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Weekend Escape: Ely, Nev., is a train buff's dream spot with its vintage railway, Western hospitality

The clamor of trains and blaring whistles no longer disturb folks in Ely. The railroad tracks now skirt the northern edge of this old mining town, not quite a four-hour drive north of Las Vegas. The dozens of trains that once rumbled by each day, carrying both ore and passengers, have dwindled to a handful each week. Antique carriages now are filled with camera-toting tourists lured by the Nevada Northern Railway, a real railroad turned living history museum. The tab for two: $74 for a standard room at the venerable Hotel Nevada and $40 for a tasty dinner for two at the inviting All Aboard Cafe & Inn.

The bed

The downtown Hotel Nevada (501 Aultman St., Ely; [775] 289-6665) is known for its Western flair. Hand-painted murals of cowboys ropin’ and ridin’ adorn the hallways of this vintage property, which offers 24-hour dining and, of course, gambling. Although the rooms are pleasant, some guests may be put off by the signs prominently placed in the bathrooms:

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Caution

Due to the age of the hotel 1929

the shower fluctuates

from hot to cold without warning!

People fearing a shower surprise may prefer one of the newer chain hotels on the edge of town.

The meal

The All Aboard Cafe & Inn (220 E. 11th St., Ely, [775] 289-3959) is a great choice for delicious, home-cooked food at affordable prices. The 1907 building, just half a block from the old depot, once was a boarding house for railroad workers. (Five guest rooms remain upstairs.) Locals rave about spaghetti with homemade meatballs ($10.95). Owners Becky and Ralph Werber have East Coast roots, so the menu also features lobster salad tossed with an orange-lemon vinaigrette ($14.95) and grilled crab cakes with rémoulade sauce ($16.95). Dinners include an ample salad bar. Open year-round for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The find

Rail fans come to town to journey back in time aboard the Northern Nevada Railway (1100 Avenue A, East Ely; [775] 289-2085). Ninety-minute narrated train rides take visitors along a part of the route that carried 4½ million passengers between 1905 and 1941. Some of the trains are still pulled by the original locomotives. There’s a museum inside the old station, and the rail yard is open to explore. Combo tickets (train ride and guided tour of rail yard and engine house) cost $31 for adults and $15 for children 4-12. Most of the trips take place from June to mid-November. Polar Express train excursions begin Nov. 19 and continue on weekends and some weekdays through Dec. 28.