Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nevada Northern Railway

Whoo, whoo, clang clang.   Whoosh.   Engine 93, a 1906 steam engine was preparing for its hour and a half excursion ride out to the copper mine at Ruth and back to Ely, NV.    Steam and black coal smoke and cinders issued from the stack, steam and water rushed out along the tracks, people climbed aboard the regular cars or the outside gondola car.   The first expedition for the 2013 season was about to begin and Chris and I were there.

Located at the crossroads of Hwy 50 and Hwy 93, Ely is a small frontier town of 9,000 or so folks.  It's history ties to mining in the district and part of that history includes the Nevada Northern Railway which ran  to the copper mines.   From their start in 1905-1906, the lines were developed to carry copper ore and products from the mines and smelters to the connecting Southern Pacific rails closer to Wells, NV.    Although primarily for copper, the trains  carried workers and transported  students from outlying communities to the high school in Ely.

Although the April 13 event was the first weekend of operation for the year, for us the special occasion was a celebration of Chris's birthday.   He loves trains and wanted to do this.  My first reaction was that the 517 miles, 8 1/2 hour drive from Concord was too long trip for a weekend.   But I knew, from previous trips, that the drive across Hwy 50, "The Loneliest Highway," is a restful, beautiful drive.  If we could break it up with Friday night  along the way, and perhaps Sunday night as well,  it was possible.

I made reservations for two steam trips.  Timing would not work for us to take the other line, a diesel trip and be back to the Bay Area in time.   But as I made reservations I realized we could do something a bit different than simply riding the train.   We needed a place to stay overnight in Ely; why not in the bunkhouse right in the train yard?

My view of the bunkhouse
Chris's view of the bunkhouse and surrounding terrain

Looking out from the bunkhouse

   Trains don't run at night so it was quiet, the bed was comfortable, and we were there to see them put the engine to "bed" in the early evening.   And we would be there early in the morning to watch them ready the engine for the 9:30 am run.

But there was one more surprise for Chris, one he didn't know about until we picked up our tickets on Saturday.  On Sunday morning he would be riding in the cab with the crew!

On Sunday morning we were in the train barn\shed\building a few minutes after 6 a.m. to watch the crew prepare for the day's trip.   They left some coals in the firebox so that they would not have to heat up from scratch.  

The normal cab crew is two; the engineer and the fireman.   As an old HR person, I know fireman is an outdated term but I don't know of a non-gender specific title for a job that is largely gone in the modern world.  Since it only exists in historic old railroads, we will use the historic term.   It is the person who feeds coal into the firebox to fuel the steam to operate the engine.  But, also as an former HR person, I was delighted to find a young woman would be our engineer that day.

Our crew included the young woman who was the engineer-in-training.   A full fledged engineer was along to support and supervise her.  Add the fireman and we had a crew of three.   In the shed in the morning was an older gentleman who periodically checked the work of the three young people as they oiled, greased, fueled, and checked over the engine.


Finally, some scenes from the cab as Chris rode along.  

Fish eye lens view from inside the engine cab.

The final three scenes are from the trip across Nevada on the Loneliest Highway.   For more scenes of this road, check out my May 2009 blog entry.    There is still some snow in the mountains, although less than one might hope for in mid-April.   In the town of Austin, about mid-way across, a small car rally was gathering.  The old cars fit right in with the town's buildings.   And the final shot is the Shoe Tree, a phenomenon along the route.  Hey,  there's not much happening anywhere nearby! 
The Loneliest Highway, Hwy 50 across Nevada

Scene in downtown Austin, NV.   The old cars were a bonus for Chris during his birthday weekend trip.

Hundreds of pairs of shoes decorate a cottonwood tree at a pull off on Hwy 50.