No one ever expected some kittens and semi-ferales to become famous on the Internet.
But on the Northern Nevada Railroad in Ely, so did an orange and white cat, constantly covered in dirt and grease.
Dirtbag, short for Dirtbag after his notoriously dirty coat and dislike of bathrooms, was a museum mascot who gained popularity online after a photo of him went viral on Facebook.
Dirt died at the age of 15 on Wednesday from old age while surrounded by railroad employees. His legacy will be honored with two bronze statues in the museum.
Northern Nevada Railroad Born in the railroad’s engine house, President Mark Bassett said Dirnt was a scavenger. Ten years later, Dirt’s life is forever changed when the railway’s former guest services manager, Eric Mencis, posts a picture of him on Facebook, making him a worldwide sensation.
And when Bassett says worldwide, he means it.
“We had family fly from China to LA, to Las Vegas, and they rented a car and drove to Eli to see Dirt,” he said. “He’s like, He’s a cat! He’s not on show.”
Dirt even appeared on the file An episode of “Ghost Adventures” Where host Zach Bagans stunned.
Bassett was baffled by those who came to the Ely countryside only to see the museum’s filthy furry friend. The city of 4,000 residents is a four-hour drive from Las Vegas.
But Dirt knew how to work a crowd.
He said, “He became famous, and he knew he was famous.”
After guests board the train at the museum, Bassett said, the museum tours the machine shop and engine house. When Dirt hears “This is the machine shop,” he knows it’s time to make magic.
“Here comes dirt. And when Dirt came along, the tour stopped because everyone had to get their picture with Dirt.”
Conn Trumbull, a trainmaster for the railroad, said that despite his attraction around people, Dirt was never domesticated, and he lived as a semi-feral cat until his last day.
“Yeah, we took him to the vet, but we didn’t have him,” Trumbull said. “He stuck on his own terms and left at any time. The doors are always open, and you can walk away and never come back. So everyone thinks he’s a pet. He wasn’t, and 15 years of near-brutal shop conversation—that’s pretty good.”
The dirt brought people to the museum who otherwise might not have come across the rural town. Additional revenue from Dirt merchandise including key chains, t-shirts, mugs, and even his own coffee blendhelped increase the museum’s income.
Of all the museum merchandise, Bassett said, merchandise with Dirt sells the best.
Trumbull said that when other railroads learned how Dirt had helped the museum, they began promoting their shop cats.
“One of our colleagues at museums in the East put it in their post that Dirt was the inspiration for them to adopt a cat and make him the mascot of their shop,” said Trumbull. “Dirt started a trend, not just here, but across the country where museums have found a whole new tool to get people into their history programs, and it’s a great legacy for him.”
The dirt An obituary posted by the railway on Facebookthousands of reactions and comments, with many sharing photos of themselves from Dirt.
Trumbull said the entire district feels his loss.
“He was an ambassador not just for the railroads but for rural Nevada, bringing people to rural Nevada and exploring their public lands and back to small-town America,” Trumbull said.
Bassett said he plans a funeral service for Dirt that will be streamed online, if Ely’s bandwidth allows.
The railroad’s second rescue cat, an orange tabby named Dirt Jr., will be the cat. , or DJ, is there to welcome new visitors, though Trumbull says no railroad cat can live up to Dirt’s heritage.
Trumbull said he was grateful the railroad employees had a private moment with Dirt before the world found out from his obituary.
“Yes, the world loved him, but he was our cat. … He was part of the family, and we were able to (say goodbye) before the world came back together.”
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