The Oregonian Railway, by Ed Austin
For those who are familiar with how this series of books is organized , this book offers a straightforward example of its type. Few people are likely to be familiar with the subject matter of the book, though, since it is a collection of several narrow gauge railroads that were built in the last quarter of the 19th century in order to provide routes to some of the smaller cities south of Portland that were deeply upset about being left off of Villiard’s Oregon & California Railway or the Southern Pacific. As a result of the cash flow problems of the areas involved, the railroads were built with a narrow gauge, and what is most remarkable is that some of them continued to run for tourist purposes long after they would have been considered obsolete. Strikingly, some of the pictures in here of functioning rail routes continued into the 1980’s, run by the S&P with sometimes archaic and out-of-date locomotives that were able to handle the small weights allowed on the tracks.
The contents of this book are organized in a straightforward fashion, in that the roughly 120 pages of the book are divided into chapters based on the original narrow gauge line that had been built, or at least conceived, as there are maps where it is not clear that the routes or buildings on them were ever built, as no evidence survives of them. The four chapters of the book, after an introduction and before additional reading for those fascinated by the railroads and other transportation routes of the west , are divided very unequally, first from Fulquartz Landing to Sheridan and Willamina along the route of 99W and related highways in the Yamhill cities, which was originally called the Dayton, Sheridan & Grande Ronde Railroad (DS&GR). The second chapter covers the DS&GR railroad from Broadmead to Airlie centered on Dallas, mostly in Polk County. The third chapter looks at the expansion of the DS&GR along the east side of the Willamette valley from Ray’s Landing to Coburg and Springfield. The fourth and final chapter covers the expansion of the DS&GR after it was purchased and renamed to the Oregonian Railway in the early 1880’s from Portland to Dundee, which the Southern Pacific converted into largely electric routes, and which is still at least partially in operation between Wilsonia and Dundee, amazingly enough.
While much of the book consists of photos of trains, photos of plain country train stations, photos of the countryside of the Willamette valley from the railway, and photos of grass growing up over abandoned tracks, photos that in black and white can seem rather samey after a while, the book is still a worthwhile one for those who have an interest in the importance of railways in Oregon. There are at least a few obvious lessons about transportation infrastructure that can be taken from this book, including the fact that many towns went to great lengths to encourage the development of rail routes, that the lumber trade and tourism made for interesting allies in preserving rail routes, and that Oregon’s narrow gauge railways were distinctive and allowed for equipment to be kept in use much longer than in places where there were only wider gauge railroads that had less stringent weight restrictions. For those who wish to know the importance of transportation infrastructure to the development and survival of an area, this book provides a visual history of that matter which does not require a great deal of time to read.
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