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The Loneliest Highway in America was home to Dirt, a charismatic “railway cat” who lived at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in the small town of Ely. He seemed to embody a tough old-time railroader with an amazing charismatic purrsonality that stole the show. One of his titles was “Boss Shop Cat,” and another was “That darn cat!”

t the railroad cat relaxing with Con Trumbull in the machine shop. NNRy via Trains.com

“Dirt the railroad cat relaxing with Con Trumbull in the machine shop.” NNRy via Trains.com

The location is like stepping back in time and history, with coal-fired standard-gauge steam locomotives that still function after 110 years! It’s isolated by miles of empty highway for 200 miles around, but Dirt helped draw thousands of visitors! He was a famous celebricat around the world.

Dirt Was Born Working on the Railroad

Dirt was a mascot for the Railway and the state of Nevada. He was born under the huge 1907-built rotary snowplow in the spring of 2008. While his mother and siblings left, he stayed and became right at home and knew his way around, living comfortably for 15 years. He really did seem to belong there.

“There was an old soul in that cat because I swore he was an old locomotive engineer from back in the day,” says visitor Karyn Angell. (see video below)

Dirt beside train parts

Images via Facebook, Nevada Northern Railway

Like other famous cats we know, like Close-Up the Cat at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Dirt guided daily tours. He appeared as if on cue to receive adoration from visitors and was such an amazing ambassador.

 A Tough Character Steals the Train Headlight

Eric Mencis, the former guest services manager, posted the first picture of Dirt, and became the kitty’s voice for many years.

“I saw a cat with a proud attitude, a rough look, and a friendly heart,” says Eric. “He looked like he was going to come over and kick your butt if you didn’t pet him [though].”

Dirt the railroad cat poses with Eric Mencis for Eric’s last visit to NNRy — a lasting memory. Wesley Heinz

“Dirt the railroad cat poses with Eric Mencis for Eric’s last visit to NNRy — a lasting memory.” Wesley Heinz via Trains.com

You can see Dirt’s story in the video by Wonderbot Animals below. DJ the younger kitty still living there, is also seen but not named.

Dirt Chose to Live in a Caboose

Since moving in, Dirt lived in an old, deteriorated caboose in the foundry and slept in the steam locomotives. The train crews put out cans of tuna for Dirt, and he learned to trust them, letting them pet him.

The cat offered a valuable service as a train inspector, mouser, and caught bats! (Note: We love bats, which often get a bad wrap but are also highly effective at killing insects like mosquitos.) Additionally, Dirt boosted morale and was an incredible draw for visitors.

Dirt by the caboose, Nevada Northern Railway

While most cats remain spotlessly clean, Dirt was always dirty due to the ever-present dust and soot from all the still-active locomotives. But he didn’t seem to mind, rolling in the soot like a dust bath and climbing the soot-covered trains.

It would reveal his white fur if he ever got a bath, but he stayed sooty. On April Fool’s Day, there was a tradition of showing the kitty with the caption, “We Gave Dirt A Bath,” and people went nuts. Most people preferred their Dirt dirty. The cat didn’t clean the soot, which probably would have made him sick. It’s certainly an unusual situation for a cat, but he was home, thrived, and had a long life.

As a reminder, if you see a cat that is dirty, it can sometimes be a sign of serious illness, but not in this case.

April Fool's joke about giving the cat a bath

Image via Facebook/Nevada Northern Railway

Dirt and Dirt Junior

In 2018, photographer Steve Crise took an iconic picture of Dirt standing before a locomotive. The cat’s charisma was apparent as if he was posing proudly, and the picture went viral online. Suddenly, Dirt was an international celebrity, and everyone wanted to see him in person. Products featuring the cat’s likeness remain popular souvenirs. (Dirt Coffee!)

Famous photo of Dirt the cat by Steve Crise

Famous photo of Dirt the cat by Steve Crise via Facebook.

In October 2020, DJ the orange kitten appeared at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. DJ stood for Dirt Junior, and he was Dirt’s protégé. He also became a regular and beloved fixture, who carried the Boss Cat’s torch. Once again, it’s like it was meant to be.

Dirt and his Protégé DJ, 2

DJ on the left and Dirt on the right

In May 2022, the aging Dirt, then nearly 15, got a new handmade yellow caboose to live in with his name on it in the heated machine shop. He had a cozy bed in front and so did DJ.

The caboose they made for Dirt. Nevada Northern Railway

Thousands Pay Respects

By the summer, Dirt’s health declined, and he rested most of the time. With a heavy heart, everyone said goodbye to Dirt when he passed away on January 10 2023, surrounded by his human friends. The crew had a private ceremony and burial for their beloved cat. Thousands of people paid respects online and will continue with Dirt’s Remembrance Day on May 28, which raised money for bronze statues of the Boss Shop Cat. The life-size bronzes will stand at his gravesite outside the depot and in the machine shop.

Many believe Dirt’s spirit watches over the Nevada Northern Railway and the ‘Ghost Train.’ (He once scared a team of people filming Ghost Adventures, emerging from the shadows of the engine house.) 

“Dirt’s passing is not the end of his story; it’s just the beginning. In much the same way that Chessie became a lasting symbol of the C&O, Dirt will continue to be a symbol of the Nevada Northern Railway, and his story will continue to be told to the thousands of visitors that will be exploring his former home,” says Con Trumball, Trainmaster and museum archivist.

Interestingly, Trumball says there have been sightings of Dirt’s ghost.

Dirt the Railway cat beside a train, Nevada Northern Railway

Dirt Junior Carries On Dirt’s Legacy

Today, DJ carries his torch and assumes his responsibilities around the station. He has “big paws to fill,” the Nevada Nothern Railway says.

Dirt and his Protégé DJ

Dirt and his Protégé DJ.

Since Dirt passed away, DJ has remained on duty as “trust Head of Security,” watching over the engine house.

DJ the cat climbs a ladder at Nevada Northern Railway

“’I’m sure it’s a lot of pressure, filling Dirt’s role. But you’re doing a great job DJ! Dirt would be proud!” someone wrote.

“If Dirt showed him how to do it, it’s being done right!” another person said.

What an amazing life for one stray kitten who became the boss at this historic landmark. It’s not the first time a cat has appeared at a business and decided to become King. But Dirt was a one-of-a-kind cat and will always be part of the history of the Nevada Northern Railway. Visitors today can still look forward to meeting his cute protégé.

Train crew with Dirt the mascot

Video about Dirt by Toy Man Television:

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