Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation and Museum
As part of their goal to preserve the City of Portland’s historic steam engines, The Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation opened up a new museum in the South East Industrial district near OMSI last summer. The museum is open Thursday through Sunday 1PM to 5PM and is located at 2250 SE Water Avenue, Portland Oregon.
The Foundation built the new multi-million dollar building specifically to house three steam engines owned by the City of Portland and stored in less then ideal conditions at Oaks Park for decades. These three engines all came into the Cities possession through various means, all are steam locomotives and all have very rich histories.
The first of these engines, OR&N #197 was built in 1905 and for the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company, which would have put it in town at the same time as the Lewis and Clark Exposition. I am not able to find information as to which portion of the railroad it actually worked though. At the time the OR&N extended along the Columbia River all the way to La Grande and had several branch line to serve specific towns.
The engine was retired in the 1950’s, donated to the City of Portland and put on display near Oak’s Park. It was the last of the three to move from that location on February 10th, 1996 to the Union Pacific’s Brooklyn Roundhouse where it rejoined the other two locomotives. The pending destruction of the old Brooklyn Roundhouse prompted the building of the modern storage building and museum that all three locomotives now sit in.
Just behind OR&N #197 is SP&S #700. Of the three, I’ve been able to ride this one for a special trip it took back in 2009 along rails in SE Portland by Oak’s Park. Built in 1937, the #700 and her three sisters were delivered to the Spokane Portland & Seattle Railway in 1938. It ran the line between Portland and Spokane, pulling the famous “Empire Builder” from Chicago. It ran this line until 1953 when it was replaced by a newer diesel engine, but continued to pull freight for another two years. Originally meant to be scrapped, it instead was donated to the City of Portland in 1958 and found it’s way to a home at Oak’s Park. It’s been extensively restored and worked on since 1985, and like the 197, moved to the Brooklyn Roundhouse before coming to the new location. In addition, the SP&S #700 is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s item number 05001557 if you wish to search the NPS website.
The third, and in my opinion best, of these significant machines is the SP #4449. Put into operation in 1941 and retired 1954 the engine has a very streamlined “Art Deco” design. It hauled passengers in California for the Southern Pacific Railroad. After retirement it too was donated to the City of Portland and then stored at Oak’s Park. It was heavily vandalized while stored there, but in 1974 it was chosen to be an engine for the American Freedom Train. This led to the full restoration of the engine and a second career visiting every single State as it pulled the mobile display.
The foundation also has several other pieces, including several other engines, and a lot of rolling stock that had also been sitting neglected for decades.