The age of steam is an age of romance. It is perhaps the last time when transportation considered beauty as well as functionality. To me, a steam locomotive is a perfect mixture of masculine and feminine, yin and yang. It is a thing of tremendous power, huge pieces of steel operating together to create the power necessary to haul hundreds of people, or thousands of tons of goods across some of the most spectacular scenery of this country. But all of those pieces of steel create a magical movement that seems as soft as the metal is hard.
When the age of steam was coming to and end in the 1950s, five locomotives were donated to the City of Portland, three of which remain. Plans to build a museum have taken over 60 years to come to fruition, but last week that dream finally came true when the Oregon Rail Heritage Center opened its doors to visitors who can now look over the two fully restored and one locomotive in the middle of restoration and provide the volunteers who do the work with a clean and comfortable place to keep these beauties alive.
The restoration of Southern Pacific 4449 started in 1974 and pulled the Bicentennial American Freedom Train in 1976.
Then Spokane Portland & Seattle’s 700 locomotive had its turn and is the second largest locomotive that still is operational in the US.
Oregon Railroad & Navigation locomotive 197 has recently had a new cab put on, but still has a long way to go before she too will regain a full head of steam.
The Oregon Rail Heritage Center is located at 2250 SE Water Avenue.
Photos and text by Brian Bailey and Jesse Allen