Dirt the cat, seen in 2018 at the Northern Nevada Railway. (Courtesy of Steve Crise and the Nev ...

‘The litter runt’: Nevada railroad cat dies after life of internet fame

No one would ever expect a small town semi-feral cat to become internet famous.

But at the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, an orange and white cat, constantly covered in dirt and grease, did.

Dirt, shortened from Dirtbag after his notoriously dirty coat and hatred of bathhouses, was a museum mascot who gained internet popularity after a photo of him went viral on Facebook.

Dirt died aged 15 on Wednesday of old age while surrounded by railroad personnel. His legacy will be honored with two bronze statues at the museum.

Nevada North Railway president Mark Bassett said Dirt, which originated in the railroad’s engine room, was the smallest of the litter. Ten years later, Dirt’s life changed forever when former railroad passenger services manager Eric Mencis posted a picture of him on Facebook, making him a global sensation.

And when Bassett says worldwide, he means it.

“We had a family come from China to LA, to Las Vegas, rent a car and drive to Ely to see Dirt,” he said. “And it’s as if it were a cat!” It is not exposed. »

Dirt was even featured in an episode of “Ghost Adventures,” where he surprised host Zac Bagans.

Bassett was baffled by those who came to the Ely countryside just to see the filthy furry friend in the museum. The town of 4,000 people is a four-hour drive from Las Vegas.

But Dirt knew how to work a crowd.

“He became famous and he knew he was famous,” he said.

Bassett said that after guests take the train to the museum, the museum takes a tour of the machine shop and engine room. When Dirt heard the words “It’s the machine shop,” he knew it was time to put on the spell.

“Here comes Dirt. And when Dirt came along, the tour stopped because everyone had to get their picture taken with Dirt,” he said.

Con Trumbell, a railroad conductor, said that despite his charisma around people, Dirt was never domesticated and lived as a semi-feral cat until his dying day.

“Yeah, we took him to the vet, but we didn’t own him,” Trumbull said. “He stayed on his own terms and left at any time. The doors are always open and you can just walk away and never come back. So everyone thinks he’s a pet. He wasn’t, and 15 years for a semi-wild conversation in a store is pretty darn good.

The dirt has brought people to the museum who otherwise might never have passed through the rural town. Additional revenue from Dirt’s merchandise, including keychains, t-shirts, mugs, and even its own coffee blend, has helped boost the museum’s revenue.

Of all the museum’s merchandise, merchandise with Dirt sells the best, Bassett said.

When other railroads got wind of how Dirt had helped the museum, they started promoting their own shop cats, Trumbull said.

“One of our museum colleagues east said Dirt was the inspiration for them to adopt a cat and make it their shop mascot,” Trumbull said. “Dirt started a trend, not just here, but across the country, where museums found a whole new tool to bring people to their historical programs, which is a really good legacy for him.”

The Dirt obituary posted by the railroad on Facebook garnered thousands of reactions and comments, with many sharing their own photos of Dirt.

Trumbull said the whole region felt his loss.

“He was an ambassador not just for the railroad but for rural Nevada, bringing people to rural Nevada and exploring their public lands and returning to small town America,” Trumbull said.

Bassett said he is planning a funeral service for Dirt that will be streamed online, Ely’s bandwidth permitting.

The railroad’s second rescue cat, an orange tabby cat named Dirt Jr., or DJ, will be there to greet new visitors, though Trumbell says no railroad cat could ever live up to it. Dirt’s legacy.

Trumbull said he was grateful the railroad staff had a private moment with Dirt before the world found out through his obituary.

“Yeah, the world loved him, but he was our cat. … He was part of the family and we got to (say goodbye) before the world came back.

Contact Taylor Lane at tlane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tmflane on Twitter.

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