Labor Day steam-up rolls into the station
Dark smoke rises sleepily from the stack of Engine No. 25 as the engine oil burns and blasts of steam escape the cylinder valve from the high-pressure boiler of the 35-ton iron monster.
“All aboard!” comes the call from the conductor.
The beautifully restored, 99-year-old Virginia & Truckee locomotive creeps forward Sunday, first sighing then clacking its way down the track as the couplings connecting each of the rail cars crash and correlate, transforming the train from a line of seemingly inert iron and steel into a single, smooth-riding machine.
This is the awe and magic that brings railroad buffs like Floridian Ron Machis all the way to the Nevada State Train Museum.
Like many of the 110 volunteers at the facility, railroads are the iron in his blood, like engineer Loren Jahn, a Reno teacher who says it’s likely “in his DNA.” Many can trace their love affair with steam engines back to someone in their family who worked on them, a grandfather who was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific, a father who told stories of a cross-country trip in a Pullman sleeper car, or, like Machis, a mother was a train station manager during World War II.
In the passenger car, the ticket taker comes by to punch tickets. The train is full of tourists and children, many of whom have built their own love affair with the train thanks to the popular PBS series “Shining Time Station,” featuring Thomas the Tank Engine, a blue, moon-faced locomotive who’s known for his over-eagerness to pull loads beyond his capacity.
Speaking ability aside, Thomas may be a surprisingly accurate portrait of a steam engine. Museum program coordinator John Frank agrees, “Every locomotive definitely has its own personality.”
Engine No. 25, one of more than 60 pieces of railroad equipment on display, pulls its load around the loop of track surrounding the museum at about 10 mph, blowing its warm, watery horn in short, cacophonous blasts.
The nostalgia is real.
Jerry Hoover, a museum volunteer and retired physicist who worked for Rockwell International and Aerojet, said, “Engineers were the astronauts of their time.”
But what about the scoundrel in the black vest and turquoise bandanna at the side of the track pointing a pair of Colt .45s at the engineer and demanding that he stop the train?
Or what about his accomplice, an otherwise genteel-looking lass wearing a long white dress and carrying a lace parasol – and a derringer?
It’s a hold-up, and the two outlaws are after the payroll from the mines in Virginia City!
“We’re gonna go get married and enjoy the hot springs!” announces the man, notorious outlaw “C.W. Crave.” His fiancee, “Carson Kate,” steps off the train, shouldering the payroll money in a mail sack. But wait – there’s a sheriff on board. A gunfight erupts!
From silver ore to cameos on the silver screen, steam locomotives are a big part of our local history. Trains carried the Comstock Lode from the mountains to Carson City.
“If it wasn’t for the railroad, Nevada wouldn’t be Nevada,” said Frank. “And Carson City might just be a village.”
Labor Day steam-ups continue from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today at the museum.
Contact Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.
What: Nevada State Railroad Museum Labor Day steam-up
Where: The corner of US. 395 and Fairview Drive
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today
Cost: Adults $4; ages 6-11 $2.50, 5-younger free.