Nevada Northern's big day

Doubleheader excursion and ceremony with three engines under steam marks transition between locomotives more than 100 years old

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Nevada Northern Ten Wheeler #40 leads Consolidation #93 on a doubleheaded excursion leaving from the East Ely, Nev., station on Saturday, Oct. 17.
Bob Johnston

ELY, Nev. — Steam whistles have echoed through eastern Nevada’s Steptoe Valley for more than a century, but Oct.17, 2020, was the first time in 65 years that three locomotives have chimed in at the same time.

With green flags indicating a second section will follow — the first time that’s happened since passenger service was dropped in 1940 — Consolidation No. 93 backs its consist around the wye at Keystone, 7 miles from Ely. Two coaches have been left for No. 40, which will back down to pick them up, enter the wye, and follow her sister back to Ely.
Bob Johnston

“We’re passing the torch from No. 40, which will be out of service for about two years, to Consolidation No. 81, whose boiler was just fired up for the first time since the 1960s; we hope to have it running by next summer,” Nevada Northern Railway Museum President Mark Bassett tells Trains News Wire.

A mandated Federal Railway Administration inspection is sidelining the 4-6-0, dubbed “The Queen,” that the bustling copper mining railroad bought from Baldwin in 1910 to pull passenger trains from Ely to connections with the Western Pacific at Shafter, Nev., and the Southern Pacific at Cobre, Nev. Passenger service ended in 1941 and the mines changed hands from Kennecott Copper to other operators before eventually closing down.

Today, tracks are abandoned from Cobre to Shafter and have not been used south of Shafter to about 10 miles north of Ely since 2001, except for some freight car storage near the junction at Shafter with what is now the Union Pacific. But Kennecott donated the shops and station buildings to the non-profit foundation, paving the way for a very active tourist operation in authentic surroundings with the same heritage locomotives that ran on the railroad.

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At the enginehouse, Nos. 40 and 93 join 2-8-0 No. 81, which has just undergone rehabilitation. According to Nevada Northern President Mark Bassett, this is the first time in 65 years three steam locomotives have been active simultaneously.
Bob Johnston

Knowing No. 40’s fires would soon have to be dropped, Nevada Northern embarked several years ago on fundraising to restore 2-8-0 No. 81, built in 1917 and retired in 1961.  Although running gear and other mechanical rehabilitation continues, No. 81’s boiler was first fired up on Sept. 7, 2020. That development set the stage for Saturday’s activities.

All trains Friday through Sunday were sold out, with capacity limited owing to social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the usual round-trip steam excursions from the East Ely depot to Keystone, 7 miles to the south, were augmented Saturday to commemorate No. 40’s swan song with a doubleheader featuring Consolidation No. 93 as the second locomotive.

Once the train arrived at the wye, No. 93 took a caboose and three passenger cars to become “First train 5,” sporting green flags for the occasion. Then No. 40 backed on to the remaining coach and combination baggage and Railway Post Office, both steel underframe, wooden-sided original Nevada Northern cars.

“That’s has to be the first time a passenger train has ever run in two sections — even in the fan trip days of the 1950s and 1960s,” says Mike Hughes, Nevada Northern’s Curator of Education. He also was the fireman this day on No. 93.

NevNorth_04_Johnston
Bob Johnston
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