Images of Rail Willamette Valley Railways by Richard Thompson Soft Cover 2008
Images of Rail Willamette Valley Railways by Richard Thompson Soft Cover 2008
Images of Rail Willamette Valley Railways by Richard Thompson Soft Cover 2008
Images of Rail Willamette Valley Railways by Richard Thompson Soft Cover 2008
Images of Rail Willamette Valley Railways by Richard Thompson Soft Cover 2008

Images of Rail Willamette Valley Railways by Richard Thompson Soft Cover 2008

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Images of Rail Willamette Valley Railways by Richard Thompson Soft Cover 2008
 
Images of Rail Willamette Valley Railways by Richard Thompson Soft Cover 2008 127 Pages
The Cascade Mountains divide Oregon into two regions: high desert to the east and the Willamette Valley and Pacific Coast to the west. The agricultural heart of the state resides in the valley, as do most of its citizens. It was in this region, 150 miles long and up to 60 miles wide, that electric railways reigned from the last decade of the 19th century until the Great Depression.
Oregon joined the rest of the country in a frenzy of interurban electric railroad building. Three new systems, the Oregon Electric (1908), United Railways (1911), and an electrified Southern Pacific (1914), followed in the footsteps of the Portland Railway, Light, and Power Company (PRL&P), whose predecessors had completed the nation's first true interurban line in 1893. Latecomer Willamette Valley Southern joined the fray in 1915 with a predominantly freight line far to the east of its rivals. All but a few of the 432 miles of interurban railway these companies built were concentrated in the Willamette Valley.
The Oregon Electric (OE) and Southern Pacific (SP) built competing lines down the valley from Portland. Trains on the OE's "Willamette Valley Route" climbed the forested slopes surrounding Portland and then sped south through farmland surrounding Salem and Albany on their way to Eugene.
The Southern Pacific Red Electrics ran south from Portland along two routes that joined before reaching the terminus at Corvallis. The West Side Line passed through Beaverton, Hillsboro, and Forest Grove, while the East Side Line traveled via Cook, Newberg, and Saint Joseph.
Relating the attributes of the Oregon Electric and Southern Pacific railways is a bit like comparing apples to oranges. At 122 miles, the OE line between Portland and Eugene was the longest, inspiring the unprecedented convenience of overnight sleeping coaches. Their parlor cars provided reliable, elegant transportation that was second to none.
The Southern Pacific, one of the few electric railroads to use all steel rolling stock, countered with the most modern interurbans in the Northwest. Their 88-mile main line to Corvallis utilized one of the largest 1,500-volt systems in America. As part of a growing network, the SP also managed city streetcar systems in Salem, Albany, Eugene, and West Linn. These systems varied in size from 1 mile to over 35.
The individual characteristics of the five railway companies differed in various ways, but they can all be described as having provided electric interurban passenger and freight service. A real interurban was run according to standard railroad procedure with a mix of regularly scheduled passenger and freight trains, and the interchange of mainline railroad freight. Well-ballasted tracks on private rights-of-way were built to heavy railroad standards, as were the large railroad-style coaches that plied them. A variety of trains and work equipment was dispatched over interurban roads, ranging from crack expresses, to workaday freight trains pulled by electric locomotives. They often passed well-tended stations whose picturesque architecture resembled a family home more than a part of the transportation infrastructure.
Like interurbans elsewhere, most electric railways in Oregon enjoyed a brief lifetime. Their coming had been heralded with speeches and fanfare, yet abandonment occurred with scarcely a comment. During the 1920s, highway improvement and the growth of automobile ownership led to decreasing ridership. Passenger service was dropped on all but two of Oregon's interurban railways. The Oregon Electric soldiered on until 1933, and then there was one.
Oregon's first interurban would also be its last. PRL&P's successor, the Portland Traction Company, operated lines to Oregon City and Bell Rose until 1958, by which time they had provided passenger service longer than any other electric railway in America. Their last interurbans had come to resemble the streetcars that plied city streets in both appearance and operation.
Today electric ghosts haunt the rails of systems whose lives were cut short. Only a few crumbling substations and passenger stations converted into restaurants remain as vestiges of Oregon's interurban past. The musical wail of brass air horns and the thump-thump-thump of air compressors are heard only in museums. It is left for historic images like those in this book to provide a sense of what it was like to travel through the beautiful Willamette Valley during the interurban age and to help define the electric railway experience for new generations.

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