Monday, April 20, 2009

Desert Destination: Nevada Northern Railway

A couple months ago, we took Desert Boy to look at trains at the Nevada Northern Railway depot in Ely, Nevada. Last weekend we had the chance to actually go on one of the trains. Desert Boy was so excited, talking nonstop about the choo-choo. 

They have two different kinds of engines, a steam locomotive and a diesel engine. On our trip, the diesel was going to be powering us.

We had to hang on tight to Desert Boy, because he couldn't wait to get on board.

Finally the conductor called "All Aboard," and we gave Desert Boy his ticket to hand to the conductor. 

The train had the locomotive, two passenger cars, an outdoor viewing car, and a caboose. We could sit anywhere we wanted.

There weren't a whole lot of passengers on the first weekend of operation, so there were plenty of good choices of where to sit.

There weren't too many people in Ely, either, with no one waiting on the highway as the train went past. We were kind of disappointed because we really wanted to wave to people! Our route was taking us to the north of Ely, towards McGill.

The Nevada Northern Railway follows two main routes, one to Keystone, near the giant mines at Ruth, and the other towards McGill, where the smelters were. The track from Ruth to McGill was used by Kennecott mine to ship ore, and they used what was called the highline. A separate set of train tracks went down in the valley more and was used to bring freight and passengers into Ely beginning in 1906. Passenger service ended in 1941, and the train we were on was the first one scheduled since that time to go on the mainline. Last year, volunteers replaced 2500 railroad ties and helped clean up the tracks so that a portion of the mainline could be reopened. Along with feeling like we were a part of history, we also felt adventurous--who knew what we would find?

It was a beautiful spring day, so people migrated back to the open-air car. Because we were usually going less than 30 mph, there wasn't too much wind, and it was a perfect day to admire the high-desert scenery.

Eventually we got to the point where it was time to prepare to turn around. The tracks didn't make a big circle--instead the engine had to be moved from the front of the train to the back of the train. A little side spur provided the opportunity to do that. We could tell they were telling the truth about not going on this mainline before, because there were twigs and dirt piles on the little side track that we got to watch the diesel engine squish.

The crisp, high-elevation air provided for some excellent photo shots. In the winter, the railway even runs a polar express train for those interested in railroad photography--the contrast of the train against the snow-covered landscape is nothing short of beautiful.

Engine 109 was built in 1950 as one of nine engines used by Kennecott mine. The passenger cars we were riding in were 1928 Pullman cars that had been retired in 1978 and then restored. About 60 people can be seated in each car, and for some of the specialty train rides that include meals, they can install tables.

One of the best things about the trip  was how relaxing it was. No one was in a hurry, and I started wishing we had more opportunities to go places by railroad. It's so nice to be able to visit with other people instead of racing down the highway to go from place to place.

Desert Boy enjoyed watching the scenery go by, too.

On the way back to the East Ely Depot, there were a few more cars on the highway, so we got to have our fun waving.

And then up ahead, we saw a puff of smoke. The number 93 locomotive was out of the shop for a private rental. But we overheard on the radio that it had derailed. Everyone crowded outside to catch a glimpse of what was happening.

As we got closer we saw that there were a lot of people standing around the beautiful black locomotive. It wasn't apparent at first that it was derailed, but as we chugged past we saw one of the big back tires was off the track. 

This was the track we were supposed to be on, so we had to take a detour on other tracks to get back to the depot. At each switch, our train slowed down, a guy in front jumped off and switched the tracks, the train pulled forward, and then a guy in back jumped off and switched the tracks back to their original position.

Engine 93 is steam powered, meaning it needs lots of coal to make it go, so it carries its own coal car right behind it.

And then we were back. We had such a good time we are really looking forward to returning and taking the train again on one of the other routes. They also have a walking tour of the shop area that we'd like to take. If you're interested in learning more, visit the Nevada Northern Railway website. All aboard!


Dessert Survivor said...

What a wonderful adventure. The open-air car looked great.

The Incredible Woody said...

What a wonderful day - that looked like so much fun!!

Anonymous said...

There is a train/trolley car museum in Union, IL that has loads of old train engines & cars along with old trolley cars used by the CTA. You can ride thru the grounds and/or view these old iron horses from days gone by! It is a real treat to get a glimpse into the past.


Sarah said...

That trip qualifies as an adventure! Wonderful photo opportunities indeed. Perhaps some day we'll ride the tracks too...


The DIYer said...

What great photos! There is definitely a certain nostalgic aura surrounding the railroads, especially when you mix the railroads and the American West.

I remember seeing a massive jack in the railroad museum in Monon, IN. I wonder if they used something like that to lift the 'ol 93 back onto the tracks?

jendoop said...

That looked like great fun, my kids would love it- except for the 14 yr old. There is a train just north of here, in Jim Thorpe. But it doesn't start up until the end of May.

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