Next Generation of Mechanics Take Lead on Nevada Northern Restoration

Nevada Northern Railway 4-6-0 40 under steam in 2019. When it’s back on the main line, the Nevada Northern will have three operating steam locomotives. Photo by Justin Franz. 

Next Generation of Mechanics Take Lead on Nevada Northern Restoration

By Railfan & Railroad Staff

A new generation of mechanics is taking the lead on the restoration of Nevada Northern Railway 4-6-0 40 — not only ensuring that the official steam locomotive of Nevada will run once again but that the much-needed know-how of maintaining steam will survive another generation. 

When the locomotive is complete, perhaps sometime next year, it will join NNRy’s two other operating steam locomotives, 2-8-0s 81 and 93. NNRy 40 was built by Baldwin in 1910 and has been a regular fixture at the Nevada museum since the 1980s. The locomotive was taken out of service in 2020 for a federally-mandated overhaul and long-awaited running gear work. Leading that restoration is master mechanic ​​John Henry McDonnell, 30, and shop foreman Lennox Purinton, 19. 

McDonnell has worked at the Nevada Northern since he was a teenager and was involved with the restoration of locomotive 81 between 2016 and 2012. That gave him the chance to learn the craft of steam locomotive restoration from his predecessor. 

​​John Henry McDonnell and Lennox Purinton work on the restoration of Nevada Northern Railway 4-6-0 40. Photo by Steve Crise.

“There are books out there about this kind of stuff but the problem is they usually tell you how it’s supposed to work. They don’t tell you how to make it work,” McDonnell said. “I was pretty fortunate because I was here when we restored locomotive 81. The fellow that did it was Gary North, and he said, ‘This is the last one I’m doing, so you have to learn how to do it so you can do the next one.’”

Despite being involved with two locomotive restorations now and working on the railroad for over a decade, McDonnell said things still pop up that surprise him. But so far, aside from needing a new set of axles — which will hopefully resolve a decades-old issue with the locomotive — they’ve been pleasantly surprised with what they’ve found now that they’ve taken the 113-year-old locomotive apart. 

For more information about NNRy, visit nnry.com

This article was posted on: April 17, 2023