Portland steam organization begins raising funds for turntable installation

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation has launched a fundraising campaign to pay for the installation of a turntable at its museum and locomotive home in Portland.

The 102-foot-long turntable itself is an historic artifact, having been manufactured in 1924 by American Bridge Co., likely in Coos Bay, Ore., where it had a plant. For years the turntable operated in Southern Pacific’s and then Union Pacific’s Brooklyn Yard in Portland. When UP reconfigured the yard as an intermodal terminal, it tore down a roundhouse (in September 2012) where three steam locomotives owned by the city of Portland were stored and maintained.

The locomotives were moved to the new Oregon Rail Heritage Center, allowing the public to see the locomotives up close. UP also donated the turntable.

Greg Fitzgerald, the foundation’s executive director, says the turntable will serve a practical purpose. While on display or being worked on, locomotives face south; the main line, however, runs north, so getting the locomotive facing the right direction requires backing to a wye in North Portland a few miles away, a cumbersome and expensive process. The turntable can also be used for moving cars on and off display and repair tracks.

The turntable will be installed south of the front entrance and line up with the track through the center. The foundation has the turntable’s components, including track, pivot brings, the harp (the structure that goes over the top of the turntable and what it’s carrying), electrical pieces and the bridge itself. It also has the original motors, although those will be replaced with more efficient, reduced-horsepower motors.

“We don’t need to move it that fast,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s way overpowered.”

Construction will also require the driving of 50 steel piers. Because the center sits on a former sawmill site, and the soil includes decaying sawdust, 86 steel piers had to be installed to provide a base for the building.

The estimated cost of the project is $1.8 million. The foundation is looking to raise $400,000. It has received a $500,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, with $250,000 of that up front, and $250,000 when the foundation raises $500,000 to match.

Fitzgerald said the foundation is now working with the city on permits, which should take another 12 to 14 weeks. Construction will take eight to nine months.

The main attractions of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center are the three locomotives: Southern Pacific 4-8-4 No. 4449; Spokane, Portland & Seattle 4-8-4 No. 700, and the Oregon Railway & Navigation 4-6-2 No. 197 (still undergoing restoration work). But Fitzgerald believes the turntable too will draw visitors.

“It’s a tremendous attraction,” he says. “This is going to be one of only a few turntables in the west that are open to the public. We might even offer rides in cars on the turntable.”

More information is available online. 

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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