Union Railroad of Oregon
Union Railroad of Oregon #1 moving two loaded woodchip hoppers to the Union Pacific interchange at Union Junction, Oregon. Photo by and courtesy of Dan Schwanz.
In the early 1880s, the towns of La Grande and Union were in hot competition with each other for the county seat of Union County. The issue was decided when the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company completed its mainline through the La Grande Valley. The railroad built through La Grande, and that community was selected to become a division point on the new railroad. A quirk of geography caused the railroad builders to miss Union by a little over two miles.
In an era when being left off the railroad meant death or decline to an established community, the citizens of Union concluded that if the railroad was not built through their town, they would have to build a railroad of their own. On 27 March 1890 the Union Electric Light & Power Company was incorporated to build a railroad from Union to a connection with the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company mainline at Union Junction, 2.2 miles away. On 18 July 1890 the railroad's name was changed to the Union Railway Company. One J.W. Shelton purchased the company on 5 November 1891 for $11,250. Apparently Mr. Shelton ran into financial difficulties, as the company was sold at a Sherrif's sale on 11 October 1894 to one James H. Hutchinson for $8,300. A new company, the Union Street & Suburban Railway, was incorporated on 22 December 1894.
The next operator of the little line was the Union, Cove & Valley Railroad, incorporated on 5 August 1905. This company purchased the Union Street & Suburban Railway for $20,000 on 3 March 1906. UC&V owned the road only briefly, as on 26 June 1906 it sold the railroad to the Oregon Construction Company for $18,000. The Oregon Construction Company then sold the railroad on the same day to the Central Railway Company of Oregon, which had been incorporated on 2 June 1905.
Central Railroad of Oregon #13 switching in Union. John T. Labbe Collection of Logging and Railroad Photographs, 1892-2010, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov.
Somewhere during this time period several different companies advanced proposals to extend the railroad
in several different directions. On 21 June 1898 a company called the Union, Cornucopia & Eastern
contracted with one Joseph Johnston to built, equip, and operate a railroad from Union to Pine Valley.
On 24 June 1898 a Union, Cove & Valley Railroad was incorporated to build a railroad from Union to Cove,
12 miles. It is not clear if this is the same company incorporated in 1905 or not. The UC&V completed
its survey on 11 July 1898. On 28 July 1898 the Union, Cornucopia & Eastern issued a call for construction
bids for a 130-mile long railroad to be built beyond Union, and the UC&E finally got around to
incorporating itself on 19 November 1898.|
On 27 December 1900 a Union Railroad & Transportation Company was incorporated. This company completed a survey for an 80-mile long railroad to be built from Union to the Snake River via the Catherine Creek and Lower Powder River drainages. Apparently nothing further came from either of these proposals.
On 1 September 1905 the Central Railway of Oregon mortgaged itself to the American Loan & Trust Company for $2,000,000. The company proposed to build an electric line connecting Hot Lake, Union, Cove, Elgin and La Grande. Somewhere during this time period the company finally laid rails beyond Union in the form of two branches, one running 10.54 miles from Union to Cove and the other extending 3.292 miles from Richmond to Hot Lake. However, the Central Railway Company of Oregon did not prove to be any more successful than the Union Railway Company, as it was sold to its bondholders at a foreclosure sale on 22 March 1909 for $200,000.
Central Railroad of Oregon #12 with a passenger train. John T. Labbe Collection of Logging and Railroad Photographs, 1892-2010, Washington State Archives, Digital Archives, http://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov.
The bondholders held the company for a brief period of time, as on 20 April 1909 the properties were
conveyed to the Central Railroad of Oregon, which had been incorporated on 25 January 1909. The Central
Railroad of Oregon had big plans of their own, as in late 1915 the company proposed a new line to be built
from Union to Walla Walla, Washington. One source listed this line as completed in 1915, but no actual
construction ever took place.|
The Central Railroad of Oregon lead a quiet existence for 17 years, but time finally caught up with it as well. The one remaining locomotive was condemned on 8 December 1926, forcing most operations to cease. Unable to pay its bills, the company was siezed for back taxes on 15 January 1927. Union County purchased all assetts of the company except for one motor car for $9,323.02 on 8 February 1927. Union County apparently had no desire to be in the railroad business, as on the same day the rails from Union Junction to Union were sold to "certain citizens of Union".
The Union Railroad of Oregon was incorporated on 29 April 1927, and it took over operation of the original 2.2 miles of track between Union and Union Junction. Union County retained all trackage beyond Union, and it was abandoned and removed between 8 February 1927 and 26 March 1928. The railroad survived thereafter on whatever freight traffic the businesses in Union offered. Lumber traffic dominated the traffic base, and ownership of the railroad usually rested with one of the sawmills in Union. G.I. Hess and his Oregon Trail Lumber Company owned the company from 1951-1973, when the Ronde Valley Lumber Company acquired the railroad.
A Union Railroad of Oregon Boxcar sitting on a siding on the Yreka Western Railroad, Yreka, CA, in March 1980. Photo by and courtesy of Ed Gibson.
The railroad was one of the many shortline railroads that took advantage of the incentive per diem boxcar
craze of the late 1970s. The railroad contracted for 50 of these cars in 1979.
The cars were painted a light lime green and had the railroad's logo (a beaver cutting down a pine tree set
inside a circle) painted on each car. These boxcars were all turned back to the lessor by 1986, who transferred
the cars to the Burlington Northern.
One Neil Ferguson bought the railroad towards the end of the 1970s. At the time the railroad served three customers, the sawmill, a coal dealership that recieved occassional inbound coal loads, and a feed mill. In 1979 the railroad received some major rehabilitation, with 2,500 new untreated ties installed along the railroad and the existing 52-pound rail replaced with heavier 85-pound rail. The company purchased a new used locomotive, supplementing the small (25-ton) Plymouth switcher that had been the sole power on the railroad since the late 1930s. The railroad at the time employed two people, who ran an average of two trains a day to Union Junction to keep up with the flow of cars needed by the sawmill. The pair performed all needed track and equipment maintenance when not running the trains. In 1987 the railroad was sold again, this time to a local concern named Union Rail Enterprises, Inc.
The end for this little railroad came on or before January 1989. The sawmill that had kept the little company alive for the last several decades of operations finally closed for good. The loss of this last shipper caused the railroad to close up shop. The Interstate Commerce Commission granted permission to abandon the remaining 2.291 miles of track on 31 August 1995, and the last chapter of this railroad's history was written. As of 2021 the rails are mostly still in place between the old sawmill and Union Junction.
The UO and predecessors are in black.
Book Information- The Central Railroad of Oregon
Dick Roth, a historian of the Union/Hot Lake area, has now released the second edition of his book The Central Railroad of Oregon. Information on the book and how to order a copy can be found at this link.
Underlined numbers indicate a link to a page of pictures of that locomotive.
#10- Baldwin 0-4-2T, c/n 10442, blt November 1889. Cylinders 10x14, drivers 35" diameter. Built for Ogden City Railway #10, Ogden, UT; to Union Railway #10 October 1892; to Union Street & Suburban Railway #10 December 1894; to Central Railway of Oregon #10 June 1906; to Central Railroad of Oregon #10 April 1909; listed for sale May 1910 for $1,100. To Mount Hood Railroad #10, Hood River, OR, October 1910. Out of service on Mount Hood by August 1919, sold August 1920. Presumed scrapped at that time.
#12- Chicago & Alton 4-4-0, blt 1890. Cylinders 18x24, drivers 64" diameter, weight 41 tons. Built by Chicago & Alton Railroad as their #142; to Hicks (locomotive dealer) March 1909; to Central Railroad of Oregon #12 December 1909. Listed as only locomotive on a roster dated 30 June 1916.
#13- Altoona 0-6-0, c/n 357, built March 1877. Cylinders 15x22, drivers 44" diameter, tractive effort 11,953 pounds, weight 32 tons. Built as International Navigation Company #2, Philadelphia, PA; sold May 1881 to Oregon Railway & Navigation Company #38, Portland, OR; Re-numbered as OR&N #14 1889, then to #1377 1890, then to #13 1895. Sold July 1902 to Union Street & Suburban Railway #13; to Central Railway of Oregon #13 June 1906; to Central Railroad of Oregon #13 April 1909. Listed as available for sale for $800 in May 1910. Likely scrapped shortly after that point.
#1106- Baldwin 4-4-0, c/n 6827, built June 1883. Cylinders 17x24, drivers 63" diameter, tractive effort 12,412 pounds, weight 44.5 tons. Built as Oregon Railway & Navigation Company #79; Re-numbered as OR&N #547 1890, then to #71 1894; to Union Pacific #1106 1915. Sold 4 August 1925 to Central Railroad of Oregon #1106; to Union Railroad of Oregon #1106 1927. Stored out of service by February 1938. Sold to Alaska Junk Company (Dealer), Portland, Oregon; scrapped by Alaska Junky by March 1940.
?- Baldwin side-rod equipped gas mechanical switcher. Purchased circa 1936, likely replaced by Plymouth #1 in 1937 or 1938.
#1- Plymouth model HLC-2 (25-ton) gas-mechanical switcher, c/n 2922, built June 1928. Built for Guy F. Atkinson (Wallace, CA). Apparently first came to Union in the mid-1930's, owned either by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation or General Construction Company. The unit (possibly as General Construction #3) was used in the construction of the Owyhee Dam, nearby to Union. Sold to Union Railroad of Oregon in late 1937/early 1938. The #1 was the sole locomotive used on the UO for the next 40 years. Sold to Eldon C. Stutsman Trucking Co. (Hills, IA) in 1992.
#2- Plymouth model ML-8 (35-ton) gas-mechanical switcher, c/n 3836, built April 1936. Built as Ohio & Morenci #51 (Morenci, Michigan); to Nezperce Railroad #11, Nezperce, Idaho in 1952; to Union Railroad of Oregon in 1979. Sold to Rick Franklin Corporation, Lebanon, Oregon, 1993. Rick Franklin leased the unit to Wallowa Forest Products in Wallowa, Oregon, for use as a mill switcher until the plant closed in 2008. As of July 2014 the former #2 remains in Franklin's yard at Lebanon.
Rolling Stock Pictures
Incentive Per Diem Boxcars
Union Pacific Coach
1916 Equipment Roster from Valuation Report Inventory
#12 - See Locomotive Roster above
#13 or #18- Wood combination, 59'3" long, 6 wheel trucks. Originally Pennsylvania Railroad; Purchased 1911.
#20 and #21- Pullman wood coaches, both 56' long, both of 6 wheel trucks. Purchased 1911.
#100- Schenectady 0-4-4, c/n 4611, built October 1897. Cylinder 12x16, drivers 42" diameter. Wood combination car 64'2" long, converted from an 1884 Wason dining car, originally a 0-4-6. Built as New England Railroad #198; to New York, New Haven & Hatford Railroad #1098 July 1898; to Bellfonte Central Railroad #1, Belfonte, PA, 1907 or 1909; to Central Railroad of Oregon #100 1911.
#1- Caboose, 30' long, wood
#401- Boxcar, 28' long, wood, capacity 40,000 lbs.
#11800?- Stock car, 36' long, wood, capacity 50,000 lbs.
All freight cars purchased used.
1 Sheffield #1 Hand Car
1 Sheffield #4 Push Car
1 Buda #1 Velocipede
The valuation report indicated that the railroad leased locomotive #12 and the three passenger coaches from private individuals.
Additional Roster Information from Poor's Manual
1895- Union Street & Suburban Railway- 3 locomotives, 2 motor cars, 2.6 miles of track.
1909- Central Railway of Oregon, 2 locomotives, 4 cars.
1915- Central Railroad of Oregon, 2 locomotives (1 leased), 8 cars (3 leased passengers, 1 baggage, 2 box, 2 stock).
1920- Central Railroad of Oregon, 1 locomotive, 5 cars (1 passenger, 1 baggage, 1 box, 1 stock, 1 flat).
Miscellaneous Union Railroad of Oregon notes in publications
The Timberman, December 1908; An additional locomotive and coaches have been added.
The Timberman, June 1909; Line to Hot Lake not operated and now used by the LaGrande Sugar Company.
Railroad Magazine, February 1938; 3 box cars, 1 coach, #1106 out of service, one Baldwin gas mechanical (no number) in service. Several photos.
Western Railroader, March 1957; Mention of the gas mechanical.
The Short Line, Sept/Oct 1979; Plymouth #2 here Sept 1979; photo of #1 lettered URRofO No. 1.
The Short Line, Nov/Dec 1981. Line running every weekday, 3-4 cars handled. Shippers are the lumber mill that owns the railroad, Union Feed & Grain shipping one car a day, and the local fuel dealer who gets hoppers of coal. Line recently relayed in 90 lbs. rail. As of September 1981 the road had 2 full time employees, Dick Tift and a young brakeman, and 2 part time track workers. #1 Plymouth has engine torn down. The Y is full of their new boxcars.
Henderson's Newsletter, 25 January 1982; Speculations of history of Plymouth #1. Ivan Ergish photos from June 1951 (truck engine installed, no lettering), 7 July 1956 (no lettering), and 10 June 1959 (lettered URRofO NO. 1).
Photos of the Union Railroad of Oregon
Trackage in Union
Along the Line
Switching the Sawmill
Union Railroad of Oregon in 2021
A very special thanks goes out to John A. Taubeneck for providing much of the specific historical and roster information presented on this page.
"Union Railroad of Oregon, Two miles and two locomotives" by Robert W. Johnston, July 1980 Pacific RailNews.
"The Nezperce Railroad, A Home-Owned Wheat Line" by Ken C. Brovald, September 1977 Pacific RailNews.
News item on the UO in February 1987 CTC Board.
Stations West, The Story of the Oregon Railways by Edwin D. Culp, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho, 1972.
Main Streets of the Northwest, Rails from the Rockies to the Pacific by T.O. Repp, Trans-Anglo Books, Glendale, California, 1989.
American Shortline Railway Guide by Edward Lewis. 2nd Addition, The Baggage Car, Morrisville, VT, 1978; 3rd Edition, Kalmbach, Waukesha, WI, 1986; 4th Edition, Kalmbach, Waukesha, WI, 1991; 5th Edition, Kalmbach, Waukesha, WI, 1996.
More on the Web
Western Shortline Rosters UO Page
Rob Jacox's Western Rails site. Some photos of UO locomotives on his Oregon Shortlines page.