Refurbished ‘turntable bridge’ arrives at Oregon Rail Heritage Center

INCLUDES VIDEO See the brief, but momentous, journey of what will now be in the unique facility’s ‘front yard’ …

What looked like a pile of scrap metal in the side yard of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center back in 2019, is actually parts from historic 100-foot railroad turntable, salvaged from the Brooklyn Railroad Yard; wait until you see it now! East Portland News archive image

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Since back before construction began on their museum – it was completed in 2012 – we’ve brought you the story of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center (ORHC), and the work of the organization behind it, the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF).

> To read about the grand opening
of the ORHC,

Volunteers with the ORHC watch and cheer as the now-restored Brooklyn Turntable Bridge is carefully towed away from the area where it was refinished.

Completing the Center came another step closer on June 9, when, after two years of repair, the Brooklyn Turntable Bridge, a mechanized unit designed to reorient locomotives 360 degrees, was moved to the place where it will be eventually installed, in front of the ORHC.

Three historic locomotives – the Southern Pacific 4449, Spokane Portland and Seattle 700, and the Oregon Rail and Navigation 197 – were moved into the ORHC after its opening.

This is how the Brooklyn Turntable looked, when it was in regular use, in 1946. Courtesy of ORHF

However, volunteers had to hustle to evacuate the last historic feature of the Brooklyn Railyard – its 100-foot long turntable – from where it had been rotating locomotives since it was installed in 1924; the roundhouse next to it was already being demolished at the time.

When the turntable arrived on the ORHC grounds, it looked like pieces of a giant, rusting tinker toy.

Alongside the ORHC, the Brooklyn Turntable Bridge, is on the roll.

Moving the Brooklyn Turntable Bridge is something that ORHC’s Doyle McCormack has long looked forward to, he says.

“Step number one was rebuilding the bridge; it was pretty much a disaster, making the work much more than we anticipated,” said ORHC Board Member and ORHF Manager Doyle McCormack, as the Union Pacific 96 locomotive pulled the restored bridge section of the turntable away from the place it was rehabilitated.

“Under a tent, workers refinished or replaced a lot of the steel structure and cross-bracing; a contractor then came in and painted it,” McCormack told East Portland News.

Just after noon on Wednesday, June 9, a Union Pacific engineer throttled up a diesel-electric locomotive, and began to slowly move the steel structure along the yard’s rail spur northward, until it cleared the “Enginehouse Junction”.

Now being moved by a locomotive, the Brooklyn Turntable Bridge slides out the front doors of the ORHC Enginehouse.

Then, after a rail worker threw a switch, the locomotive backed the bridge through the Enginehouse and parked it in front of the building, where it can be easily seen from the street and from the TriMet MAX Light Rail Line.

“So, today’s quite an occasion, as we haul it right out in front of our Enginehouse!” McCormack proudly stated. “When it’s finally installed, this will not be a static display; everything will be operational, so we’ll able to demonstrate how it rotated locomotives, like a giant Lazy Susan – as they did in the old days.”

As to when it will actually be operational – that depends on financing, McCormack conceded.

“It started out as a $1.2 million project, and as grown into more like a $3 million project. We have a little over $2 million in hand; so, you might expect, all donations are graciously accepted,” McCormack said with a hopeful smile.

Having cleared the Enginehouse, the Brooklyn Turntable Bridge ends its short, but momentous, journey into the ORHF’s “front yard”.

For now, with the turntable bridge in front of ORHC building, it’ll be much easier to picture how it will become a central feature of their Rail Center.

Due to the rapidly evolving changes in COVID-19 restrictions, it’s unclear just when the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, at 2250 SE Water Street (under the MLK/Grand Avenue Viaduct) will reopen to the public, but it probably won’t be long.

For more information see their website: CLICK HERE.

At last, the Brooklyn Turntable Bridge is on display in front of the ORHF.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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