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Portland Railroad and Terminal Division of Portland Traction Company


Portland Railroad and Terminal Division
of Portland Traction Company

The Rise and Fall of the Portland Traction Company,
and the state of the railroad in 1981

Text and photos (taken August 1981) by Craig Bass

Disclaimer:  This is NOT an official PTC or EPTC web site.

The Trolley Boom

The place is Portland Oregon.  The year is 1891.  The city is laced with the tracks of no fewer than six transportation companies, and their wooden cars patrol the streets, competing for the paying passenger.   In May, many of these narrow-gauge trolley systems merged, and the East Side Railway was born.

As the city became firmly established as a trade center in the Pacific Northwest, the desirability of a rail link with Oregon City, some ten miles south along the Willamette River, was realized.  What became popularly known as this nation's first true electric railroad came into being when rails were laid into Oregon City in 1893.

Map of the Portland Traction Company as it existed in 1981
Portland Traction Company in August, 1981 (Map by Craig Bass)

Before the line had a chance to become profitable, the economy faltered and the railroad passed into receivership later that same year.  This was the beginning of many repeat performances in the history of the Portland Traction Company.  In 1901, the line was sold and reorganized as the Portland City and Oregon Railway Company, this name lasting just over one year. 

In 1902 it became the Oregon Water Power and Railway Company, and property was purchased at Faraday and Cazadero on the Clackamas River for the purpose of constructing power-generating dams to serve the electrical needs of both the railway and the city of Portland.

By this time, the railroad had many trolley lines serving southeast Portland, and in 1903 trains began service to Gresham on newly completed non-electrified trackage extending from the end of the Mount Scott line at Lents.  The first trains on this line were pulled by steam dummies, soon replaced by more powerful 4-4-0 locomotives.  A steam dummy was a locomotive shrouded within what appeared from the outside to be a wooden trolley car.  The car body hid the side rod mechanism from plain view.  The purpose of this disguise was said to avoid spooking horses, who were not used to the movement of a steam locomotive's side rods.

A new, more southerly route was established in 1904.  This line branched eastward from the Oregon City track at Golf Junction, site of the Sellwood car barn, and followed Johnson Creek east and north to Lents.  The next year saw rails being laid north from Gresham to Troutdale on the Columbia River.  Plans were made to cross the river and enter Washington, but they were never carried out.

In keeping with its "roller-coaster" ownership history, the railroad again changed hands.  It came under the control of Portland General Electric and was now operated as the Portland Railroad Company.  In 1908, with the new Cazadero Dam coming on line, the remaining independent trolley companies serving Portland merged with Portland Railroad Company, and the system became the Portland Railway, Light and Power Company.

In 1911, it again became necessary to increase Portland's supply of electricity.  The Portland Railway, Light and Power Company purchased more riverfront property farther up the Clackamas River at Three Lynx for another dam.  To reach this remote location it was necessary to construct a railroad up the deep, narrow river canyon.  As part of the right-of-way purchase agreement, the railroad logged and hauled timber from the area to a dump on the Willamette River just south of Portland.  At first, electric " steeple cab" motors were pressed into logging service, but as the tracks moved deeper into the woods four two-truck Shays were purchased for this purpose.  The Shays brought the logs from the railhead to Estacada, and the steeple cabs took over for the trip to Portland.


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