Both a museum and an enginehouse, the Oregon Rail Heritage Center (ORHC) in Portland, OR offers families of all ages a fun and interactive experience. Watch as the engineers work on the locomotives, tour a vintage 1950s caboose, explore Oregon’s rail history and more. Located in Portland’s Central Eastside neighborhood, the ORHC is operated by the non-profit Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) and staffed by friendly, knowledgeable volunteers.
Before going inside, you and the kids can take a few minutes to explore the train memorabilia in the front yard. To your right you may see a vintage yellow caboose, which you and the kids can self-tour anytime during the center’s hours. Originally built in 1944, the caboose is on loan from the Oregon Pacific Railroad and is still in active use.
If the caboose is out on the rails, ask one of the center’s staff to give you a quick tour of the Mount Hood railcar. Constructed in 1950, the Mount Hood car is a combination sleeping berth, kitchen and lounge area. It’s also one of the cars used in the ORHC’s popular Holiday Express.
Then head inside to see the vintage locomotives. At 19,200 sq. ft., the enginehouse resembles a large hanger and can hold up to four locomotives. There are also bays for equipment, offices, an interpretive center, gift shop and sitting area. The ORHC is home to three steam locomotives, the SP 4449, the SP&S 700 and the OR&N 197. All are owned by the City of Portland. Currently, it also houses two privately-owned diesel engines, the NP 190 and the NP 324, both built in the late 1940s and 1950s.
My favorite engine is the OR&N 197, a steam locomotive built in the early 1900s. Used in the 1905 Lewis & Clark Exposition, the OR&N 197 served as a passenger train along the Union Pacific until it was retired in the 1950s. Hollowed out over the decades, volunteers are now working to rebuild this historic locomotive.
For young children, there’s a toy train set for them to play with at the front of the enginehouse, near the exhibit area. My three-year-old son had a great time playing here while my husband and I took turns exploring the center. Kids four years and older can pick up a Jr. Engineer Facts Sheet for a fun scavenger hunt about the ORHC’s locomotives.
Also, check out the ORHC’s latest exhibit on Oregon’s rail history. Highlights usually include informational signs, photographs, railroad memorabilia and video footage. And look for more additions coming down the line. The foundation is already planning to add a turntable and a second floor interpretive center, giving generations of families a fun and dynamic destination for years to come.
When You Go:
Oregon Rail Heritage Center
2250 SE Water Ave.
Hours are Thurs.-Sun. 1pm-5pm. Admission is free but donations are greatly appreciated. Guided tours are available on request.