Built in 1905 to run ore between Ely and the copper mines near Ruth, the Nevada Northern Railway is one of the best-preserved standard-gauge short lines in North America. The open-air museum allows visitors to explore a functioning rail yard, so long as they follow the railroad motto: “Safety First.”
In the early 20th century, the railway was busy with both freight and passenger traffic. But over time the area’s ore reserves started to decline and prices dropped. In 1978, the Kennecott Copper Corporation closed its mines in the area which was followed by the mill and smelter in 1983. The railroad shut down soon after. Several years later, the rail yard and lines were transferred to the City of Ely and the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation (now known as the Nevada Northern Railway Foundation), which turned it into the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.
Signage throughout the 56-acre complex provides information on the historical usage of various buildings, allowing guests to craft their own self-guided tour. In the machine shop and enginehouse building, visitors can watch engineers maintaining several antique locomotives, some over 100 years old, on display. While visiting the enginehouse, keep your eyes peeled for Dirt, the resident rail yard cat. Visitors are encouraged to pet Dirt, but not pick him up.
The Nevada Northern Railway operates several train rides each day. These 90-minute rides depart from Ely and pass through the Robinson Canyon to the Ruth mining district. Along the way, a museum interpreter will point out landmarks and provide historical tidbits.
Accommodations at the railroad for extended stays are something that no dorm could ever offer. The bunkhouse is reminiscent of a mountain cabin, but with more modern amenities like walk-in showers. Looking north from its kitchen, the Steptoe Valley turned purple at dusk with pinholes of white and red light from trucks along the highway offering a spectacular view of the Steptoe Valley. Adjacent to the bunkhouse, a caboose is also available to spend the night in.
Know Before You Go
A 90 minute train ride tickets are $35 per adult and $10 per child (ages 4-12, Free for children under 4) and includes admission to the museum. Museum admission only is $10 for adults and $5 for children. Additional pricing information for specialty tours, seniors, etc. can be found on the Nevada Northern Railway website.