HW50 – Steamy Ely

Why Steamy? Well, old trains and legal hookers are to be found here….

The first sight in town gives you a good idea of the kind of town Ely is….  a fun one, lively and vibrant with its painted murals on most exterior walls (see earlier thread, ‘Murals of Ely’)

When the Nevada Hotel and Gambling Hall opened in 1929, it was the tallest building in the state and its first fire-proof building.

Prohibition was in still in effect when the hotel opened, and from the beginning, bootlegged refreshment and gambling were available 24 hours a day. “Bathtub Gin” made from raw alcohol, water, and flavorings and “White Lightening” was conveniently supplied by local individuals.

On October 24 the Stock Market crashed and Depression struck and the Hotel Nevada leased commercial space to a bank and drug store as well as providing illegal gambling and booze. When Gambling was again legalized in 1931, the owners immediately installed blackjack tables and slot machines.

Ole Elliot of Goldfield, Nevada Goldfield, Nevada, was the next operator of the Hotel Nevada. Elliott and his friend and business partner, Tex Rickard. Tex Rickard gained national fame as the promoter of the Jack Dempsey – Jess Willard Heavyweight Championship fight, the first million-dollar prizefight gate. Ole and his wife, Mae were involved with the Hotel Nevada until their deaths, Ole in 1938 and Mae in 1941.

Francis Everett “Bud” Simpson had worked as a waiter while attending telegraphers school in Salt Lake City. The job taught him how to know and understand people, he would later say. “When you wait on tables, you meet the finest and the meanest.”

Bud Simpson bought the hotel in 1956 and he and his wife, Pinky, promoted and managed the business until 1963. They established the Ely Travel Service to promote the Hotel Nevada, offering Salt Lake tourists a “round-trip bus ride to Ely, a free room at the Hotel Nevada, a free round of drinks — all for eleven dollars. And in Ely, four dollars is refunded.”

Simpson knew most of those taking advantage of the offer would spend more money on food, drink and gambling, which would substantially offset the travel service’s offer. He also knew that an “average player will stay to lose, but won’t stay to win.”

Many famous stars have stayed in this hotel – there are stars naming some on the footpath in front of the hotel – but nowadays it is a favourite of the Harley crowd and rooms can be had for $40.10.

We decided to stay at The Jailhouse though – much easier to have the bike right outside the door.

We were allotted cell number

This motel had an excellent restaurant where the customer is seated in actual jail cells

But the highlight of this town for both J and me is the Northern Nevada Railway Museum.

Built in 1906, the Nevada Northern connected the enormous pit mines at Ruth with the smelter on the old McGill Ranch, and then with the main line at Cobre for an overall run of not quite 150 miles. After considerable repair and restoration, the Nevada Northern began carrying passengers again in 1986.

Railroad buffs now converge on Ely from all over the world. They light up with pleasure as the antique locomotives squeal and hiss up to the passenger depot. They thrill at the conductor’s “All Aboard!”

No wonder: Magic happens as the antique steamers chuff solemnly away from the station. Wheels clickety-clacking, cars swaying, the world gliding slowly by, kids waving from their bikes, cows looking up in dim curiosity, sky spread big and bright overhead — it’s a unique and delightful experience for its own sake, and even more for being the real thing — this is not a reconstruction or a restoration.

J and I had a great time exploring the railroad sheds – such fascinating stuff to photograph.

The Snow Shifter

Absorbed in doing that, I was a bit chuffed when he came to find me and had a ticket so I could ride the Ghost later that afternoon.

So we rode back to the motel for a sarnie and a cuppa and to empty my camera cards and recharge batteries and we were back at the station by 4pm.

The adventure begins with the haunting whistle of the majestic steam train over the historic town. Ely’s Nevada Northern Railway first steamed up its Engine #40 in 1986 after she sat silently for 22 years. Today, this ghost of a grander era in America’s incredible railway past, as well as several others, carry passengers along original copper-ore routes in a journey rich with history.

Ghost - Engine #40
All aboard whose coming aboard!

Theories abound as to why Locomotive 40 was dubbed the Ghost Train. Some speculate it’s because the mighty engine was hidden by railroad workers so it wouldn’t be sold for scrap, while others say the engine is simply a ghostly symbol of another era. The roughly two-hour narrated ride carries its  guests past eerie abandoned miner’s camps, old mine shafts and through a small tunnel. The clanging bells, lingering whistle and chugging engine of the Ghost Train mingle with steam and burning coal, making the perfect recipe for a hauntingly memorable journey.

Photography on board was not as simple as I anticipated – the movement is decidedly shaky! The other problem was the flying cinders and the soot that was blown backwards. But this made the journey all the more authentic. The engineers boilersuits suddenly made more sense!

Working up a good old fug

Warning to horse thieves
Hi there girls - see you later; Brothels are legal in Nevada - state-run actually. The girls come out to wave as we chug by

Here’s a video taken a couple of years back….

4 Replies to “HW50 – Steamy Ely”

  1. FYI, they also have a photo special weekend that they run every year. They will do setups with the trains. If both of the steamers are running they will have a piggyback run. The other cars that arn’t used for the normal rides will be added to it. Did you get to see the wooden snow removal car? It’s in the glass walled shed, well at least the last time I was down there it was. If you were in the way or were in danger they would have let you know. The only time I know of that they tossed people out is when they were acting stupid; trying to get under an engine, running, etc. I look forward to seeing your pics.


    1. Hi Dahn. Yes, they told me about the photography shoot – would LOVE to do that but don’t think i could afford to fly to Nevada from Europe for a course – I’ll have to look out for cheap deals 🙂
      Yes, got shots of the snow removal car; it wasn’t in a shed a t all this time. I’ll add a photo to this thread – if I could edit my Nikon photos, I’d be filling pages up with photos – it was just so interesting and REAL. It was like going back a hundred years.
      Also, the staff (volunteers?) are so friendly, informative and helpful


    1. It was incredible for photography. The photos used here were mostly Jan’s, using the Sony. I filled 16gb on my camera – bracketed x 5 because of the big dynamic range from bright to almost black in the sheds – so I’m really looking forward to editing those when I’m back. Funny thing was, we weren’t sure we were allowed inside – this was a still-functioning engineer shed, there were lunch boxes and mugs of coffee hanging around – but i was moving old chairs into new positions and lying down on oily floors – happy as a pig in muck. One railway man sat outside the biggest shed looking over now and then but he never said a thing.

      Yes, you would have had a field day in there.


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