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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 NRHS President Gregory Molloy waiting on his friend. Next I saw Arlen Shelddrake opening the gate for our special pre-arranged visit to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. From the parking lot, we walked around the Max Milwalkie Line to the grade crossing to the gate and I met Arlen in person for the first time in my life. Chris Parker along with Bob and Elizbeth Aklire, 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 (ORHF), 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 (OMSI), encompassing about 3 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 is $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. It is open for visitors Thursday through Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and for the time being, admission is free.


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 (OMSI) and to Union Pacific's north - south main line. The center is open Thursday through Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. 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.

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.

Railroad building display.

The meeting area of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.

Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company 4-6-2 197.

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.

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

Spokane Portland & Seattle 4-8-4 700.

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.

SP&S Empire Builder PNWC 600.

Great Northern Empire Builder Plum Creek 1210.

Willamette & Pacific Coach PNW 6200.

DLMX 8645 Little Boy.

AARX 2955 Observation Car James J. Gilmore.

Nickel Plate Road RSD-5 324.

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 the 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, Oregon this morning. With that said we headed south to Corvallis but not the most direct routing.