Nevada Northern Railway Museum ~ Ely, Nevada

Nevada Northern Railway Museum ~ Ely, Nevada

The Nevada Northern Railway is located in Ely, which is an old historic copper mining town.  This railroad museum is a National Historic Site, so a visit is literally like stepping back in time to the days of the old wild west. The Nevada Northern Railway was built in the early 1900s and its function was to serve the copper and gold mining industries in White Pine County, Nevada. The very rich Robinson Copper Mine and gold mines in this region kept this short line railway busy well into the 20th century and the Nevada Northern Railway connected the Ely with a major railway line about one hundred miles north. The Nevada Northern Railway enabled the wealthy mining town of Ely to be lavishly furnished and Ely soon became an old west luxury destination.  

During the heyday of the Robinson Mining District, the amount of copper tonnage that the Nevada Northern Railway hauled out of Ely was staggeringly high.  Ely transformed from a Pony Express stop to a bustling city with plenty of wealth and luxury.  The copper mining went full swing for several decades, so there was plenty of business for the Nevada Northern Railway.  Like all mining operations, the mines eventually played out. The copper mining industry in White Pine County started to decline after the gigantic copper ore plume was depleted and the price of copper dropped dramatically.

Because the Nevada Northern Railway was a side route that served White Pine County copper mining and smelting operations, it was not considered to be a major rail route after the copper industry came to an end.  The owners of the railway decided that is was not worth upgrading the rail system from the old steam locomotives to modern diesel engines, so the old choo-choo trains were maintained, instead of being sold for scrap.

The Nevada Northern steam engine railway was a viable lifeline for the town of Ely.  The age of train travel tourism was in full swing from the 1920s through the 1940s and the Nevada Northern Railway brought many passengers to destinations like the Hotel Nevada in Ely each week.  These were the reasons why the Nevada Northern Railway had to be kept active during fluctuations in mining economics.  This was also the lucky hand of fate that basically ensured that the old steam engines would remain in service for many years into the future. 

Old Steam Engine 40 is the star locomotive of the Nevada Northern Railway.  Engine 40 actually is the oldest continuously operating steam engine locomotive in the world and this old iron horse is really a sight to see!  It shows some wear and tear, but this old reliable iron beast just keeps on ticking, just like way back when this locomotive was new!

When I planned my trip to Ely, I had to make a decision whether to book a scenic Nevada Northern steam engine train ride or book a reservation to tour the Lehman Caves at the Great Basin National Park.  The weather forecast called for rain and a daytime high of about 50ºF, so I figured staying dry in a big cave was the better choice.  All it took was one look at Steam Engine 40 chugging along on the railway embankment while blowing big plumes of steam from its stack to make me wish that I had never heard of Lehman Caves!  There is something about a steam engine that captivates anybody that lays eyes on one of these majestic machines!

Anyway, after seeing the steam engine heading for the depot, the race was on!  I followed the roads to the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely to meet up with the old steam engine and watch it hook up with the passenger cars.  It was cold and rainy, but that was classic weather conditions for a railroad depot, so I stuck around to see the show. There was plenty of canopy cover at the old historic train station, so staying dry was no problem.  I took a few photos of the train yard, then good old Steam Engine 40 showed up just like clockwork.  Old historic Steam Engine 40 kept my camera busy for about a half hour, so fans of old wild west steam engines will surely be pleased to see the photos!

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum has many exhibits to see and guided tours are available. Scenic short line train rides through the mountains are scheduled a few times each day and the weekend train rides often have entertaining themes, which include regional wine tastings and wild west train robber reenactments.

Nevada Northern Railway train rides can be booked in person, but making reservations ahead of time by phone or at the website will guarantee getting onboard.  This is one of the most popular train rides in the west and the scary Halloween season rides simply cannot be beat! Northern Nevada Railway passengers have a choice of riding a diesel engine train or chugging along on good old Steam Engine 40.  For an extra fee, a passenger can even be the guest engineer and ride in the Steam Engine 40 locomotive cab while taking control of the big engine!

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum offers a chance to step back in time to an age when the big iron horse steam engines ruled the west.  Riding in an open coach railway car in the cool mountain air definitely spells relief from the summertime heat and this is reason enough to jump onboard! If you are a fan of old wild west locomotives, then taking a ride on old historic Steam Engine 40 will certainly be the thrill of a lifetime!