City land deal fuels new locomotive museum
Three historic engines could get a new home next to OMSI site
For many years, the city has treated its three historic steam locomotives with benign neglect. All that is about to change, however, finally giving the public a chance to fully experience some of Portland's best-kept secrets.
The city obtained the locomotives in 1958 through a series of gifts. Built in 1905, 1938 and 1941, they are living reminders of the Golden Age of the nation's railroads, when massive steam-powered engines hauled passengers and freight across country.
Although the locomotives are owned by Portland Parks and Recreation, the city has hardly put any money into them during the past 35 years. Instead, they have been stored in a large sheet metal-clad building in Union Pacific's southeast Portland rail yard known as the Brooklyn Roundhouse. There, dedicated volunteers have restored two of the locomotives, which are occasionally brought out for holiday excursions and special events.
The 1905 locomotive is being restored.
The arrangement has allowed two locomotives to remain in operation, but has given Portlanders only limited opportunities to see and enjoy them. On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously adopted a plan to build a new, permanent maintenance and display facility just east of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. The first phase of the Enginehouse and Rail Heritage Center could be completed within a year.
'We're very excited to be moving into our new home where Portlanders can see the locomotives that have been hidden away for all these years,' says Doyle McCormick, who has worked on them for more than 30 years.
Remarkably, the city is still not being required to invest much money in the operation. The council merely needs to extend the terms of an existing $978,598 loan to the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to help maintain the locomotives.
The loan allows the foundation to buy the site adjacent to OMSI for the new facilities between Southwest Water Avenue and the newly rebuilt Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard Viaduct.
Courtesy of City of Portland • The city's three historic steam locomotives will be on full display in a museum being planned near OMSI, shown in this rendering.
The museum will be between the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail line and the eastside Portland Streetcar extension, offering visitors a chance to contrast the past, present and future of popular rail travel in this country.
The foundation is also raising funds for the construction of the facilities. It has already collected more than $2.8 million in pledges and payments.
Ground is scheduled to be broken on the project this fall, with the opening set for next May. The total cost is estimated to be more than $5 million.
'The support has been tremendous, both on the City Council and in the community. The romance of rail is still alive in Portland,' says Bill Failing, former owner of the KISN radio station, who serves on the fundraising committee.
The relocation is necessary because Union Pacific is planning to renovate its rail yards and needs the current storage building. But getting to this point has not been easy. Much of the land behind OMSI is owned by the city, TriMet and the state. The foundation had originally purchased a different site nearby. TriMet needed it for the Milwaukie MAX line, however.
The new site was assembled from city and state transportation rights of way.
'These historic locomotives were almost ready for the scrap yard when the city took ownership of them back in 1958. Thanks to the dedicationof volunteers they will soon be showcased in a new rail museum,' says Parks Commissioner Nick Fish, who sponsored one of the measures related to the project considered by the council. Mayor Sam Adams sponsored the other two.
To learn more about the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation and contribute to the project, visit its website at http://orhf.org/.
Nuts and bolts about Portland's trains
• Southern Pacific 4449
The only remaining operable 'Steamlined' locomotive of the art deco era, SP 4449 was built in 1941 and pulled the Coast Daylight train from Los Angeles to San Francisco until 1955.
It was retired in 1957 and donated to the city of Portland the next year for display at Oaks Amusement Park. It was removed from the park and rebuilt by the American Freedom Train Foundation to pull the Bicentennial Freedom Train throughout the country during 1975 and 1976, where it was seen by more than 30 million people.
Manufacturer: Lima Locomotive Works
Type: 4-8-4 GS-4 Northern
Dimensions: Approximately 110 feet long, 10 feet wide and 16 feet tall
Weight: 432 tons
Boiler pressure: 300 psi
Driver wheels: 80 inches diameter
Top speed: In excess of 100 mph
Information: Friends of SP 4449 Inc., P.O. Box 42486, Portland 97242
• Spokane, Portland and Seattle 700
One of the largest steam locomotives operable today, the SP and S 700 was built in 1938 and spent its entire life operating in the Columbia River Gorge to Pasco and Spokane, and connected Portland to Chicago with links to the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroads.
After being retired to Oaks Amusement Park, it was restored to operating condition by the all-volunteer Pacific Railroad Preservation Association.
Manufacturer: Baldwin Locomotive Works
Type: 4-8-4 Northern Pacific
Dimensions: Approximately 111 feet long, 10 feet wide and 17 feet tall
Weight: 440 tons
Boiler pressure: 260 psi
Drive wheels: 77 inches diameter
Top speed: In excess of 80 mph
Information: PRPA, P.O. Box 2851, Portland 97208-2851
• Oregon Railroad and Navigation 197
Built in 1905, the OR and N 197 served Portland commerce for more than 50 years before being retired to Oaks Amusement Park in 1958. It was moved to the Brooklyn Roundhouse in 1996, where it is undergoing a complete restoration by the all-volunteer Friends of the OR and N 197.
Manufacturer: Baldwin Locomotive Works
Type: 4-6-2 Pacific
Dimensions: Approximately 79 feet long
Weight: 200 tons
Boiler pressure: 200 psi
Drive wheels: 76 inches diameter
Information: FOR and N 197, c/o Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 42443, Portland 97242