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NORTHERN NEVADA RAILWAY: The dreamers who built Nevada

Posted at 6:39 AM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 10:45:05-05

ELY (KTNV) — The trains that helped build the West were built by dreamers. The Northern Nevada Railway in Ely was part of that and people are still coming to Ely to find their dream.

The Northern Nevada Railway Museum is one of the dirtiest museums on the planet. It’s meant to be. Visitors mill about wherever they want while a staff of 20 go about their iron-working duties.

But as you might imagine, it takes a lot of money to keep this place going.

RELATED: Northern Nevada Railway: How railroads helped build Nevada

“We literally burn money here. One load of coal costs us $4,000 and that will last for about two weeks in the Summer,” says Mark Bassett, the director of the Northern Nevada Railway.

So one of the ways they help pay for this living history is a program called: “You Be The Engineer,” where train buffs can live out their railroad dreams …for a price.

Las Vegan Kenny Blackman paid for the privilege of driving 70 tons of rugged, century-old vintage steel up and down a 10-mile track.

“Oh, the ride is totally awesome, man. It’s a great experience, I highly recommend it for everybody,” says Blackman.

And that’s why the “You Be The Engineer” program works..

Dave Courvoisier didn’t have pay, but they let him try his hand at the levers and the controls anyway and even the whistle.

Tom Tomasello is another engineer-for-a-day. An item on his bucket list that got moved up to the top when he had an awakening.

“My wife’s cousin was diagnosed with ALS. And when I was talking to her, she said, if there’s something you’ve ever wanted to do, do it now if you possibly can, because tomorrow’s not promised to anyone,” says Tomasello.

So “Engineer” Tom Tomasello races up Robinson Canyon, piloting 70 tons of steel, chasing his bucket list. And when it was over?

Not everyone feels the same way about trains as Tom Tomasello, but you can’t deny the respect these giants of the past demand as living testimony to one of the most exciting periods in the growth of the American West. Bringing abundance to a place in Nevada they call “The Big Empty.”

2017 STORY: OUR NEVADA: Drive to Ely well worth it

Ely is about 4 hours drive north of Las Vegas. The Northern Nevada Railway is open year round.