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Rails Through Time: A Historic Journey on the Mount Hood Railroad

By Robert Matsumura

Rails Through Time: A Historic Journey on the Mount Hood Railroad

Many Oregonians are familiar with the Mount Hood Railroad, but did you know that this short line railroad traces its roots all the way back to the early 20th century? While today’s version of the Mount Hood Railroad is primarily recreational, delving back in time reveals a railroad whose story is intrinsically tied to the history and evolution of the region itself.

On February 27, 1905, the Eccles family incorporated the Mount Hood Railroad in the state of Utah to support David Eccle’s Oregon Lumber Company Mill at Dee, Oregon. The object of the venture was to create a northern connection to the main line of the Oregon-Washington Railway and Navigation Company at Hood River. Construction commenced on the line two months later, and by May 1906 the rail line was operational. The line was then extended south to Parkdale in 1910. Parkdale was founded by David Eccles and R.J. McIsaac in 1910 as a terminus for the railroad. In its totality the Mount Hood Railroad was just over 21 miles in length.

For six decades the Mount Hood Railroad faithfully fulfilled its purpose, delivering loads of timber to the O-WR&N line at Hood River for transport south and east. In addition to moving timber down its rails from the mill, the railroad also brought produce and passengers from the Upper Hood River Valley to the town of Hood River. It wasn’t until 1966, after U.S. Plywood purchased the Hines Lumber Company Mill at Dee and became interested in purchasing the railroad that word got out that the venerable railroad might be for sale. Union Pacific, hearing of the proposed sale, decided to enter into the fray and eventually emerged victorious as the new owners of the railroad. The Union Pacific changed the name to the Mount Hood Railway.
The statewide slump in forest products during the 1980s led to a decline in traffic on the Mount Hood Railway. By 1983 the six-mile stretch of rail from Dee to Parkdale was abandoned. The rails were left in place due to potential interest in utilizing the line for tourist operations. On November 1987 the Union Pacific sold the entire line from Hood River to Parkdale to the newly formed Mount Hood Railroad Company for $650,000. The new company, with backing from the lumber mills along the line, continued as a freight operator, but also expanded into the tourism business with scenic runs through the picturesque Hood River Valley, featuring spectacular views of Mount Hood and the “Fruit Belt” orchards of the area. The O-WR&N’s historic brick depot in Hood River was also included in the deal, and henceforth, became the headquarters of the rail company.

The story of the Mount Hood Railroad doesn’t end there, however. In 2008 the railroad was sold to Permian Basins Railways, a subsidiary of the Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings. By 2019, continued operation of the railroad became problematic due to financial woes. After the company defaulted
on a major loan, the railroad was put into receivership, eventually to be purchased by Mount Hood Capital Investments LLC. The current owners have opted to retain the previous management and look to increase their freight load by purchasing another locomotive. They also plan to continue expanding in the tourism part of the business while enhancing their presence in the communities that they serve.

One notable feature of the Mount Hood Railroad is that it utilizes a switchback. In the old days switchbacks were fairly common, allowing trains to reverse direction, but today the switchback on the Mount Hood line is one of only five in the U.S. still in operation. Local residents are familiar with the Mt. Hood trains departing the station backwards until they reach the switchback where they change direction prior to the climb towards Parkdale.

Should you wish to take a ride on this historic railroad, the Mount Hood Railroad currently offers scenic tours through the Hood River Valley with narrated historic excursion trains in addition to special events. Motor-assisted railbike tours are also available on the line. If you’re looking for a fun, educational, and scenic outing for your family and friends, look no further than the Mount Hood Railroad. The spectacular views of Mount Hood, Mount Adams, along with the orchard and farmland of the Hood River Valley will leave lasting memories for years to come!

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