Traveling the extraordinary state of Nevada on the regular, it should come as no surprise to me that things aren’t always what the seem…should, being the key word there. But, every now and again, just when you think you’ve got this expansive wonderland pegged, it creeps in, making you appreciate it in ways that you never imagined possible.
It was a blazingly hot June morning in Boulder City and with an irregular interest in trains I made my way to the Nevada State Railroad Museum. At first glance, the museum appeared to be a few trains under an overhang, but oooooh buddy. If visitors only knew what spectacular exhibits were in store at this place with one unassuming glance from the road, they wouldn't be able to keep the masses out of here.
The entire place was simply remarkable…to me, the best in the West. An intimate, easy-to-manage setting, immaculately restored locomotives, friendly staff, you name it…the whole thing was just aces. I was there early in the morning before the real heat set in, and lucky for me I had the whole place to myself. Stunned by these larger-than-life hunks of steel, I maneuvered around each gargantuan locomotive, in awe of the impeccable attention to detail effortlessly executed with each exhibit.
The restoration was impressive, but the part that had me particularly hooked was the fact that the very stretch of rail I was standing mere feet from dated all the way back to 1931. The original track! Although numerous railways stretched through Nevada in years past, most of them had been sold and scrapped decades ago…totally eradicated from Nevada’s history. The age of it all was mind numbing, but then add the fact that it was implemented to cater to the mighty Hoover Dam and you can just forget about it. So cool I can barely keep it together.
My mind was racing and frantic to absorb allllll the facts, and it couldn't have been more serendipitous as I came across an area exhibiting all the components needed to actually construct the railway. “What’s the deal with all this stuff…is it regularly on display like this?” I asked a volunteer. Anxious [and quite frankly a little desperate to take in as much info as I could in my short jaunt to the Nevada Southern Railway,] I wanted to get in there but was keyed in that it was set up especially for the Nevada Blind Children’s Foundation summer camp. Fascinating, right?
And before I had time to even react, a bus was creeping to a halt in the parking lot and kids were making their way over to the tables with their counselors. “What amazing timing!” I thought to myself before fearing that I was tremendously imposing on their summer outing or being disrespectful in some way. But just as quickly as the situation blossomed, I instantly had the A-OK to be there from the camp’s director. See what I mean about Nevada keeping you on your toes?
From there, a few introductions were made and the group dove right into all things Nevada Southern Railway. For me, I could physically see all of the different, puzzling elements that made a railroad a railroad, but how were these kids even going to begin to enjoy something they couldn't see? Well, I’ll tell ya just that.
With tremendously impressive Nevada Southern Railway volunteers steering the ship, each camper was matched up with their usual counselors along with a museum person. From there, we went through each station sort of setup with tremendous detail. Something my train-illiterate self for sure needed, but was a situation that was completely extraordinary to watch these kids revel in. With one of the main museum honchos explaining each tables’ elements in hypnotic detail, they slowly brought us through railroad 101. Ties, spikes, rail samples, joints, maul hammers, rail tongs, track ballast, you name it…they spelled it out, and how it all worked together in astonishing detail.
To a person that can physically see these things it was a profound presentation, but the real magic was unwinding in front of me faster than you can holler all aboard. Without being able to ever see these iron horses and understand how it works, the kids were engrossed with every word, so completely absorbed in it all, trying to understand. With a counselor on the right and a Nevada Southern Railway person on the left, the kids moved through each station, feeling every ripple in a railroad spike, every fragment of ballast and the power behind a maul hammer to get a feeling how it all comes together.
It, without a doubt, goes without saying that the counselors clearly laid out an impressive performance on the daily, but what really left me astonished was the compassion and serious attention to detail that the museum staff showed. Exemplary stuff, really. Not only were they taking the kids through this powerful experience one-on-one, but they took it to the next level by walking them over to actual sections of Nevada Southern Railway track, running the kids' hands along the items live in action, tying it all together.
Not every child was completely visually impaired, but one thing was certain. The common denominator was an uncanny desire to learn and absorb, regardless of their individual situation. Although tremendously difficult to imagine, try to picture losing one of your senses. What would you depend on? The rest of your other senses, duh! And that's exactly what these wonderful kids did to grasp it all.
From feeling out the components of the rail line, to gripping the remote controller of the model train room, to feeling out the massive steel sides of the trains, to actually riding on the locomotive, it was all just so deeply moving. It took just about everything I had in me to not tear up looking through that viewfinder.
As the Nevada Southern Railway roared into the station to carry us away for our exotic lunch on the rails, things I would’ve paid zero attention to were totally changing my entire experience of the trek. I heard one of the kids say, “Woah, listen to that thing roar! Maybe they’ll blow the whistle!” and another say, “Ooooh…dontcha just love the smell of that engine?” They were totally molding my entire experience…a new level of immersion that I had yet to experience on my Silver State travels to say the very least.
And then it got even better. I mean the mysteriousness of the Mojave Desert is alluring and I loved seeing it around me, but these kids were experiencing the Southern Nevada Railway in a manner that some would instantly dismiss. As we made our way to the passenger car, they were totally engrossed in the texture of the velvety seat cushions and texture of the windowsills. If it were me independently checking that out, sure it’s cool and I probably would’ve noticed on some level, but to appreciate it this sincerely? I would’ve never given that sort of thing two cents, but NOW, I did. Not only that, but despite the fact that some of their legs did not touch the floor while sitting, they purposely positioned themselves so their feet would touch the ground to absorb the rock and sway of the train car, traveling down the original 1931 track.
We checked out every last detail [no exaggeration here, friends] of the passenger and dining cars, gobbled up an unforgettable lunch, and made it back to the station in time to wrap up our seriously remarkable tour for the afternoon. In a way, it was total sensory overload. I’d like to say that I feel in tune when it comes to noticing the small things, but this was next level stuff I’m talking about. The compassion of the staff, the total unmatched desire to learn and absorb, and the completely polished environment was right on beat—the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Boulder city couldn't have been a better setting for this very special outing. Although there were innumerable, knock-you-off-your-feet emotional moments that did nothing but elevate my time here, it all made me walk away understanding the importance of taking the time to truly absorb every last detail when out on the open road. A lesson that will stick with me, and change the way I travel the state forever.