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'Brooklyn Diner' discovered during demolition

RAILCAR FOUND


by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Looking at whats left of the inside, its clear that this will never again be a rolling railcar.In the beginning, the process of demolishing a small, ordinary-looking, green one-story building that recently housed a historic photo reproduction studio in Brooklyn seemed like nothing special.

TriMet had purchased property last summer for $531,000, and started clearing the lot to begin construction of a power substation for the Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project.

But, as workers started peeling off siding and plasterboard, they discovered buried in the walls a vintage rail car, made oak and with mahogany trim, TriMet Real Property Specialist Nick Stewart told THE BEE at the site on March 27.

“We invited people from the Oregon Rail Heritage Center,” Stewart said. “Their representatives made a list of items they’d like to have. There's an etched glass window, some fixtures, metal plates – things that are difficult to reproduce or find.”

A faded, but still legible, “car number” above one of the doors gave rail historians the key they needed to look up this rail car’s history.

“It was a Central Pacific passenger rail car,” Stewart said.

The Central Pacific line was part of the “First Transcontinental Railroad” system, but their right-of-way was leased to Southern Pacific in the late 1800s until formally merged into Southern Pacific in 1959.

“The car was built of wood, between 1895 in 1899. It would’ve traveled between Salt Lake City and Portland – and probably carried riders for many thousand miles.”

The clickety-clack ride over the uneven rails took a toll on wooden-built railroad passenger cars, shortening their lives. And, with the advent of new metallic “fireproof” coaches, it wasn’t long until wooden cars were retired.

“It probably rolled into the Brooklyn Yard on its wheels,” Stewart commented. “From there, it was likely trucked the short distance to this site, where it became the ‘Brooklyn Diner’.”

Up through the 1970s, the Brooklyn Diner served cheeseburgers, gravy fries, milkshakes – and, some say, even pizza – to hungry railroad workers, and employees of the Portland Railway Co. (later to become TriMet).

“Their trolley barn was right across the street from the diner,” Stewart pointed out. “It’s where the TriMet bus barn is now.”

After it served its last “Blue Plate Special” the building was remodeled into an appliance repair shop. “Everyone who purchased the property did something to the building; expanding it. Eventually, this railcar was all covered in sheet rock and siding.”

Once the news got out, Stewart mentioned, many former diners came back to take a final look. “A lot of people come up to me and said, ‘I remember eating breakfast there when I was 16 years old.’ I guess nobody expected that the railcar was still ‘inside the building’.”

Although the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation volunteers were able to salvage some items, the century-old railcar was close to disintegrating; it has since been removed. “It'll probably come apart and three large chunks,” Stewart speculated. “Then it will be taken by our contractor to their yard, to be stored while we figure out what the next steps are for it.”