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A Journey Aboard the Mount Hood Railroad in Oregon
When the impenetrable misty white and gray blanket of the sky that draped the silver Columbia River parted to reveal a glorious blue, the daily excursion train from Hood River to Odell, operated by the Mount Hood Railroad, began accepting passengers from its historic depot. .
The Oregon and Washington Railroad and Navigation Company (OWR & NC) Craftsman-style railroad depot itself, built in 1911 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, replaced the original 1882 Queen Anne-style building and facilitated growth of the city. thriving fruit, wood, and tourist industries. The 120-passenger waiting room, considerably larger than most contemporary public facilities, had a men’s smoking room and both women’s and men’s toilets. Since 1987, it has served as the headquarters of the Mount Hood Railroad.
Pulled by the dark red, yellow, and turquoise-painted diesel-electric engine #02, today’s train complement included open-air car 1056 named “Lookout Mountain”, snack car 1080, passenger car 1070 “Katharine”, and vehicle 1040.
An initial jolt, signaling car coupling tension, preceded the train’s almost imperceptible rearward slide from the Hood River station as it ascended the shallowly inclined track past the dining car rolling stock and over the black, forged Hood River bearing. bridge The river, once the site of the Lewis and Clark expedition, appeared a dark green stream of life, whose white-exploding rock divisions, characteristic of life’s own necessary detours and the protests of a person as a result of them, were sunlit.
Penetrating denser vegetation, the track paralleled the river whose small rapids metamorphosed the water into a turbulent white fury. The Mt. Hood National Forest formed the density in the distance.
It is from this forest, in essence, that the Mount Hood Railroad emanated. The Lost Lake Lumber Company, whose Columbia and Hood River location initially provided a significant economic and employment contribution to the Hood River community, began to decline as log transfer from the forest to the actual sawmill became increasingly difficult, and an eventual sale of it seemed the only profitable way out. Utah logger David Eccles, who bought the failed concern, advocated the construction of a dam that would have facilitated timber transportation by log rafting, but three local businessmen thwarted the effort by quickly obtaining a 99-year lease on the. targeted site and announced construction of its own 35-foot, power-generating facility.
Eccles, who also used short-line logging railroads to deliver lumber to his other sawmills, avoided the backlash by moving the mill 16 miles upriver and laying a track to connect the two sites by rail.
Construction of an eastbound route that would channel the untreated railroad through area fruit orchards would ensure its viability as both a passenger and freight line, and the 150-strong workforce, living in six, strategically-positioned camps, drove the initial interest. in April of 1905. Seven months later, in November, the first locomotive traveled to the Hood River Bridge, and by February of the following year, the Japanese tram crew extended the line to Odell, destination of today’s excursion train, 8.5 miles from its origin. Dee, site of the new sawmill, was reached a month later, although the final 22-mile stretch to Parkdale, gateway to Mt. Hood, was only opened to the public in 1910.
The current diesel-electric engine was the ultimate in design technology to have lined these rails, the first two locomotives were 37-year-old, Union Pacific-acquired Baldwin Consolidation 2-8-0 units that were retired in 1916 and 1917, respectively, and were intermittently replaced by two similarly used power plants until the first recently acquired Baldwin 2-8-2 arrived.
Reducing speed and continuing to move in a backward direction, the Mount Hood train operating the May 2008 run approached the two-track switch that would finally allow it to pull its meager chain of cars in a forward direction. One of only five remaining American switches, it originated as a turntable. As the early steam engines had to trail their steam emissions behind them over their cab boxes and therefore always had to pull their cars in a forward direction, the turntable facilitated this earlier technology until the 1950s diesel engine replacements obviated their need. The original, 13-car switch was expanded to include 18 cars with the Union Pacific’s 1968 acquisition of the railroad.
Returning to the single spur, and clearing the “fork” switch, engine 02, now ready to begin its climb in a forward, car-pulling direction, resumed movement, penetrating the dense lodgepole of the Hood River Valley. Approaching Highway 35, the train followed the 14-degree curved track, the sharpest of the line, crossing the wooden trestle and paralleling Whiskey Creek, once the site of applejack production. Moving in a southerly direction, it ate a considerably steep gradient.
The concession car, featuring an arched ceiling with period lighting fixtures; old fashioned, wallpaper decorated wooden side walls; brass lamps; and two- and four-seat wooden tables, exposed a central snack bar and counter. My purchased continental breakfast at 10:00 a.m. included warm cinnamon rolls dipped in vanilla frosting and cranberry juice.
During the ten-year period between 1906 and 1916, the current tracks supported intermodel service when conventional railcars were connected to a White-designed railbus whose original wheels and tires were retrofitted with flanged steel units to accept the rails. After the acquisition of a second, recently purchased tourist vehicle, the railroad operated four daily round trips between Hood River and Parkdale. The successful, 30-passenger Mack jitney, with a padded, Pullman-like interior, provided 13 years of service until its 1935 fire destruction at Summit Station. An extensive renovation eventually earned it a place on the National Historic Register.
Threading through peach and cherry orchards, the current four-car train passed carpeted hills, the bases of which were woven with brown and green carpets proudly guarded on either side by tall, dark green needle-pointed sentinels. Periodically piercing the late morning with its metallic, hair whistle, the vintage train rumbled through the town of Pine Grove, now 5.6 miles from Hood River at an elevation of 608 feet, wobbling and rumbling on its longitudinal axis. The sky, barely marred by a few puffs of cotton, turned into an intense blue.
The smooth, inverted, bowl-shaped Van Horn Butte, beyond Pine Grove, was one of the small volcanic vents from which lava flowed to form Mount Hood, forcing the Columbia River to move to its current more northerly location in the Hood. River valley Mount Hood himself, wearing his silky, sparkling white shawl of snow, loomed before the locomotive.
Views from the dome of the caboose that tracked the three passenger cars revealed their locomotive-like, springy reactions, as if they consisted of a long, iron tail, piercing the sometimes thick pine and orchard on the single track in the right direction. the snow-capped mountain silhouette. The air, though crystal clear, gave off the aroma of distant burning firewood. New Creek, which was used to operate the first sawmill of the Hood River Valley and served in that capacity for a quarter of a century, passed under the track. Mohr, 6.8 miles from Hood River, was named after the family that planted the area’s first orchard.
Following the single track, which has now multiplied into three, the Mount Hood train crept into Lentz Station, which was originally called the “Sherman Spur”, and disconnected its diesel engine. Moving past the now stationary cars on the sideline, it reattached behind the caboose. Thus configured, it would push the train the final mile to Odell, its destination.
Pushed gently forward, the dark green wagons stepped almost imperceptibly over the silver rails supported horizontally by the dry, wooden beams, passing the track switch and reintegrating on the single spur. Resuming speed, the train rumbled past the wood-scented lumber yard in the crystalline, pine-laced Pacific Northwest air toward the many-shaded green carpet covering the mountains ahead and Odell, the end of today’s run and once almost the end of the track. of the line.
When the Diamond Fruit Growers centralized their operation in Odell, eliminating the Dee-to-Parkdale stretch of track, the Union Pacific Railroad estimated that it could reap a $150,000 profit in exchange for its molten steel, a decision consistent with its 1986-1987 strategy of divesting 87 of its feeder line railways. But Hood River County saw the move as nothing but a loss because of the railroad’s inability to continue making its economic contribution.
A newly created railroad company, the Mount Hood Railroad, was touted as the successor to the Union Pacific and shares were purchased by the fruit and lumber companies lining its route, who had significant interests in its continued operation. A bus transfer from Parkdale, its terminus, also facilitated passenger travel to Timberline Lodge, a National Historic Landmark, thus enabling the railroad to connect two of Oregon’s most important attractions: Mount Hood and the Columbia Gorge.
The Union Pacific acquisition, however, carried one condition with it: the local Hood River Group, eager to retain service at the end of the line from Dee to Parkdale, would either have to buy the entire 22-mile track from Hood River or lose. the opportunity to retain the economic contribution of the railway to the valley.
After significant effort, agreement and capital, the purchase transaction was completed on November 2, 1947, and the Mount Hood Railroad, the very concern I ride on today, was born. Spinning its wheels with ever-diminishing power, engine 02 pushed its short, historic passenger bus chain into Odell parallel to the concrete strip serving as its platform at 11:15 am, now 8.5 miles from its origin at 712-foot elevation, and screeched its brakes. just yards before the main road-inserted track.
Named after William S. Odell, who settled here in 1861 after traveling from California, the current, one-street town, featuring a small supermarket, church, and gas station, initially served as a meeting place for Native Americans and later had been used as a Hudson’s Bay Company -trail between the Dalles and Ft. Vancouver.
Descending the three steps from car 1070 to street level, I looked back at the short train of open and enclosed cars and vehicles that had transported me from the Columbia River today and somehow knew that the trip represented his more than a century of geographical travel and railroad developments. The tracks, having been operated by the Oregon and Washington Railroad and Navigation Company, the Union Pacific Railroad, and the current Mount Hood Railroad, transported wood, freight, passengers, and tourists. The line was short, but its history was long. Like life, it will continue as long as a purpose is found for it. Unlike life, it could determine what that goal was.
Walking from the platform to the small town of Odell, above whose surrounding pine trees towered the majestic, snow-capped peak of Mount Hood, I disappeared into the train-deposited crowd.
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