The Nevada Northern Railway is located in Ely, which is an old historic copper mining town. The 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 kept this short line railway busy well into the 20th century. The Nevada Northern Railway connected the Ely with a major railway line about one hundred miles north, which created more opportunity for Ely to expand. The Nevada Northern Railway enabled the wealthy mining town of Ely to be lavishly furnished during the peak mining years 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. The prosperity 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.
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 boom 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 antique 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. Tourism, freight and commuting 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 to come.
Old Steam Engine 40 definitely 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 truly is a sight to behold. This old reliable iron beast just keeps on ticking, just like it did way back when this locomotive was brand 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.
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 this is considered to be classic weather conditions for visiting a railroad depot in the movies, 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 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. A paranormal haunted ghost train ride is offered during the Halloween season too.
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 behind a classic diesel engine 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 iron horse!
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!
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