History’s inside view
city-owned 1941 locomotive that helped celebrate American’s
bicentennial is undergoing required maintenance at the Rail Heritage
Center near OMSI. Most of the outer sheet metal, insulation and external
piping has been removed, exposing the massive 23,000 gallon boiler,
which is open at the front. The firebox has also been cut open for
Visitors to the center are able to view the
work close up for free. The center, which also houses the city’s two
other historic locomotives, does not charge admission, although
donations are accepted to help cover costs. It is open 1 to 5 p.m.
Thursday through Sunday at 2250 S.E. Water Ave.
“If you want to understand how a steam locomotive works, this is your
chance. Everything is out in the open,” says Mark Kramer, president of
the Friends of SP 4449, the nonprofit organization that maintains the
locomotive, officially known as the Southern Pacific 4449.
work is being performed as part of a federally mandated requirement to
ensure that boilers in steam locomotives are safe. It must be done every
1,472 service days or 15 years, whichever comes first. Worn parts are
also identified and replaced.
When the work is complete, the
boiler will be repainted, the cab will be reattached, and the sheet
metal that gives the locomotive its distinctive streamlined look will be
reinstalled. Then the SP 4449 will be ready to roll again.
15-year inspection is a lot of hard work being accomplished by great
volunteers. When we are finished she will be good for another 15 years
or 1,472 service days,” says Kramer.
On display at park
The SP 4449 is the
only remaining operable streamlined steam locomotive of the Art Deco
era. It pulled Southern Pacific “Daylight” coaches from Los Angeles to
San Francisco over the scenic Coast Route to Portland until 1955. The SP
4449 was donated by the railroad to the city in 1958. It sat on display
in Oaks Park until 1974, when it was selected to be the second American
Freedom Train to tour the country as part of the nation’s Bicentennial
Restoration work began at Burlington Northern’s
Hoyt Street roundhouse and the SP 4449 returned to operation on April
21, 1975, wearing a special red, white, and blue paint scheme. It toured
the 48 contiguous states during the celebration pulling a historic
display train to the enjoyment of more than 30 million people.
returning to Portland, it was eventually moved to an aging roundhouse
in the Union Pacific’s Brooklyn Yards along with the city’s two other
historic steam locomotives, the Spokane, Portland & Seattle 700 and
the Oregon Railway & Navigation 197. Both had also been on display
in Oaks Park. The SP&S 700 was returned to service in 1990 and
restoration work is still underway on the OR&N 197. Each is
maintained by its own nonprofit organization.
requirement was established by the Federal Railroad Administration in
1998. As part of it, the thickness of the entire boiler must be measured
by an ultrasound device to ensure the metal is strong enough to
withstand the tremendous pressure generated by the steam that powers the
All three locomotive were moved to the Oregon Rail
Heritage Center in in 2012. It is owned and operated by the nonprofit
Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation without any ongoing support from the
city. Revenue is raised by donations, concessions, and admission on
excursion runs, including the annual Holiday Express run from Sellwood
Park to Portland and back every Christmas season.
Work on the SP
4449 is expected to be completed in time to pull the 2015 Holiday
Express train. That is when the SP&S 700, which will pull this
year’s train, will be down for its required inspection — offering
visitors to the center another opportunity to learn about the inner
workings of the city’s historic locomotives.