Railroad museum in Carson City suffers major flood damage

Standing water can still be seen at the railroad museum as of Friday.

Standing water can still be seen at the railroad museum as of Friday.

All eyes may have been on the Carson and Truckee Rivers during January’s flooding, but some of the worst damage was far from the rivers as a torrent of water roared through the Nevada State Railroad Museum.

Museum Director Dan Thielen and State museums division Administrator Peter Barton said the problem wasn’t simply the amount of water. They said there was actually more rainfall in the storms of 2005 and the museum’s water control system handled it.

This time, city crews diverted the flow down Rhodes Drive at the mouth of Voltaire Canyon to prevent it from flooding Carson Street. To prevent that, Carson City public works crews sandbagged the area where Rhodes crosses Curry Street.

Carson City Manager Nick Marano, said they put more than a thousand sandbags down.

“We put every sandbag we had available down,” he said. “We ran out.”

“Unfortunately, their diversion stopped right at our property line,” said Thielen.

The water flooded downhill across the museum’s property. It dug a channel more than two feet deep across the entrance to the storage yard and nearly four feet deep along one section of railroad tracks, completely undermining them.

Water flowed through the shop where museum experts repair and restore their ancient, historic and valuable locomotives and cars. Several inches of water flooded the other annex buildings as well. Football sized rocks were rolled down the hill by the force of the water.

More than three weeks later, the museum property is still a sea of mud and pools of water. There’s standing water in the shop and storage buildings, still percolating beneath the cement floors and walls of those buildings.

“There was nothing on our property that could hold this back,” said Thielen.

It will cost the state at least $500,000 just to repair the damage. The actual cost, said Barton, is likely higher. That amount is simply the deductible under the state’s insurance policy for flood damage.

“The big problem we’re having is silt,” Thielen said. “It fills the ballast.”

Ballast is the gravel bed beneath the rails and ties and, he said, “when the ballast doesn’t drain, the ties rot.”

That means much of the track around the sides and behind the museum has to be pulled up, the gravel bed cleaned and compacted and the rails re-laid.

Thielen said job one is to restore the grounds to what they were before the flood and to clean up everything inside. They brought in huge blowers to dry out the 60 percent humidity inside those buildings. But the result of five days of running the driers was a fine white dust that settled on every surface inside including the historic Inyo locomotive in the showroom. He said all that must be cleaned up as well because, “it looks like it’s uncared for.”

“We want it to be perfect,” he said.

They said the good news is none of the collections were damaged by the flooding and none of the staff was injured.

Barton said they hope to open the showroom a week from Monday but it will take months to get everything repaired and back in business. One reason for re-opening, Barton said, is the museum survives in part on visitor fees, tickets and memorabilia sales they can’t get until they’re back in business.

He said they hope to steam up the locomotives Memorial Day but “it will take a tremendous amount of effort.”

To save money, Thielen said, they will rely on the museum’s cadre of volunteers to do a lot of the cleanup. But much of the rest of the work will require professionals including engineers to design improvements to their drainage and water handling systems. He said Public Works estimates that making sure this doesn’t happen again will cost $1.6 million.

Unfortunately, since the flood occurred more than a month after state budgets were finalized, that money isn’t in the budget at this point. But Barton said the governor is well aware of the situation. He visited the museum grounds the day after the flooding. And Barton let lawmakers know what had happened in his budget preview hearing this past week.

Barton and Thielen praised the cooperation they have received from risk management, emergency management and Public Works as well as from Carson City.

Marano said since the flooding, city crews have been working on mitigation along Rhodes Drive to try to prepare for possible future flooding.


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