The Oregon Electric Railway Museum
By Mike Parker
The Oregon Electric Railway Museum is located at Brooks, Oregon, situated 10 miles north of Salem, OR., and immediately west of the Brooks interchange on Interstate 5 freeway. It is on the property of Western Antique Powerland, an organization providing space for a wide variety of hobby related organizations, such as clubs with restored gas and steam powered farm equipment, a vintage truck museum, a minature railroad, a fire engine museum, a steam powered sawmill and the restored Brooks railroad depot, among others. Western Antique Powerland hosts an annual event, always on the last weekend of July and the first weekend in August, known as the "Great Oregon Steam-Up", a show which OERM is part of. The event draws hundreds of people to shows, displays, picnics, swap meets, parades, contests, trolley rides, a tractor pull and just good plain fun with a rural county fair type of atmosphere.
The Oregon Electric Railway Museum is operated by the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society, a volunteer, not for profit, public benefit organization. Founded in 1957, it is dedicated to the preservation, operation and research of electric railway and rubber tired vehicles formerly used in transit service. The group has about 130 members, a much smaller nucleus of them are engaged in active volunteer work most every weekend. The emphasis is very much focused on completion of the new museum railway and facilities at Brooks. Since the group's move to Brooks in 1996, after 39 years at "The Trolley Park", a museum located in the Coast mountains between Portland and Tillamook, things have been very busy, starting with the complete dismantle of the former railway and moving of the rolling stock collection to Brooks, to the construction of new track, overhead poles and wire, power supply and storage facilities. The society has done remarkably well in a few years and now has 3500 feet of track in place, about 2000 feet now powered by overhead electric wire, and a new steel 60 by 160 foot 4 track carbarn. Eventually, the railway will form a circle around the entire perimeter of the property, providing a ride of just over a mile in length. Although several great trolley museums exist in North America, OERM is already the largest of it's kind in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, you can visit the museum website at, www.trainweb.org/oerhs, or by a link from www.trolleycars.com.
The society also operates the Willamette Shore Trolley, a 7 mile streetcar ride on a former branch of the Southern Pacific Railroad along the west side of the Willamette River between Portland and Lake Oswego. The line is owned by a coalition of city and county governments and the society operates the cars and does limited right of way maintenance. In 1987, the society provided the first impetus toward saving the rails from abandonment and operated cars that year to show that it could be saved and used as a tour line. The station and car house facilities are in Lake Oswego and from March, to the end of December, one can ride a unique restored double deck trolley from Blackpool, England or a restored 1932 Portland steel streetcar. They are powered by generators mounted on trailers ahead of the cars and provide 600 volts D.C. to power the car motors. Unlike Brooks, no overhead wire is used. The line was formerly electrified from 1912 to 1929 and ran fast steel passenger cars known as the Southern Pacific "Red Electrics". A 1300 foot tunnel and a high wooden trestle along the river, plus some terrific scenery are outstanding features of the line, which terminates on the north end at "RiverPlace", adjacent to downtown Portland.
Of interest to insulator collectors, are the plans for authentic electric power, telephone and signal lines along the railway at OERM in Brooks. Since we have 40 foot poles in place, most of the way, to support the 600 volt trolley wire to power the equipment, we have room on the poles to install a vintage looking 22,000 volt 3-phase A.C. power line from our substation building out to a point along the railway. We will also install signal and telephone lines as an underbuild on the power poles, using crossarms and / or wooden side brackets. The power line will terminate at a wooden structure outdoor substation we are building with an overhead mounted 3 phase line break switch. The line will not be energized, but captures the authentic look of an early electric railway by having the power and signal wires parallel to the track. The museum railway people generally regard the line project as secondary to track building consequently, very little is now mentioned on their website. The "demonstration line" is thought of as "icing on the cake" to railroad construction, but in reality, it is a neccesity to make the railway electrically authentic.
Although we do not have, nor can afford, nice butt treated cedar poles, as used in the old days, we are striving to make the line look as authentic as possible. We have to settle for full treated modern poles that have been donated by P.G.E. and Southern Pacific Railroad, but by making them look vintage, such as roof-peaking the pole tops instead of the angle cut tops as found and using the right types of insulators and hardware, we can get pretty close to the original look. We also do things like take the time to hand serve support cable onto insulators or eye bolts to poles rather than use modern clamps, to ensure that old time line construction look.
We have insulators and hardware donated by power companies and well known collectors, several of them JSIC members and ICONers. What we need most is wire and more volunteer labor. The line crew consists of just myself and Greg Bonn, the museum director. Greg is involved with most all aspects of the museum installation, so his time is pretty scarce. We certainly would welcome anyone interested in putting up insulators, hardware and crossarms. Line building projects coming up are listed below, in order of the most urgent priority:
1. Finish installing trolley wire and supports on existing track to (this year's) end of line.
2. Install trolley wire and supports in new carbarn and outside of barn on yard tracks.
3. Install 440 volt overhead power line on existing poles from substation to gift shop/ticket office. This line will look like an old style 2300 volt power line and will incorporate a 1916 G.E. cast iron pole mounted transformer that we have. We will install a modern 440 volt to 120 volt transformer core inside of the old G.E. to provide light and power for the depot.
4. Finish installing 3-phase 22,000 volt crossarms and multiparts to end of line.
5. Install 2 conductor open wire line to telephone booth, 1800 feet out on railway, using wooden side brackets, arms and glass insulators. This will be a working, crank-up magneto phone line.
6. Install 3, 10 pin crossarms each, with glass and hardware on two poles beside the restored Brooks S.P. railroad depot.
7. Build the substation wooden pole entrance structure and mount switches.
8. Somewhere along the railway we would like to put up a 2 crossarm open wire telephone line on it's own poles and have it long enough to look like the real thing. A long term project.
9. Find, accept donation or buy, enough wire to completly wire up everything we have installed.
That seems like enough work to keep a couple of weekend volunteers busy for a long time! If any one is interested in this type of activity, please get in touch with me or anybody via the website. I definately invite anyone to visit the Oregon Electric Railway Museum during the summer show weekends, when activity is at it's fullest. We have a small insulator and antique power line display set up in the substation bldg., JSIC and ICON are represented and it gets a crowd at showtime.