Cowboy Ingenuity And A Steam Engine – The Progress – mvprogress

Posted: January 5, 2022 at 8:52 am

By CHARLENE PAUL

The Progress

An old steam engine rail car sits on the slopes of the Virgin range. It was brought several miles from the valley floor near Bunkerville as a way to provide water for livestock and wildlife. PHOTO BY CHARLENE PAUL/The Progress

Farming and ranching in the desert of Southern Nevada isnt easy. And the men and women who choose to grow crops and run livestock in this unforgiving landscape cant rely solely on Mother Nature to solve the problem of how to supply much-needed water.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Bunkerville resident Melburn Jensen looked over a bunch of old mining equipment and junk that had been brought in for the Key West Mine. When he saw the old train car that had been sitting on a lot across from the cement plant, he got an idea. The train car consisted of a firebox for the coal to keep the fire burning and a tank that supplied water for the steam. It was just what he needed to bring water down from Hen Spring high up on Bunkerville Mountain.

The problem was how to get this huge steel behemoth from the valley floor near Bunkerville where it sat, up the mountain to the spring.

He contacted his friend Paul Leavitt in Moapa, and the two of them began planning.Dad and Paul decided to use Pauls big Caterpillar D8 dozer, explained Virgin Valley resident Andrew Jensen. I think they put the train car on poles and then drug it up the road and then up the wash. I cant remember how long it took, but I know it was more than a couple of days.

Once they got it to the spot where it sits today, they went about the task of bringing the water from the mother spring further up the mountain. Since the terrain was so rugged from the mouth of the spring, black plastic pipe was laid on top of the ground to the place where it was buried and ran to the tank car several miles further down.

The whole line runs about four to five miles, Jensen said. Dad maintained and used the tank car for our cattle for about thirty years. Cliven Bundy also used it for his cattle.

The old tank is still set up for use today.We put a couple of old scraper tires under the tank, said Cliven Bundy. The spring water fills the tank, and the water siphons out the bottom into the tires. The tires become a trough for cattle and wildlife. The problem is that someone burned up the tires, so we have to get that fixed.

These water improvements provide water not only for cattle but also for desert bighorn sheep, deer, quail, dove, and other wildlife in the area.Its so interesting that when you bring water down from the mother spring, how quickly you have a couple of hundred head of quail, said Bundy. Its good range improvements like these that help the livestock and wildlife thrive in harsh desert conditions.

People like Melburn Jensen and Paul Leavitt didnt wait for government engineers and official orders to solve problems. Instead, they looked at a pile of junk rusting in the desert, and figured out how to recycle an old steam train car. And then they set about getting it up the mountain.

Good old cowboy ingenuity got the job done. And it will continue to get the job done in half the time with a fraction of the cost.

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Cowboy Ingenuity And A Steam Engine - The Progress - mvprogress

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