we heard it. We heard locomotive 40's whistle rolling up the valley from the enginehouse.

When we went back into Ely there was locomotive 40 all set to do some work. Tuesday afternoon was spent doing photo runbys with locomotive 40 and then we did some double heading runbys with both locomotives coupled together.

On Wednesday morning, locomotive 40 was brought out again with baggage/Railway Post Office car 20 and first class coach 5—her train from 1910. More runbys were done and then it was time to put locomotive 40 back in the enginehouse. We had done it. Locomotive 40 was back!

And there are innumerable people in the "we" that had done it. Dave Grianer came out for his vacation and worked like a dog every day of it. Dave volunteered all of his hours and was generous with his knowledge of steam locomotives. His knowledge was instrumental in assisting us in getting locomotive 40 back in service. Norman Comer, though he was a contractor, worked unceasingly for over month and didn't complain at all. We offered to make him a nametag so when he went back to his family they would know who he was.

Al Gledhill, shop foreman and third generation Nevada Northern railroader, worked hard on the project from the beginning as did his son Casey, who was one of the lucky ones that spent hours on the inside of locomotive 40.

Volunteers Skip Allen, Ron Taylor, Richard Barnes, Ron Miller, Robert Dallons, Kurt Dietrich, Allen Jones, Nathan Leibsack, Dick Oldberg, Lewis Picton, David Raber, David Turner, and Kelvin Martinez all spent hours on locomotive 40.

From the Heber Valley Railroad we had Mike Manweller, Chief Mechanical Officer, who by helping us caused himself extra work and overtime hours. Also from Heber were Melvin Sweatfield, Doug Brown, Craig McFarlane, Josh McFarlane, and Joe McFarlane.

Then there were hundreds of people who donated the money for the project their names will be listed on a special plaque that will be displayed in the museum's visitors' center. Donations ranged from $15 to a very generous donation from the Gianoli Family Trust of $25,000.

So where are we today? I was in the enginehouse the other day and Al mentioned to me that there was still work to do on locomotive 40. My reply was, "So what's new about that. It's a steam locomotive. There is always work to be done on it."

As we start the 2005 season, we now have two operating steam locomotives. Across the country, steam locomotives are dropping their fires for the last time because knowledge, time, and money cannot be found to make the necessary repairs. Almost half of the steam locomotives that were in operation in the recent past are no longer functioning. This is means we are losing a part of our American heritage.

At the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, we're bucking the trend. Instead of taking locomotives out of service, we are putting locomotives back in service. We now have two operating steam locomotives that meet current federal regulations.

Our long-term goal is to develop a training program to teach the next generation how to maintain these wonderful examples of American ingenuity. We have the buildings, the machines, and the tools to keep the steam locomotive tradition alive here in Ely. I believe it is our principle responsibility to insure the skills and knowledge required to maintain steam locomotives is not lost and that it is past on to the next generation.

As the museum moves forward, we will have many challenges to face. But now we have the committed staff and the tools to face these challenges. Our long-term plans include bringing steam locomotive 81 back into service as well as the steam powered rotary snowplow. This is a tall order, but after locomotive 40, we have the confidence, the knowledge, and the skills to do this. Of course, we'll need the money, but we'll find it.

 

The Queen of Steam