Oregon Portage Railroad

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Oregon Portage Railroad
Oregon Portage Railroad.jpg
LocaleSouth bank of the Cascades canal near the Columbia River, from near Bonneville Dam and Tanner Creek to Cascade Locks
Dates of operation1858–1896
Track gauge3 ft (914 mm)[1]
Previous gauge5 ft (1,524 mm)[1]
Length4.5 mi (7.2 km)
Later extended to 15 mi (24 km)

The Oregon Portage Railroad was the first railroad in the U.S. state of Oregon.[2] It originally ran for 4.5 miles (7.2 km), with an accompanying 7 miles (11 km) of telegraph line,[3][4] and was later extended to a length of 15 miles (24 km).[5] The railroad was located on the south bank of the Cascades canal of the Columbia River.[6] It ran from Tanner Creek (near where Bonneville Dam was later built) to the Cascade Locks, which were under construction in the later years of the railroad's operation.[7][8][9] Although the Oregon Portage was the first railroad in Oregon, it was not the first along the Columbia River. Francis A. Chenoweth operated a rail line on the river's north bank in present-day Washington in 1851.[10][11]


In 1861, John W. Brazee of the Oregon Portage Company started to build a 5 ft (1,524 mm) broad gauge railroad out of a mule-and-wagon road that had been constructed by Col. Joseph S. Ruckle and Harrison Olmstead in 1856 but had been out of service since around 1858. Brazee's conversion of the road cost $50,000 USD (equivalent to $1,394,259 in 2018), and the line opened on 20 May 1861, still relying on mule power.[5][9][12] After one more year, the portage company acquired the Oregon Pony, which became the first locomotive in the Pacific Northwest,[1][13] debuting for the railroad on 10 May 1862.[14]

The Oregon Portage Railroad was operated by the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, which sold the railroad for $155,000 around the year 1880 (equivalent to $4,024,121 in 2018) as part of the company's sale to the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company.[1][7]

Restoration of the railroad in 1891, including a conversion to the 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge, was a result of demands from steamboat captains and delays in the construction of the Cascades Locks and Canal. Steamboat captains had voiced concerns because they needed to transport goods and passengers past the Cascades Rapids and were disappointed with the quality of the Cascades Railroad.[1][13] Once the locks were completed in 1896, however, demand for the Oregon Portage Railroad decreased.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Hilton, George W. (1997) [1990]. American Narrow Gauge Railroads. Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. p. 481. ISBN 0-8047-1731-1.
  2. ^ Federal Writers' Project (1940). Oregon, End of the Trail. American Guide Series. US History Publishers. p. 71. ISBN 1-60354-036-9.
  3. ^ Topinka, Lyn. "Railroads, Trains and Tracks, etc". The Columbia River: A Photographic Journey. Retrieved 19 May 2016.
  4. ^ Tucker, Kathy. "Oregon Pony". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Portland State University. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  5. ^ a b Potter, Miles F. (1976). Oregon's Golden Years. Caldwell, Idaho: The Caxton Printers. pp. 49–50. ISBN 0-87004-254-8.
  6. ^ Winther, Oscar Osburn (1969). The Old Oregon Country. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press. p. 294. ISBN 0-8032-5218-8.
  7. ^ a b Laubaugh, Glenn. McCoy, Ron, ed. "The Oregon Steam Navigation Company and its Related Portage Tramways". National Railway Historical Society, Pacific Northwest Chapter. Retrieved 11 January 2011.
  8. ^ Strack, Don (13 December 2009). "Oregon Steam Navigation Co. (OSN): the Oregon Ponies". UtahRails.Net. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  9. ^ a b "Oregon History: Emerging Economies". Oregon Blue Book. Oregon State Archives. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  10. ^ Abdill, George A. (1958). This Was Railroading. Seattle, WA: Superior Publishing Company. p. 11. ASIN B003W03I4U.
  11. ^ Terry, John (27 May 2007). "A Little Engine That Couldn't Beat Time". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon.
  12. ^ Gill, Frank B. (September 1924). "Oregon's First Railway". Oregon Historical Quarterly. Oregon Historical Society. 25 (3): 171–235. JSTOR 20610279.
  13. ^ a b Strack, Don (13 December 2009). "Oregon Steam Navigation Co. (OSN): Lower Portage (the Cascades)". UtahRails.Net. Retrieved 12 January 2011.
  14. ^ Sullivan, Ann (7 December 1987). "Tiny Steam Engine Tugs at Old Memories". The Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. p. D15. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  15. ^ Barber, Katrine. "Celilo Falls". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Portland State University. Retrieved 14 January 2011.

Coordinates: 45°39′03″N 121°54′45″W / 45.6507°N 121.9126°W / 45.6507; -121.9126