Ready for her close-up as NNRY #18, a 1956 Pontiac Chieftain Station Wagon, waits for locomotive 40 to arrive at the location for the February 2020 Night Photo Shoot. For more information on NNRy # 18, go here:
You can actually take the Nevada Northern Railway's restored Fairmont Hy-Rail car out on the original Mainline track. This vehicle began life as a very cool 1956 Pontiac Chieftain station wagon. Fairmont converted may of these American family cars into utility vehicles for America's railroads.
You will be there for the transition from road-to-rail and back again. The experience is round-trip from East Ely to Lane City. You will go out on the NNRY mainline through two tunnels and up 2% grades. You will return to East Ely on the "Loneliest Road in America', US 50. The entire experience covers about 10 miles and take about an hour.
One option is for you and up to two other guests to ride while we drive. The other option is for you to operate with up to two guests along to enjoy the ride in the hy-rail car. Either way you will have a unique experience and also be doing your part to financially support the restoration and preservation that the Foundation is undertaking here.
What to Expect
We will start with an orientation showing you how, back in the day, Fairmont mounted a set of rail wheels to good old American station wagons, thus enabling them to also be rail utility vehicles. We will also demonstrate to you how the station wagon coverts itself into a rail vehicle.
Once that happens we will be off for a ride on the rails in the seats of the 1956 Pontiac Chieftain.
You and your party will be escorted by one of our staff members on this experience. You will be the only participants on this experience.
History of Hy-Rail #18
As with most things in life, it started with a simple comment. “Hey that’s a cool 1956 Pontiac Chieftain Station Wagon.”
Paul Mickelson, one of the museum members, had been reading a book that Joan and I had done on the Nevada Northern Railway. In the book was a photo of Nevada Northern Railway HY-RAIL 18. A HY-RAIL vehicle is a car or truck that can go either on the HighwaY or on the RAILroad tracks. Another friend had forwarded the picture of HY-RAIL 18 that he had found at a swap meet. I thought it was a cool photo and included it in the book. I had never taken the time to identify what type of vehicle it was, so I did a little research after Paul’s comments.
In 1956, the Nevada Northern Railway purchased a 1956 Pontiac Station Wagon from the Fairmont Motor Car company. At first glance, it looked like any other station wagon, but if you looked closely, you would see small railroad wheels under the car. These railroad wheels would allow the car to operate on the railroad tracks and on the state’s highways.
The way the HY-RAILERS worked was this: You drove the car to a railroad highway crossing. Angle the car so it was on the track, then drop down the small railroad wheels and lock them into place. Now you could drive down the track. Once you arrived at your destination, you went on to a railroad highway crossing, raised the railroad wheels and drove off down the highway. Needless to say, the HY-RAILERS were considerably more economical to operate than a train.
So out of curiosity, I goggled “1956 Pontiac Chieftain Station Wagon”, just to find more information on the vehicle. And surprise! I found that there was one on eBay for a very reasonable price in excellent condition for its age. Uh-oh! That got the wheels turning. What if the railroad could get their hands on the 1956 Pontiac and recreate HY-RAIL 18?
Why even consider such a project? Due to the isolation of the Nevada Northern Railway, our visitors must travel great distances to visit our National Historic Landmark Railroad. They come to the railroad for many reasons; but the number one reason is to ride a train.
This puts us in a dilemma: We would like to operate a train, whenever we have visitors, but the fact is - that is not always economically feasible. Taking this concept from the railroad’s history, our idea was to convert a 1956 Pontiac Station Wagon into a recreation of Nevada Northern Railway HY-RAIL MOTOR CAR #18. Since the vehicle can go onto the railroad track, we could use it to offer rides to visitors who come when no trains are running.
HY-RAIL MOTOR CAR #18 might not be a train, but it would be eye-catching, exciting and fun. We could use it to explain the history and the heritage of the railroad. And just like sixty years ago, HY-RAIL MOTOR CAR #18 would be considerably more economical to operate than a train. Its recreation would be the solution to our dilemma of visitors coming on days and times that trains weren’t operating. Additionally, we would use it as a marketing tool by driving it to travel and trade shows.
Well, one thing led to another and a member of the museum purchased the vehicle and donated it to the museum. Great and not so great. Now we were committed to the project. That was exciting, but where would the funding for the project come from? And how much would it cost?
Sometimes things happen serendipitously. About the same time we received the Pontiac, the State of Nevada announced a grant program for tourism projects. We applied and received $20,000! So far, so good, but that would not be enough. So we applied to the Great Basin Heritage Partnership through their grant program and scored! We received an additional $35,000. Now we had the funds to start the project.
Next step was to select an automotive restoration shop that had done unusual projects and was willing to take on this odd project. After extensive research, two possible vendors were selected, one in Missouri and one a lot closer here in Nevada. After more phone calls and e-mails, the Nevada shop was selected. Now we were on the road, so to speak.
Working with the vendor we developed a plan. We decided to do a frame-on restoration. The Pontiac was stripped and then sandblasted to remove the paint. At the same time, the engine and transmission were rebuilt to original specifications. Now came the tedious part, stripping the car to bare metal and addressing all of the rust that a 60 year-old vehicle would have.
While this was going on we decided to do more research into the vehicle. First stop was the archives of the railroad. Going through the General Managers Orders (GMO) we found the authorization to order the Pontiac! On March 22, 1956, GMO 2387 was authorized, “…to spend $7,860.26 for one Fairmont A-34 Hy Rail Motor Car to replace the 1939 Cadillac and 1941 Ford track cars.”
Once we found out when the vehicle was ordered, we were curious about whether or not there were any records from Fairmont. Fairmont doesn’t exist anymore, in 1979 it merged into Harsco Corporation. We thought this was going to be a long shot. We didn’t think that they would have anything, but thought we should try anyways and we’re glad we did! They had a copy of the original order! They provided us with copies of the sales brochure for the A-34 Motor Car, the sales order and a record of the HY-RAIL being shipped!
Nevada Northern Railway HY-RAIL #18, A34-A-2, Car No. 213104, Engine No. P756H43949, Engine Make PONTIAC, Engine Type STRATO STREAK was tested on 5-4-56. The paint color (if not standard) was Dark Green. It was shipped to the Nevada Northern Railway Company, East Ely, Nevada on 5-28-56 via the CMSTP&P (Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad). They also included a handwritten list of all of the A34-A-2 HY-RAILS that were shipped from 3-1-56 to 12-4-56. On the list were the Baltimore & Ohio, Mpls & St. Louis, Delaware & Hudson, Mo-Kans-Tex, Virginian, Alaska, T & NO, Louisville & Nash, Denver & R.G., Ches. & Ohio, Lehigh & NE., Tenn. Central, North Pac, and Penn RR[RB1]. They also built a demonstrator that year that they also sold. Meanwhile work was continuing on the Pontiac. The engine and transmission were rebuilt to like new. Then it was stripped, sanded, repaired where needed, sanded again. Now it was time for paint and reassembly. Slowly the car started to come together. The vast majority of the parts were there but there were some missing parts. Our vendor searched and searched and was able to find everything we needed. Finally, the car was complete! And oh boy, they literally did a museum quality restoration! To look at the car is to travel back in time!
Ok, the car is restored, but we’re only half way there. Now we are on to the next step, putting HY-RAIL gear on the car. The car is at our vendor in California getting the HY-RAIL gear installed. This will be a custom installation. The process to install the HY-RAIL gear is almost done.
Great, we are close to finishing this project and it will have an impact on our operations and how people learn about us. But like everything else here at the museum, the successful completion of one project causes another problem (or challenge if you prefer.) We will shortly be bringing home a museum quality replica of Nevada Northern Railway HY-Rail 18! Great! And the problem (or the challenge if you prefer): Where are we going to store it!
Well it’s funny how things work out. The garage where HY-Rail #18 was stored back in the 50's had been recently hit by a car, so it needed some help. To complete the restoration this building is being refurbished by adding a concrete floor, heat, new roof and electricity.
Now that the restoration process is complete you are able to experience the 1950's again right here in Ely. Most people tell us that the entire town is like a time machine that is stuck in the last century. We take that as a complement, so come and join us as we all experience the excitement of a new 1956 Pontiac