By Alex Jones
MEET AN historic railway’s purr-fect employee who draws people from hundreds of miles away just to get a glimpse of the celebrity kitty.
Dirt, the aptly named railway cat, is an unofficial employee of Nevada Northern Railway, a heritage organisation featuring some of the United States’ oldest steam engines in the middle of the desert.
The history of the railway is literally engrained in the eleven-year-old cat, as he loves nothing more than rolling in the coal dust left on the engine house floor, giving him his distinctive sooty style.
Striking photos of the work cat include a proud Dirt posing in the engine room where he was abandoned by his mother, joyfully rolling around in catnip, and greeting an enchanted guest at the railway museum.
Part-pet, part-employee, and part brand-ambassador, Dirt has been a crucial component of the East Ely Railroad Depot Museum’s day-to-day running for over a decade now.
“Dirt was born in our engine house 11 years ago, his mom was a stray cat that got into the building, had some kittens, and once they were done nursing, mom and the other kittens left and ran off,” explained Eric Mencis, Dirt’s spokesperson and head of guest services at Nevada Northern Railway.
“Dirt was left behind all alone hiding under our 1907 rotary snowplough, a giant steam powered snow blower for trains.
“He was too timid to come out so the crews left a can of tuna out every night for him – by morning it was always gone.”
“Dirt soon got used to us and got his name because he was always rolling in the muck in the back of our engine house, that area of the building has a floor made of regular dirt and also cinders from our locomotives over the years – it seemed like the natural choice and it sure suits him.
“He is actually an orange and white cat, but you can’t tell that anymore.
“There’s no doubt he’s happy being dirty that way, and in a way keeps him clean because the dirt keeps bugs and other things from sticking to his fur.
“He does not lick himself and clean himself like normal cats. He’s not at all like other cats.”
Before long the grubby feline became a tourist attraction in his own right.
“Growing up in the 100-year-old rail yard, Dirt has gained a personality,” continued Eric.
“You can look into his eyes and see that he is an old railroad man who has many stories to tell.
“He walks around like he owns the place – I suppose he does in a way – and is fiercely proud of his crew and his trains.
“It’s often noted that he walks around like he is inspecting the trains and making sure not a bolt is lost or a bearing incorrectly oiled.
“Many see him as an old soul from a railroader born into a cat.
“He is like the John Wayne of cats – he is tough, a little chubby, has his distinct walk and an imposing air.
“But when it comes to people he as friendly and as loving as a cat can be.
“As a museum we offer tours of our engine house and Dirt loves to come out and greet the visitors.
“I would say most that come to visit get to meet him but he’s a busy cat and does enjoy the occasional cat nap.
“People fall in love with him right away if they do meet him though.
“He’s proved so popular that we now stock a whole range of Dirt merchandise.”
Thanks to a push on social media, the small town of Ely in Nevada, which Eric claims is ‘200 miles from anywhere’, now receives over 30,000 visitors a year and Dirt has fans on every continent.
“We’ve known people make 400-mile round trips just to catch sight of Dirt,” Eric added.
“He’s certainly a character.”