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Oregon \ Willamette Bridge Railway

Willamette Bridge Railway.

By Randy Hees

The Willamette Iron Bridge Company was associated with Pacific Bridge Company of San Francisco and its local manager, Charles, C. F. Swigert. In 1887, they began building the Morrison Street Bridge, frequently called the “Iron Bridge,” the first bridge to connect Portland on the west side of the Willamette River, with the growing communities of east side of the river, where the terminal of the Oregon & California Railroad was located. The bridge company also incorporated the Willamette Bridge Railway Company to build a horse car line, steam dummy and electric railroads across that bridge(s).

They then built a second bridge, The Steel Bridge, completed in July 1888, which carried the Oregon Railway & Navigation trains on the lower level and electric streetcars on the upper, also operated by the Willamette Bridge Railway which served East Portland. The completion of the bridges lead to significant growth to the communities on the east side of the Willamette River and a demand for transportation. Much of the area was too rural to support the investment in electric railways, with distances too great for animal powered railways. The solution was steam dummy lines. Steam powered traction was not welcome on East Portland’s main street, 5th street (now Grand), but was acceptable in more rural areas.

The company’s horse drawn streetcar line across the bridge, and along 5th street, now Grand Ave, north to Holiday, and South to Division. From that line they would eventually build two steam dummy lines. The first from 5th street along Morrison St to the Lone Fir Cemetery, then on Belmont Street to 69th St and the Mt Tabor Park. This line opened in 1888. The second line, completed in 1890, ran from Albina northwest to St Johns.

By 1889, electrification was spreading, starting with the new line across the “Steel Bridge” then on new lines radiating on Holladay Ave., Interstate Ave., and Williams Ave.. The original horse powered lines along 5th street were electrified by 1890.

The Willamette Bridge Railway merged with the Transcontinental Street Railway in 1891, forming the new City and Suburban railway. The City & Suburban railway briefly operated the Portland, Mt Tabor and Eastern Railroad from September 1892 to September 1893 as an extension of their Mt Tabor line, but that railroad was returned to its owners after a year. The P, Mt T & E would continue to operate though 1894, then was abandoned, with the City & Suburban purchasing its steam dummy.

Electrification of the Mt Tabor line was complete by 1896. The St Johns Dummy was electrified in 1903.

Revised: July 11, 2018.
John T Labbe, Fares, Please! Those Portland Trolley Years, Claxton Press, Caldwell ID, 1982. Pages 20,21,31,33, 45, 70, 71, 73, 76
John T Labbe, Portland’s Steam Dummies, published in The Trainmaster, official publication of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, Portland, No 132, Feb 1970
The article included a roster of Portland Steam Dummies by Jack M. Holst & Bert H. Ward.
BALDWIN STREET MOTOR LOCOMOTIVES, Record of North American Construction, compiled by Joe Strapac, unpublished manuscript, updated 6/16/2011.
MARSHUTZ & CANTRELL, NATIONAL IRON WORKS, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA 1879-1905, compiled by John A. Taubeneck, Seattle WA, unpublished manuscript, 1998.
Directory of Street Railways in the United States and Canada, 1891, published by Street Railway Journal (McGraw-Hill) reprinted in Traction Heritage, Vol 1, No 4, July 1968.
Additional locomotive information from Bob Lemuth.

Reference Material Available Online:


Collected Willamette Bridge Railway Photographs.
Images collected from private collections, libraries and historical societies.

Equipment Rosters.

Willamette Bridge Railway Steam Dummy Roster. Compiled by Randy Hees. PDF icon 178kB

Oregon \ Willamette Bridge Railway
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