Summer in Ely: A Q&A with a Nevada Northern intern

Posted by Justin Franz
on Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Photo by Justin Franz
In my younger years, I held a number of summer jobs.

My first job back in high school was working in a restaurant, mostly washing dishes and doing a little cooking. Next up, I spent a summer digging holes and installing fences. All sorts of fences, from residential fences right on up to prison fences (I’d like to take this opportunity to note that I was merely a grunt and cannot be held responsible for any prison breaks in central Maine). My last summer job before landing a writing gig was in a warehouse. Working in a warehouse made digging holes feel like a vacation; at least with the latter you were outside.

But none of these summer jobs were probably as fun as the summer Danial Condo just had as an intern at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum.

The Nevada Northern has had an intern program since 2005 and every summer it welcomes two or three students to Ely to work on the railroad and learn about preservation, according to Mark Bassett, executive director of the museum. At least one of those students usually comes from the Davis & Elkins College Center of Railroad Tourism program, where Condo is currently starting his junior year.

I recently caught up with Condo to learn more about his summer in Ely and his future goals. Condo’s answers have been edited for clarity and space.

What are some of the classes you have taken and how are they preparing you for a future career in preservation?

The two major courses here are Railway Heritage and Railway Preservation. In Railway Heritage we studied the history of American railroading, from the very beginning all the way up to the major consolidations in the later part of the 20th century. We just started Heritage Preservation and so far we have learned about what a heritage/tourist museum or railroad should be and what they can do for the communities they serve. We’re also starting a semester long study about how tourist railroads and museums can bolster local economies. In addition to those classes, I am also taking a number of business and management related courses.

What made you want to seek an internship at the Nevada Northern and what was that experience like?

Jim Porterfield, the head of the Railway Heritage Tourism program, has a great working relationship with Mark Bassett at the Nevada Northern and has sent many interns there before. I was interested in interning at a successful steam excursion railroad and found it to be a fun, tough, and eye-opening experience. The people and experiences were fantastic, and the entire complex in Ely is incredibly unique.

What was daily life like in Ely? What were your duties and what projects did you work on?

It was usually very hot and dry, but that was expected. I spent lots of early mornings getting passenger cars ready for the daily excursions and I also got to work in the gift shop a lot, working with customers directly. Even if I wasn’t technically on duty, I was still on duty. If you saw something that needed to be done you either brought it to someone’s attention or took care of it yourself.

What’s something that surprised you about the Nevada Northern and your summer there?

What surprised me the most was how few employees there were. Numerous volunteers came and went throughout the summer but the core crew consists of less than 20 people. However, those people are very committed individuals who accomplish so much. It really is like a family there.

In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges facing railway preservation?

In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing rail preservation are an ever-decreasing pool of experienced people; a lack of interest and/or experience in the field from younger audiences; the jaded attitudes of the older generations in reference to up-and-comers; and a lack of money and resources.

What are some ways you think railway preservation can attract younger people?

Museums should try to be more welcoming of young people who don’t know anything about trains or railroads. Many railroad fans react to teens with their noses turned up and their eyes already rolling. I’ve been guilty of that myself, especially if someone is asking a question that railfans think should be common knowledge — a question like “Is that a steam engine?” But these are people who genuinely want to know and understand more about the industry. We should be more patience with these people because every question they get an answer to will give them more to think and ask questions about, creating curiosity. That curiosity can lead that young person down the path to becoming a dedicated railfan.

What do you hope to do after you graduate?

I hope to begin working for a railroad operation or museum in or around my home state of Ohio. There are quite a few such sites in Ohio but you never know where the job market will take you.

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