Railroads & Locomotives History Meet Dirt the Cat: Nevada Northern Railway’s rail cat

Meet Dirt the Cat: Nevada Northern Railway’s rail cat

By Carl Swanson, Trains Editor | November 13, 2022

A stray feline adopted by railroad shop workers is world-famous

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Dirt the Cat

a dirty tabby cat
Born in Nevada Northern Railway’s cavernous locomotive shop, the aptly named Dirt the Cat is famous around the world for his fur stained by soot and oil and his habit of personally greeting visitors to the museum in Ely, Nevada.

One of the world’s most famous cats is a railroader. Dirt, his fur coat stained by a lifetime amid the soot and grease of Nevada Northern Railway’s 114-year-old engine-servicing facility, is nobody’s pet and everybody’s friend. The people-loving shop cat has an international following thanks to a series of widely shared social media posts.

His fame is even more remarkable given his humble start. In 2008, a feral cat gave birth to a litter of kittens under the railway’s rotary snowplow, which was parked on a shop track. The mother soon moved her kittens, but for some reason Dirt was left behind. Shop workers and locomotive crews noticed the abandoned kitten hiding in a floor drain in the shop and, thanks to strategically placed open cans of tuna fish, won his trust. He has lived in the shop ever since. Despite the noise, smoke, and steam, it’s the only home Dirt has ever known, and the shop workers are his family.

men in workshop with cat in middle
The railroad’s staff and volunteers are Dirt’s family and the building housing the machine shop and engine house is the only home he’s ever known.

The Nevada Northern Railway, a designated National Historic Landmark located in Ely, Nevada, prides itself on authentically recreating steam-era operations and Dirt fits that mission. After all, maintenance facilities in railroading’s early days often had a resident cat to keep mice and rats in check. But Dirt had his own ideas of his role, and decided it was his job to greet visitors to the cavernous engine house and machine shop complex he calls home. Now 15 years old and showing his age, he still manages to meet most tour groups, pose for photos, and doesn’t mind the occasional gentle scratch behind the ears.

man playing with cat
A Nevada Northern shop worker pauses in mid-project to give Dirt a little attention.

His habit of rolling on the shop floor and sleeping on coal piles left its mark on his orange and white markings, but he is well cared-for by the railway’s staff and volunteers who make sure he has plenty of food, an electric heating pad to sleep on when winter comes, and regular veterinary care. You would expect nothing less considering Dirt’s nickname around the railroad is “King of the Shop.”

For information on visiting the Nevada Northern Railway, visit its website at www.nnry.org

5 thoughts on “Meet Dirt the Cat: Nevada Northern Railway’s rail cat

  1. This kitty reminds me very much of the roundhouse cat we had at North Walpole, NH in the Green Mountain RR roundhouse when I first started in the early 80’s. Albert was his name (nickname “Alib”) and he was pretty much a twin to Dirt. The two virtually shared the same dirt as well because the GMRC shop was chock full of all the ash and soot from its formative years as the original home of shop of Steamtown.

  2. It is kind of surprising that the grey is dirt not grey fur. Cats are known for constant cleaning themselves by licking their fur.

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