Living with a junior conductor or two? Bring your little trainiacs to The Oregon Rail Heritage Center to really give them a thrill. The Center houses three steam locomotives and one railcar on its two tracks, which your kiddos can get up close and personal with (read: a great winter break activity).
The Little 503(c) That Could
Located at the intersection of light rail, heavy rail and the new eastside streetcar, the ORHC brings to life a vision many years in the making, a home for its three historic steam trains that were donated to the citizens of Bridgetown in 1958. Previous efforts faltered and failed but last year – with many years of involved fundraising by the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation – victory was theirs (or ours, depending how you look at it). Over $5 million tender has been raised to date, closing in on their almost $6 million goal. Cinders and ashes, that’s a lot of pistons!
Clatter and Clack
The ORHC’s guides and historians eagerly keep the lure and lore of trains alive. The site’s location and design are a testament to that; it’s in train mecca – take a streetcar to get there, watch and listen to the Union Pacific and Oregon Pacific trains chuff along SE Water Street and the Springwater Corridor, and soon (in 2015) the Portland Milwaukie Max train will roll by right beside its front doors. Some of the rail cars used for the Holiday Express and other excursions are on display, gleaming outside the building.
What to See & When
The ORHC space is called a center for a reason since it is not a full-blown museum. It is one large room where the trains are on display only. No climbing aboard or getting inside. If your kiddo isn’t going to handle that well, perhaps waiting until he/she is older is best. Or wait for an event where the trains are open for tours. Memberships for families run about $40 per year and are tax deductible.
That being said, volunteers happily discuss all that they know and love about the locomotives and their legacy. It’s probably best understood by elementary-aged railroad buffs, but the younger set of junior conductors need not stay home. Your youngsters will find plenty to occupy their time at the Chuggington train table just inside the front door. Plus, outside the roundhouse are construction vehicles galore – thanks to the light rail and other projects going on. Excavators, diggers and trains – oh my!
ORHC hosts a gift shop for souvenirs. They are a stone’s throw (2 minutes by car, 10 minute walk door-to-door) from OMSI, so give ORHC plus or minus an hour’s time depending on your mini-engineer’s attention span for trains – then head over for an easy double-header of an afternoon. The ORHC is open Thursday through Sunday from 1 p.m.- 5 p.m. and is free. Whoo-whoo (or, should we say, choo choo!).
Riding The Rails
The small parking lot under the new 99E viaduct at SE Caruthers St. and SE Grand Ave. is a bit confusing upon entry but a very cool place to leave the car. On-street parking is available on SE 6th Ave. or SE Division Pl and there are no meters to feed in this part of traindom.
Portland is the only city in the US to own two operating steam locomotives.
Oregon Rail Heritage Center
2250 SE Water St.
Have you checked out ORHC? Leave us a comment below and let us know about your experience.
Written by: Liz Overson
Special thanks for the photos to the Oregon Rail Heritage Center