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W. P. & Z. Rwy. Locomotive No. 1 - "OREGON"

The History of the "Oregon"

In the mid-1950s it was decided to relocate the Portland Zoo, and a train was very much part of the plan. As the project progressed, it turned out that there were more than one or two train buffs on the Zoo Commission that was formed by the City of Portland to study the zoo's future. The "kiddy" train eventually grew into the Portland Zoo Railway (renamed the Washington Park and Zoo Railway in 1978).

The type of train for the new zoo was decided by a vote of local school children. They wanted a "modern" diesel-powered streamliner. During this period, General Motors' Electro-Motive Division was touring the country with its "Aerotrain," touting it as the train to save the rail passenger business. This became the basis upon which the "Zooliner" was built. The Zooliner entered service June 9, 1958. Needless to say, many rail fans still thought a steam train was the only way to go. All they needed, it turns out, was a little bit of patience.

The Zooliner spawned expansions not dreamed of even with the larger zoo railway system. A proposal was made to expand the line to a station to be located near the International Rose Test Gardens. It was found, thanks to a survey crew from the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle Railway, that such a route could be built, but it would not be easy or cheap. Under the direction of zoo commissioner Ed Miller, who was also managing editor of The Oregonian, an all-out effort was launched to build such a line. Miller already had Jack Jones on his side. Jones was the general manager of the Northern Pacific Terminal Co., Portland's local switching railroad, and keeper of Union Station. Jones had the ear of all the railroads serving Portland and took full advantage on the zoo railway's behalf.

The year after the Zooliner entered service, 1959, was the year of two significant events in local history: It was the 100th year of Oregon's statehood, and it was the year that the new Portland Zoological Gardens officially opened. The zoo railway would be involved in both events.

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Organizers were already making plans for a big celebration called the Oregon Centennial Exposition and International Trade Fair, which would run for 100 days in the summer of 1959. The site chosen was the Pacific International Livestock Exposition grounds in North Portland. (This area is now known as the Multnomah County Exposition Center.) The Exposition was to include a Frontier Village, including a small train. Zoo railway supporters saw a great opportunity to raise money, and with the help of Gov. Mark Hatfield, they hooked up with the Oregon Association of Railroads to put a railroad together.

Miller and Jones enlisted other volunteers to determine what type of an operation could be put together for the Centennial. A local commercial artist, Mo Martindale, came up with the idea of a "Phantasy Train." It would resemble a cartoon circus train and, being a zoo train, it would not only carry people but live animals, too. The idea was presented in an issue of The Oregonian, complete with Martindale's conceptual drawing.

The patience of many steam buffs had worn thin. Among those who wrote to The Oregonian protesting the idea of a circus train in a frontier setting was a technician from Tektronix by the name of George Burton. Burton and others claimed that a frontier village should have a frontier style train - a steam train!

Like the original zoo railway plan itself, the Centennial railroad quickly became much larger than originally intended. Miller and Jones called Burton, who was known in local hobby circles as a very active "live steamer," and asked him if such a train could be built in time for the exposition slated to open in less than a year. Burton said yes, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Burton recruited the talents of three other gentlemen—Ron Wicke, Chet Wheeler and John Labbe—and together they formed the Oregon Locomotive Works. Burton also included Waldo Hirschberger, president of the H. Hirschberger Co. in Portland. (Hirschberger built the coach and locomotive bodies for the Zooliner and would build the coaches for the Centennial steam train.)

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Virginia & Truckee Railroad's 1872 Baldwin Locomotive, the "Reno"Building a replica of a steam locomotive was not a new idea to George Burton. For his own back yard, Burton had already begun building a 1-1/2" scale live steam model of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad's famed 1872 Baldwin 4-4-0 locomotive, the "Reno," which he planned to operate on a loop of track he had laid. To make his model as exact as possible, George visited the Southern Pacific Railroad's Sacramento, Calif., shops where a number of old V&T engines were stored. One of them was the Reno's sister, the "Genoa." The S.P. allowed him to crawl all over and under the Genoa gathering all sorts of data. However. When George returned home, he realized that a live steamer would be too dangerous for his two young sons to operate, so he shelved that project and began building a model of an EMD F-7, but not before the small Reno's tender was completed.

April 19, 1959 - "Oregon" under construction; L to R: Chet Wheeler, George Burton, Ron Wicke, and John LabbeBurton convinced the zoo railway magnates that their engine should also be a replica of the Reno. After all, the time period was only off by a few years. Burton modified his drawings to scale the engine to the zoo's 30-inch gauge system. This meant taking some liberties of scale so that a human could fit in the cab. Consequently, the boiler sits a little higher, and the domes and smokestack are all larger than scale to offset the oversized cab.

Though the locomotive appears to be a wood burner, it has been an oil burner all along. In fact, it is set up so that one person can fire and operate the engine, eliminating the need for a fireman.

George made all the drawings that were necessary for the locomotive. For the tender, he used his already built 1-1/2" scale model as the pattern for the zoo engine. Oregon Steel Foundry did most of the pattern and casting work. (George piggy-backed castings for his own Reno along with the zoo's stuff.)

Wheeler was the bookkeeper for the project, filing written reports each week to Miller on the progress of the construction. Not all of the progress reports were great, though. This was all being done on a shoestring budget, and the money was hard to come by. On occasion, the project was threatened with being stopped if cash or supplies didn't come through soon.

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Miller and Jones got help from anywhere they could. All the local railroads were involved in some way. The N.P. Terminal RR. Co. donated space in their Guilds Lake roundhouse to build the engine. Westinghouse Air Brake Co. donated the air compressor for the locomotive. Burton scrounged lubricators, air brake equipment, and a whistle. April 1959; "Oregon" nears completion in the "Guild's Lake" roundhouse.Chet Wheeler built the cowcatcher out of maple wood. Ron Wicke decorated the locomotive and tender with gold leaf. George's son Brian, then 12, laid the original brick lining the locomotive's firebox. [He was the only one small enough to fit through the fire door!] As the project continued, many others from around the community lent their hand in one form or another.

In the meantime, the H. Hirschberger Co. had the five coaches built and painted in the V&T's yellow and green paint scheme, with the cars lettered "Oregon Centennial Railway." They were delivered prior to the opening of the exposition, along with the Zooliner which was brought over from the zoo.

June 14, 1959: With George Burton at the throttle, "Oregon" backs out of her roundhouse stall for the first time under her own steam.Weyerhaeuser built and donated a fire train to the Centennial railway that consisted of a 1929 four-wheeled, gas-powered Baldwin locomotive, a water tank car complete with pump, hose and ladders, and a maintenance-of-way type caboose. For the first 10 days of the exposition, the fire train pulled the steam train cars.

The steam engine was completed and delivered on June 19, 1959. It entered revenue service the very next day. From the inception of the idea to the finished product, the train took little more than nine months to build. The locomotive has 9" by 12" cylinders, 30" diameter driving wheels, and operates at a maximum steam pressure of 170 psi. The tender carries 150 gallons of fuel oil and 400 gallons of water. Oregon Locomotive Works No. 1 was the only locomotive ever built by this group.

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It was George Burton who decided to give the steamer "No. 1." He also named it the "Oregon," since it was built in honor of the state's centennial.

The brand new "Oregon" makes her debut at the Oregon Centennial Exposition in 1959.Since the zoo was slated to open in July of 1959, and the Zooliner was also part of the Centennial railroad, the construction train locomotive was redecorated and joined with some cars built on old lumber-mill flat cars from Weyerhaeuser, and the "Phantasy Train" appeared at the zoo as the "Casey Circus Train."

After the centennial exposition closed, the trains were all brought to the zoo. The water tank, built and donated by Simpson Lumber, was moved to the zoo station, where it remains in service today. The centennial station, designed by Martindale, is now the Washington Park Station.

Originally the Zooliner was the only train to run to Washington Park when that line opened in May of 1960. The steam train ran only around the "Zoo Loop." But it soon became apparent that the new line through Portland's West Hills needed more than the capacity of one train, and a siding was installed so the steam train could also make the trip. The fifth car was dropped, since the engine was being asked to pull 4 percent grades.

Summer 2000: The "Oregon" and the "Zooliner" on the Washington Park Line, at "Siding 2." The photo is unusual because both locomotives are facing uphill, a rare occurrence in the course of normal zoo railway operations.The Washington Park line was expanded to include more sidings and the original planned Zoo Loop was also completed. The zoo railway now offered a magnificent four mile, 35-minute round trip over hills, through trees and around the new zoo. On each run, the steam locomotive uses about 80 to 100 gallons of water and 10 gallons of fuel oil.

Over 50 years of service, the constant pounding of the steep grades has taken its toll on the steam locomotive. The engine was originally built to a maximum weight of eight tons. In order to achieve this, the frame was made from steel channel welded into boxes. That was fine for the flat centennial line and the modest grades of the Zoo Loop, but not the Washington Park line. The frame broke several times over the years, and by 1982 was no longer repairable. Doyle McCormack, of S.P. 4449 fame was contracted to build a new one. Using the old frame as a pattern, McCormack had a new one cut out of solid steel. It did add weight to the locomotive, but the frame doesn't break anymore!

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Over the years, there have been other modifications, but the basic appearance is the same as it was in 1959. The original wood cowcatcher met an unfortunate fate several years ago, but the boiler-tube-type pilot on the locomotive now allows it to have an automatic coupler on the front, making towing much easier. In 1993, Ken Lauderback made a new six-chime whistle for the train that gives it a "big railroad" sound. During down-time caused by storm damage in 1996, the tender was repainted and Jeff Honeyman redecorated it in the original Ron Wicke pattern with gold leaf. In 2000, the locomotive had quite a major overhaul. New steel tires were shrunk onto the driving wheels, and new rod bearings and axle bearings were made in the zoo railroad shop and installed on the locomotive. Ken also made the brass flagholders that mount on the headlight board and the brass handrail below the headlight, both of which adorned the original Reno, but which had hitherto not been installed on our locomotive. Terri Dill-Simpson, zoo security supervisor, generously volunteered her time and repainted the side panels of the headlight in the original scheme, with beautiful scenes of Crater Lake on one side and Mount Hood on the other. A local artist, Jere Harley, donated his time to help complete the decoration project by adding the goldleaf striping to the headlight, outlining and highlighting the gold striping on the tender, and painting two great Oregon scenes on the name boards that adorn the sides of the locomotive cab.

This photo, taken in the fall of 2000, shows "Number One", the "Oregon", much as she appears today.

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In the summer of 2002, the railway was informed by the state boiler inspector that the locomotive would need to have some very intensive boiler inspection and testing performed if we wished to have our boiler permit renewed. Accordingly, beginning in October, the external sheet-metal boiler jacket was removed, and the original boiler "lagging" (or insulation) was professionally disposed of. A section of steel plate was cut from the boiler shell and sent out for structural testing and analysis of the metal composition. These tests proved satisfactory, so the hole thus created in the boiler was patched, and a hydrostatic test of the boiler was performed. In this test, the boiler is filled to the brim with water, which is then pumped up to a pressure equal to one and a half times the expected steam pressure of the boiler. This test too was passed and our Oregon state boiler permit was renewed.

Reassembly of the locomotive was then begun. The boiler shell was covered with new, non-hazardous lagging, and a new sheet-metal boiler jacket was made and installed. The boiler jacket was then painted.

By this time, it was necessary to begin operating trains for the 2003 season, so work on the steamer was discontinued, with the expectation that repairs would continue late in the fall. However, when that time came, it became apparent that budget constraints would not allow reassembly of the locomotive just yet.

In the spring of 2004, the railway received a generous donation from Ben Harris, a long-time zoo railway stationmaster. Ben loves the steam train and his gift provided the necessary funding to put the locomotive back into operation. Beginning on Feb. 14, railway staff worked diligently to reassemble the locomotive, also making several additional repairs that had been needed for some time, including new electrical wiring and a new roof for the locomotive cab.

On April 2, 2004, all the hard work was rewarded when the steamer made its first test trips to Washington Park Station. It had been out of service for 550 days.

At 50 years of age, there is still work that needs to be done to the old steamer, but in spite of that it continues to toil tirelessly to the delight of everyone who visits the Washington Park and Zoo Railway.

As a postscript, George Burton finally did finish his 1-1/2" scale Reno in 1972. At first glance, it looks identical to the zoo engine. He ran it only twice. After his death in 1991, the family loaned the model to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City for refurbishing and display.

The "Oregon", April 2, 2004.

 

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