Home Blogs At the Nevada Northern Railway, dive into the world of “Boss Shop Cat” and his apprentice.

At the Nevada Northern Railway, dive into the world of “Boss Shop Cat” and his apprentice.

At the Nevada Northern Railway, dive into the world of “Boss Shop Cat” and his apprentice.

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The Loneliest Highway in America played host to Dirt, a charming “railway cat” who made his home at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum in Ely. He embodied the spirit of an old-time railroader with a captivating personality that stole hearts. Known affectionately as “Boss Shop Cat” and sometimes as “That darn cat!”

“Dirt the railroad cat chilling with Con Trumbull in the machine shop.” NNRy via

This location is a step back in time, with coal-fired standard-gauge steam locomotives still chugging along after 110 years! Surrounded by miles of empty highway for 200 miles, Dirt became a major draw, attracting thousands of visitors and achieving fame worldwide as a celebrated feline ambassador.

Dirt: Born for the Railroad Dirt served as a mascot for both the Railway and the state of Nevada. Born under the massive 1907-built rotary snowplow in spring 2008, while his mother and siblings moved on, he chose to stay. He made himself at home and over the next 15 years, became a fixture of the place, seemingly born to belong there.

Like other famous felines such as Close-Up the Cat at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Dirt led daily tours and effortlessly charmed visitors, earning adoration and admiration from all who met him.

A Tough Character with a Soft Heart Former guest services manager Eric Mencis, who posted Dirt’s first picture, served as the cat’s voice for many years.

“When I saw Dirt, I saw a cat with a proud attitude, a rough exterior, and a friendly heart,” Eric recalls. “He looked like he was ready to take you on if you didn’t give him a good pet!”

“Dirt the railroad cat strikes a pose with Eric Mencis during Eric’s final visit to NNRy — a lasting memory.” Wesley Heinz via

Watch Dirt’s story in the video by Wonderbot Animals below. Another feline resident, DJ, makes an appearance but isn’t named.

Dirt’s Choice of Abode: A Caboose Upon settling in, Dirt took up residence in an old, dilapidated caboose in the foundry, occasionally sleeping in the steam locomotives. The train crews ensured his comfort by leaving out cans of tuna, which he learned to trustingly accept from them.

Dirt performed various roles, from train inspector to mouser and even bat catcher! Additionally, he served as a morale booster and drew countless visitors to the museum.

Unlike most cats who keep themselves impeccably clean, Dirt always sported a layer of grime from the perpetual dust and soot churned up by the active locomotives. Yet, he seemed unperturbed, even relishing in rolling around in the soot like it was a dust bath, and climbing the soot-covered trains.

While a bath would have revealed his pristine white fur underneath, Dirt remained proudly sooty. On April Fool’s Day, tradition dictated posting a photo of him captioned “We Gave Dirt A Bath,” much to the delight of fans. Most preferred their Dirt dirty, as cleaning off the soot could have made him ill. While unusual for a cat, this was Dirt’s home, where he thrived and lived a long life.

As a side note, while a dirty appearance in cats can sometimes indicate illness, this wasn’t the case with Dirt.

Dirt and Dirt Junior In 2018, photographer Steve Crise captured an iconic image of Dirt standing before a locomotive, exuding charisma as if he were posing for the camera. The photo went viral, propelling Dirt to international stardom and spurring a desire in many to meet him in person. Products featuring Dirt’s likeness remain popular souvenirs. (Dirt Coffee, anyone?)

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

In October 2020, a new arrival, DJ the orange kitten, joined the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. DJ, short for Dirt Junior, quickly became a beloved fixture, carrying on the legacy of his predecessor. It was as if fate had intervened once again.

DJ on the left and Dirt on the right

In May 2022, as Dirt approached 15 years old, he received a new custom-made yellow caboose, complete with his name, in the heated machine shop. Both he and DJ had cozy beds inside, marking a new chapter in their lives.

A Farewell to Dirt By summer of the same year, Dirt’s health began to decline, and he spent most of his time resting. With heavy hearts, the railway crew bid farewell to Dirt when he passed away on January 10, 2023, surrounded by his human friends. A private ceremony and burial were held in his honor, with thousands paying their respects online. Dirt’s Remembrance Day on May 28th raised funds for bronze statues of the Boss Shop Cat, which will be placed at his gravesite outside the depot and in the machine shop.

Many believe Dirt’s spirit continues to watch over the Nevada Northern Railway and its ‘Ghost Train,’ as he once startled a team filming Ghost Adventures, emerging mysteriously from the shadows of the engine house.

Interestingly, there have been reports of sightings of Dirt’s ghost, according to Trumball.

Dirt Junior Carries the Torch Today, DJ continues to uphold Dirt’s legacy and responsibilities around the station. He’s described as having “big paws to fill” by the Nevada Northern Railway.

Dirt and his Protégé DJ.

Since Dirt’s passing, DJ has remained vigilant as the “trust Head of Security,” ensuring the safety of the engine house.

What an extraordinary journey for a stray kitten who rose to prominence as the boss of this historic landmark. While it’s not uncommon for cats to make their mark in businesses, Dirt was truly one of a kind and will forever be a part of the Nevada Northern Railway’s history. Visitors can still look forward to meeting his adorable protégé today.

Video about Dirt by Toy Man Television:


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