Updated May 29, 2023 - 9:09 am
Nevada Northern Railway held a memorial Sunday morning in Ely for the rail company’s mascot Dirt, who passed away in January from old age.
Dirt rose to internet stardom after a photo of the orange cat covered in dust was shared to Facebook. Visitors from across the globe fell in love with the cat’s photos and videos online, with some making the four-hour drive from Las Vegas to visit the rural Nevada icon.
The railway live streamed a eulogy for Dirt Sunday morning led by Nevada Northern Railway President Mark Bassett, who unveiled a bronze statue modeled after the filthy feline at Dirt’s grave with trainmaster Con Trumbull.
Ely Mayor Nathan Robertson said during the memorial service that the crew who took care of Dirt when the museum first adopted him 15 years ago were some of the grizzliest people you had ever seen, but always had a soft spot for animals on the property.
The museum had several feral cats living around the museum along with Dirt more than a decade ago, and out of concern for guests’ experience, Robertson asked the museum to home the cats elsewhere. But, museum staff decided to keep one special cat who stood out from the rest of the group — Dirt.
“I would like to acknowledge and thank Dirt for his years of service and for becoming such an integral part of the fabric of our community and city, and certainly for the museum community at large,” Robertson said.
The railway’s former guest services manager Eric Mencis, who posted the viral photo of Dirt, explained how Dirt’s popularity inspired other railways to adopt their own shop cats after seeing Dirt’s ability to draw visitors to the railway and generate business.
“He saved the railroad in a way none of us knew it needed saving … and I think he did that for the entire industry,” Mencis said.
Trumbull shared details from Dirt’s last days when railroad staff came together to mourn months ago and put the shop cat in his final resting place.
“Dirt didn’t need a fancy coffin, he just needed a shop box,” Trumbull said.
After lining a simple box with shop rags, just like the ones Dirt slept in all his life, the beloved cat was covered by a railroad handkerchief and buried in the museum’s grassy plaza under a pine tree — the same day as a heavy Ely snowstorm.
“We couldn’t give Dirt a bath, but by golly, he gave us one.”
Bassett said he hopes Dirt will continue to represent the proud heritage of railroading.
“His legacy lives on,” Bassett said.
Dirt was honored with a train whistle salute, a traditional goodbye for a railroader.