The Railway & Locomotive Historical Society held its annual meeting in Nevada in 2014, starting and ending at a Las Vegas area hotel, with the intervening night in Ely, NV, some 250 miles to the north. From Tehachapi, the only sensible method of getting to and from the Las Vegas area is to drive (240 miles). This was the first meeting trip in many years that did not require travel on Amtrak.
We leave home by car at about 9:30 am, stopping at Starbucks before heading east on Highway 58 to Barstow, where we stop for lunch, and then Interstate 15 east-northeast to the Las Vegas area. We take I-215 east and I-515 north to Sunset Road, turning back west to out destination, the Sunset Stations hotel and casino. We're in our top floor rom a little after 3 pm, but we still have to move the car into the parking garage and get the luggage to the room, which manages to occupy an hour! Although some of our friends from past meetings also arrive today, we don't run into any of them until Thursday or Friday.
The only official event today is the meeting registration, starting at 3 pm. Before that, Chris and I have both breakfast and lunch in the cafe. Before 3 pm, we meet Howard Brown while ascertaining the meeting registration location. Registration is quick and simple, and by its end, we've agreed to meet Howard for dinner at the Italian restaurant in the casino area. Dinner is excellent, and afterwards, we repair to bed, having to be up, breakfasted, and checked out by the 7 am scheduled departure or our chartered motor coach.
We're up at 5:30 am, pack and take the luggage down when we head for breakfast. In the line for the cafe, we're asked to share a table by/with Henry Bender (mr. "SP common standard depots") and his wife Barbara, resulting in an interesting conversation over breakfast. After breakfast, we check out, and then wait, with everyone else, a full half hour for the bus to show up. In the waiting group, we run into many others we've known fro m previous gatherings, including Ken and Ann Miller, Bob Holzweiss (not accompanied by his family, this time), Jerry Angier, Alden Dryer, Cary Poole, Charles and Carol Varnes, and John and Linda Fike, among others.
When the bus arrives, we discover that the expert guide will be Mark Bassett, executive director of the Nevada Northern Railroad, our home base for Saturday's events. On the bus, Mark hands out descriptive materials and maps covering both where we're going today and what we're doing on Saturday. Today's route is not directly to Ely, but rather the long way around, via Rhyolite, Goldfield, and Tonopah, places discussed in an article in R&LHS Bulleting 100, many decades ago, of which copies are provided. (I had purchased the back issue itself, from Alden, some months ago, and read the article in preparation)
After Mark persuades a couple of members to drive his car back to Ely, following the bus, we leave, heading north on I-515, and continuing onto US 95, which is built on the erstwhile right-of-way of the Las Vegas & Tonopah, one of the railroads mentioned in that Bulleting article. After somewhat more than two hours of travel, past the air force base where the drones are operated from (i.e., where their pilots sit while operating the drones anywhere in the world), we come alongside the erstwhile right-of-way of the Tonopah and Tidewater, to our west, and continue with the two rights-of-way just a short distance apart, past Carrara, where there was once a railroad leading up the mountainside to a marble quarry, and Beatty, where we turn west, into Rhyolite, where the former Las Vegas and Tonopah depot is still extant (even though the railroad was abandoned in 1918), very well preserved, along with the still standing but ruinous buildings that once held the school and a large bank.
After half an hour in Rhyolite, we head back into Beatty, and continue north on US 95, now on the right-of-way of the Bullfrog & Goldfield Railroad. An hour or so later, in Goldfield, we first spend a half hour at the location ot the freight and locomotive yards of the erstwhile Tonopah & Goldfield, where the turntable pit and portions of the freight house are still visible, and then another half hour or so at a putative museum at the location of the Bullfrog & Goldfield engine house, where work had once started on rebuilding the engine house, and there are various cars and locomotives in different states of dilapidation. The real attraction here, for about half the attendees, seems to be the old saloon across the street, which is both functional and open!
Following our visits in Goldfield, we head north again, into Tonopah, where we visit the Tonopah Mining Museum. Half of us get to eat first, while the other half (including Chris and me) take the short walking tour of various aspects of the former Mizpah mine, including a collapsed mine tunnel, the headframe for the mine shaft, and the 'operational' control house for the mine shaft, with all of its machinery, belts, etc., still intact. (Mining had ended by 1940.) After our sandwich lunch (at which the choice of drinks was caffeine with sugar, and caffeine with sugar substitute), there is a short movie to watch, and then time to visit the gift shop. When the bus leaves, it takes a short tour around Tonopah, before heading east on US 6.
This road is not running on the r-o-w of an erstwhile railroad. In fact, there's essentially nothing at all for the 168 miles across basin and range country to Ely. Seven miles east of Tonopah, the Tonopah airbase now forms the local airport, on the south side of the road. Large signs in the area proclaim this as the originating point of the F-117 stealth fighter. The drive across US 6 takes around three hours, during which Mark Bassett tells us much of the story of the Nevada Northern Railroad, some of which he will repeat at appropriate points in later activities. One of his stories is of repeated visit to Washington, DC, to meet with Senator Harry Reid, including the possibility of getting a TIGER grant to re-open the main part of the railroad to haul ore out to the UP connection at Shafter.
At the Prospector Motel, it takes over 45 minutes for the bus load of people to check in and get room keys, making the bus departure for dinner at the Nevada Northern Freight House about a half hour late. The promised "barbecue" turns out to be hamburgers and hot dogs, with no side dishes, and again only sodas (and in this case, also water) for drinks. Fortunately, I had fixed a mug of coffee while still at the hotel. After the dinner, Mark gives an illustrated talk on the evolution of the Nevada Northern as a National Historic Landmark.
Our alarm clock goes off an hour later today than on Friday, but we soon discover that the hotel is no more prepared to serve us all breakfast at the same time than it was to check us in the night before. Nonetheless, we're all on the bus by 8 am, and over at the NNR East Ely depot in time for our chartered train(s) at 8:30 am, just after the morning's normal excursion train leaves. That train has a diesel locomotive (RS-2 107), since we're using both operable steamers.
Outfit car 06
Nevada Northern route description
The East Ely depot is on the stub of the original line through the middle of town, so our departure at 8:30 am is backwards, heading east, and reversing at East Ely Junction , where we stop at 8:35 am. The intent is that the wrecking train, headed by #93, will go west first, but it initially has an air hose problem, so we don't head west on the Bypass Track until 8:48 am. We stop at a grade crossing on the Bypass Track, where we have two photo runbys, one each of the Wrecking Train and the Passenger Train, from 8:54 to 9:16 am. Continuing west, we stop at Lane City siding, from 9:36 to 9:46, to meet the returning regular passenger train. We later have a 1 minute stop while the wrecker clears the wye ahead of us, and then turn ourselves on the Keystone wye from 10:00 to 10:08 am.
Just east of Tunnel 1 (and just west of the urban area of Ely), we stop again from 10:31 to 11:17 am, while each train makes two runbys coming out of the tunnel. While I'm out of the train by the side of the road (US 50), a small grey rabbit comes and plays around the feet of some of the photographers. After the runbys, the trains head back to East Ely, reversing at East Ely Junction from 11:30 to 11:33 am, shuffling about on some of the tracks, and finally stopping on the nearest track to the depot at 11:47 am. Lunch, comprising sandwiches that we had selected at registration on Thursday, is again in the freight house. (Somehow, Chris' meal isn't as she had specified.) The after noon will be a long walking tour of the yards, with neither hard footing nor places to sit down, so both Chris and I opt out and ride our bus back to the hotel for some time in the room.
We board the bus at 3:45 pm, and it picks up those from the yard tour at 4 pm, to take us out on a bus tour of the current copper mine operations, our beyond Keystone at the various locations of the town of Ruth and various pits out there. During the train ride, we had seen trucks above us that were running to and from one of the mines, but now we first go out to where the KGHM headquarters facilities are, and then up a county road to the rim of the pit, which is actually located well above the altitude of today's rail line (where the original Ruth had been located), watching some of the trucks down in the pit for awhile. Trucks from the pit turn their loads over to other trucks which haul the copper ore to Wendover, UT, whence it is taken by rail to Vancouver, WA, and then ship to China. There were once 19 miles of rail track down in the pit.
One again, the bus takes us back to the hotel, and then at 6 pm, back to the railroad, where there's time to visit the gift shop before the banquet and the annual meeting which are, naturally, held in the freight shed.
Today's bus departure will again be at 7 am, so based on Saturday's experience with breakfast, we get up at 5 am to go into the restaurant at 5:30 am. Service is much better today, and we're comfortably done with breakfast, packing, making coffee in the room, checking out, and getting on the bus in time for the 7 am departure. During breakfast, Chris notices that the rising sun appears directly in the end windows of the restaurant (I have my back to them).
The crossroads in the middle of Ely shows US 93 to Las Vegas (284 miles), to the left, and US 6, also to Las Vegas (240 miles), even though this is the road on which we arrived from Tonopah. We take the shorter distance (after all, we're leaving this early to get people to Las Vegas in time for early afternoon flights back east), and sme ten miles down the road, turn left on State Route 318. Two hours later, US 93 rejoins from the left, and ten miles after that, we make a pit stop at a supermarket in Alamo, at a Sinclair gas station marked with a model dinosaur. Twenty minutes later, we're on our way again, south on US 93, eventually joining I-15, and at 11:30, after passing the south end of the Las Vegas Strip, we stop at Terminal 1 in McCarran Airport. At 11:43 am, we drop of some more people at the Sunset Station hotel, where we'd left our car (and so had they), and we then take US 93 out to Boulder City for a visit to the Nevada State Railway Museum, where we arrive at 12:07 pm, with 37 (out of the original 60 something) people remaining.
Note that no stop has been made for lunch. We had all been provided with snack boxes, which most of us have not yet touched. There is a small collection of rolling stock at this museum, as well as a train ride on the former Boulder City branch. However, in contrast with the 81 degrees on Saturday in Ely, the temperature here is 104 (F.).
The museum has four operational diesel locomotives, two non-operational steam locomotives and two non-operational diesels. In addition to the operational passenger cars in the tourist train, there are some non-operational freight and passenger cars, including a Railway Post office whose interior can be visited.
Generator box car
Coach NSRM 604
Coach NSRM 602
Open car NSRM 501
Open car NSRM 502
Coach NSRM 603
Caboose NSRM 101
Nevada Southern route description
The train leaves at 1:01 pm, heading west, reverses at Railroad Pass at 1:20 pm, and is back at the platform at 1:40 pm. As we leave the train, Chuck Brandt, an NSRM volunteer, introduces himself and reminds me that we had ridden together on the AAPRCO 3751 train to San Diego a few years back. The museum's mechanical shop is open for R&LHS members who wish to look in, but Chris and I climb directly onto the air-conditioned bus, which leaves for the hotel at 2:15 pm, and reaches it at 2:30 pm.
Check-in goes quite quickly, and we then walk down to Ben & Jerry's (in the casino) to get an ice-cream, encountering John and Linda Fike there. Later, we eat dinner in the cafe. For once, we're not in a hurry to get to bed.
After breakfast, we check out, get the car from the garage, and load the luggage, leaving the hotel at 11:33 am, getting gas before leaving the area. Short stops in Baker and Barstow, another fueling stop and a stop to pickup the mail see us home at 4:03 pm. All seems well.