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Oregon Rail Heritage Center 3/18/2016

by Chris Guenzler

We got off the Max Light Rail line and walked back to the cars, finding former National Railway Historical Society President Gregory Molloy waiting for his friend. Next I saw Arlen Sheldrake opening the gate for our special pre-arranged visit to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. From the parking lot, we walked around the Max Milwaukie Line to the grade crossing to the gate and I met Arlen in person for the first time. Chris Parker, along with Bob and Elizbeth Alkire, would be joining me on this special visit this late morning.

Oregon Rail Heritage Center History

The Oregon Rail Heritage Center is a railway museum in Portland, Oregon. Along with other rolling stock, the museum houses three steam locomotives owned by the City of Portland: Southern Pacific 4449, Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700 and Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. 197, the first two of which are restored and operable. The center opened to the public on September 22, 2012. The project to establish the center was led by the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 2002.

ORHF was tasked with finding a new home for the three city-owned locomotives, after planned changes by Union Pacific Railroad made it apparent that the locomotives would need to be moved out of their longtime home in the UP's (formerly Southern Pacific's) Brooklyn Roundhouse so the Union Pacific could use the land for a container facility. The locomotives were stored in the 1941-built roundhouse in Southeast Portland's Brooklyn neighborhood. ORHF comprises several entities, including railway preservation and railfan groups as well as the city's Bureau of Parks & Recreation. Proposals to construct a new enginehouse to house the historic locomotives were expanded to encompass a visitor center and eventually an interpretive center. After considering other potential sites for an enginehouse, ORHF reached agreement in 2009 on a site near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, encompassing about three acres.


Ground-breaking for the 20,000-square-foot enginehouse took place in October 2011. The three steam locomotives were moved to the site from the Brooklyn Roundhouse on June 26, 2012, and were temporarily placed outdoors, awaiting completion of the enginehouse. With the house fully enclosed, the locomotives were moved inside on July 28. Several vintage rail passenger coaches have also been moved to the site from the Brooklyn Yard (surrounding the roundhouse), where they had been outdoors, and they will continue to be kept outdoors at the new center. The budget for the initial phase of construction was $5.9 million, and funding has come mainly from donations, but with the City of Portland loaning $1 million. The Brooklyn Roundhouse was demolished in early September 2012 but its turntable was removed and placed in storage, and ORHF plans to install it at the new center in a later phase. The Oregon Rail Heritage Center opened to the public on September 22, 2012.


The centerpieces of ORHC's collection are the three steam locomotives: Southern Pacific 4449, Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700 and Oregon Railroad & Navigation Co. 197. All were donated to the City of Portland in 1958 and were on static display at Oaks Amusement Park until the mid-1970s Southern Pacific 4449 was moved to the Burlington Northern Hoyt Street Roundhouse in 1974 for restoration and proceeded to become famous nationwide, when it hauled the American Freedom Train throughout the country during the United States Bicentennial celebrations of 1975 - 1976. It was thereafter stored and maintained at the Brooklyn Roundhouse between excursions. SP&S 700 moved to the roundhouse from Oaks Park in 1986 and OR&N 197 followed in 1996. SP&S 700 is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Several pieces of privately-owned rolling stock also reside at the new center, including a diesel switcher, other locomotives and several vintage passenger and freight cars. One of the locomotives is Nickel Plate Road PA-1 190. Public facilities at the new enginehouse are expected to be minimal initially, consisting of a few exhibits and an area where restoration work on the locomotives and other equipment can be observed, but ORHF plans to install a full interpretive center later, on the building's second floor.

The operational steam locomotives are occasionally used on excursion trips, including an annual Holiday Express, and the new enginehouse was sited and designed in such a way as to enable these trips to continue. Union Pacific Railroad's north - south main line runs past the building, and is connected to the Heritage Center's tracks, allowing the locomotives and other rail cars to be moved onto or off of the mainline tracks. The rail cars also have access to Oregon Pacific Railroad tracks at the new location.

Location and access

The museum site is in Southeast Portland, at 2250 S.E. Water Avenue, adjacent to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and to Union Pacific's north - south main line. The center is open Thursday through Sunday, from 1:OO PM to 5:00 PM. Public transit service is provided by TriMet's MAX Orange Line light rail, TriMet bus routes 9 and 17, and the Portland Streetcar system's Loop Service. The Portland Streetcar system opened its CL Line on the same day as the museum, September 22, 2012, terminating one block from the ORHC. This provided the only transit service to the center until September 2015, when the opening of the nearby Tilikum Crossing and the Orange Line added light rail and bus service to the area, and the Portland Streetcar was has their Loop Service (clockwise A Loop and counterclockwise B Loop) now servivd this unique facility. The nearest MAX, bus and streetcar stops are one block west of the center.

Our visit

The building of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.

Union Pacific C-4 Caboose 25198 built by Pullman in 1944 as 3898.

A Southern Pacific lower block signal.

Dual Gauge Track from the Center Street streetcar & interurban rail facility.

SP&S 700 driver tire. From here we went inside the building.

The lobby of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.

The first engine you see is Nickel Plate PA-1 190 built by American Locomotive Company in 1948 as Santa Fe 62L. In 1967, it was sold to the Delaware & Hudson Railway and re-numbered 18. They sent it to Morrison-Knudsen for rebuilding in 1975 and it was classified as Morrison-Knudsen PA-4. In 1978, this locomotive was sold to the Ferrocarriles Nacionales de Mexico, along with the other three surviving PAs. It and the former D&H 16 were both out of service by 1981 and spent 19 years stored in Empalme, Sonora, Mexico. The Smithsonian Institution and rail preservationist Doyle McCormack obtained the damaged and gutted unit and brought it back the United States in 2000, along with the former ATSF 59L/D&H 16, which was donated in 2011 to the Museum of the American Railroad in Frisco, Texas. The other two units, DH-17 and DH-19, are preserved at a museum in Puebla, Mexico. Mr. McCormack began restoring the locomotive in 2002 and has chosen to restore the locomotive as a Nickel Plate Road PA-1, the first unit he ever rode in. In 2012, the near-fully restored NKP 190 was moved to the new Oregon Rail Heritage Center.

Railroad Builders display.

The meeting area of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.

Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company 4-6-2 197. built by Baldwin in 1905 for the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company. It arrived just in time to handle the passenger loads to the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland. In 1923, the OR&N had been absorbed by the Union Pacific and the steam engine was re-numbered 3203. Union Pacific retired it in the 1950s and in 1958, they donated it to the City of Portland and it went on display near Oaks Amusement Park, soon joined by Southern Pacific 4449 and Spokane, Portland and Seattle 700. In 1987, it was moved to the Brooklyn Roundhouse.

Nickel Plate PA-1 190.

Nickel Plate PA-1 190 builders plate.

The rear of Nickel Plate PA-1 190.

Nickel Plate Road PA-1 190 Current Projects board.

Nickel Plate Road PA-1 190 Rescue and Resurrection display boards.

Southern Pacific 4-8-4 4449 built by Lima in 1942. The class was built to handle the twelve-car premier Daylight over a hilly route between San Francisco and Los Angeles and GS was initially an abbreviation of "Golden State" where it worked for most of its service life. The Southern Pacific subsequently redefined "GS" to stand for "General Service" instead of "Golden State".

In 1955, one of the last engines in Daylight livery, its side skirting was removed, it was painted black and silver and assigned to SP's San Joaquin Valley line, occasionally hauling the San Joaquin Daylight between Oakland and Bakersfield, as well as fast freight and helper service. It was semi-retired from service on 24th September 1956 and kept as an emergency back-up locomotive until officially retired on 2nd October 1957 and placed in storage. In 1958, 4449 was donated to the City of Portland and put on display in Oaks Amusement Park, where it remained until 1974. It was then restored to operation for the American Freedom Train to celebrate the American Bicentennial celebrations in 1976. The following year, 4449 hauled the Amtrak Transcontinental Steam Excursion travelling 3,655 miles, stopping in 61 cities and carrying approximately 9,700 passengers. After nearly two years on the road, it was returned to storage at the Brooklyn Roundhouse in Portland.

The rear of Southern Pacific 4-8-4 4449.

Spokane Portland & Seattle 4-8-4 700 built by Baldwin in 1938. It was acquired to haul the Inland Empire Express (daytime) and North Bank Limited (overnight) along the north shore of the Columbia River between Spokane and Vancouver, WA. By 1947, the SP&S started purchasing diesels for their premier passenger services. Through the late 1940s and early 1950s, the E-1s continued to pull secondary passenger trains but by 1954, diesels had completely replaced steam for passenger service and the E-1s were relegated to pulling freight trains until 1955. Finally, on 20th May 1956, a spruced-up 700, with its normally grey smokebox painted silver, hauled its last passenger train, the Farewell To Steam with a twenty-one car consist carrying 1,400 passengers from Portland, Oregon to Wishram, Washington and back. After the Farewell to Steam trip, 700, along with other SP&S steam locomotives, were sent to the scrap line. At the same time, however, the Union Pacific was offering to donate a steam locomotive to the City of Portland and the SP&S also offered 700. It went on static display at Oaks Amusement Park until 1987, then moved to the Brooklyn Rounshouse to continue work to restore it to operating condition. It returned to operation in 1990 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places on 26th January 2006.

The machines of the shop.

The rear of the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company 4-6-2 197.

History of Light Rail in Portland.

The Oregon State Railroad map.

Map of the Southern Pacific Brooklyn Rail Yard.

Historic Brooklyn banner.

Model of the Southern Pacific Brooklyn Roundhouse.

Railroad Crossing Stop Look and Listen! Next I ventured out onto the grounds.

Great Northern 6 Roomette, 3 Bedroom, Buffet Lounge 600 "Mount Hood" built by Pullman Standard in 1950 for Spokane-Portland Empire Builder service. In 1970, it became Burlington Northern 1205 and was retired in 1971 and belongs to the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

Great Northern Empire Builder coach 1210 "Plum Creek" built by American Car & Foundry in 1951. It became Burlington Northern 6013 in 1970 and was converted to an instruction car then leased to Minnesota Transportation Museum in the 1980s.

Willamette & Pacific coach PNW 6200 built by Budd in 1939 as Seaboard Air Line Railroad 6200. It later became the Seaboard Coast Line 5604 and Amtrak 5604 in 1971. Purchased by the Pacific Northwest Chapter NRHS from bankruptcy estate of the Seattle North Coast line in 1985.

DLMX steam generator unit 8645 "Little Boy" built by St. Louis Car Company in 1920 as Great Northern railway post office car 1. It was sold in 1968 to Western Pacific as 591 and retired in 1972.

Parlour Observation car 295 "James J. Gilmore" built by Pullman-Standard in 1951 as Southern Pacific 2955. In 1963, it was rebuilt to 72-seat coach 2297 then in 1971, was sold to the Stockton Terminal & Eastern Railroad and was later acquired by ORHF Vice-President Ed Immel as Northwest Railway Museum 2955.

Nickel Plate Road RSD-5 324 built by American Locomotive Company in 1955 as Utah Railway 306. It was sold to Industrial Salvage & Metals in Salt Lake City in 1983 and traded to the Promontory Chapter, NRHS, for scrap value in seven donated former Kennecott locomotives in January 1984. It was stored here until sold to Doyle McCormack in October 1993, painted as a fictitious Nickel Plate 324 by February 1994 and leased to Willamette & Pacific. At the end of August 2022, it was bound for Ogden, Utah and restoration for display at the Utah Railroad Museum.

The B end of the Nickel Plate Road RSD-5 324.

Nickel Plate Road RSD-5 324 display board.

Union Pacific 8149 West.

Portland Streetcars above Nickel Plate Road RSD-5 324.

As we walked back through the building, one last view of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. A special thank you to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center and Arlen Sheldrake for giving us this special tour of this unique rail museum in Portland this morning. With that said we headed south to Corvallis but not the most direct routing.