On an unseasonably chilly November afternoon, a group of Utah tourists huddled around a picnic table and in nearby Adirondack chairs waiting for a train to take them back to the Nevada State Railroad Museum. They’d just ridden four miles from there on rail bikes, open-air steel vehicles that look like a cross between a pedal boat and a dune buggy, with tour company Rail Explorers.
“My brother, my dad, my grandfather — all railroaders,” said Kris Hood, gesturing toward Richard Wade, the brother in question. “They were just surfing last night, and he saw it on YouTube. … So I said, ‘Let’s stay an extra day, and go play!’ So, we did.”
The group unanimously agreed that the ride was worth the $150 ticket for their four-seater, or quad. The leisurely downhill ride, they said, allowed them to take in the scenery between the River Mountains and Highway 93 at their own pace. (A two-seater tandem is $85, individuals ride for $45, and there’s a 15 percent locals discount.)
“I loved it,” Wade said. “I didn’t like the jointed rail, and there’s no springs underneath the cars, but it was fun.” Jointed rail, the retired Union Pacific and Southern Pacific conductor explained, is what makes the cars — or bikes, in this case — “go clickety-clack.”
Rail Explorers has been operating the Boulder City tours since the spring of 2018, but recently extended them to year-round. The company started in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, and also has a tour in the Catskills, New York, using defunct rail lines to create an accessible, eco-friendly recreational business.
Local Division Manager Leslie Roszyk-Stephenson recalled Rail Explorer’s genesis: “So, our founder (Mary Joy Lu), she was watching K-pop, a Korean soap opera, and there was a maybe two-minute segment where she saw that they were out on these bikes, and she kind of hit her husband (Alex Catchpoole), like, ‘We gotta do this!’ So within three months, she went to Korea, and she was talking to the builders about how they design it and what they were doing, and so then she brought them out here. … They were originally going to start it in Australia, where they were living, but we had more access in America.”
Roszyk-Stephenson stressed the safety of the company’s bike design by pointing out that a quad weighs 850 pounds and a tandem, 500. “So, I mean, they’re very, very sturdy,” she said.
Nevada State Railroad Museum Director Randy Hees said safety was one reason he was skeptical of Rail Explorers’ proposition at first, but after nine months of negotiations and trying the rail bikes himself, he was convinced. And it’s been a good partnership for the historic site. Rail Explorers tours depart just steps from the museum, and participants are returned to their starting point on one of its historic trains.
“It meets several of our objectives,” Hees said. “It’s part of the (Boulder City) community, it facilitates tourism, it raises the level of activity around the museum, and it gives us a good view of the track for daily inspections.”
The 17-mile railway was built in 1928 as part of the Boulder Dam construction project. Union Pacific donated a section of it to the state in 1985; the museum opened and public rides began in the early 2000s with the first Santa Train, which still runs Saturdays and Sundays through December.
“You can come out, you can work your way up from a car attendant, which is basically like a flight attendant, up to an engineer, which is the top,” said John Georgi, describing his volunteer experience with the Friends of the Nevada Southern Railway. Georgi learned of the group through the model train community and was the train conductor the day of Hood and Wade’s tour.
Rail Explorers does sunset tours and lantern rides in addition to daytime tours, for those who want a more romantic experience. Roszyk-Stephenson said she’s exploring options like marshmallow roasting and hot chocolate at the turnaround point for winter. As it stands now, one should bring her own blanket and thermos of hot beverage.