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It used to turn locomotives, before it was taken apart. Now, it will be doing so again -- at the Rail Heritage Center

DAVID F. ASHTON - Volunteers at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, near OMSI, watch and cheer as the now-restored Brooklyn Turntable Bridge is slowly towed away from the area where it was refinished. Since back before construction began on their museum – and it was completed in 2012 – THE BEE has brought you the story of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, and the work of the nonprofit organization behind it, the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation. The museum is just east of OMSI, a bit north of the Ross Island Bridge.

Completing the plans for the Center came another step closer on June 9 when, after two years of repair, the Brooklyn Turntable Bridge – a mechanized turntable 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, the Spokane Portland and Seattle 700, and the Oregon Rail and Navigation 197 – were moved into the museum after its opening.

COURTESY OF ORHF - This is how the Brooklyn Turntable looked, when it was in regular use, way back in 1946.  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.

"Step number one was rebuilding the bridge; it was pretty much a disaster, making the work much more than we anticipated," remarked Rail Center Board Member and Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation 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 THE BEE.

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 "Engine House Junction".

COURTESY OF ORHF - This is how the Brooklyn Turntable looked, when it was in regular use, way back in 1946.  Then, after a rail worker threw a switch, the locomotive backed the bridge through the Engine House and parked it in front of the building, where it can be easily seen from the street as well as from the TriMet MAX Light Rail Line.

"So, today's quite an occasion, as we haul it right out in front of our Engine House!" 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 – well, 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, as you might expect, all donations are graciously accepted."

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 S.E. Water Street (under the MLK/Grand Avenue Viaduct) will reopen to the public, but with Oregon reopening after the pandemic, it probably won't be too long.

For more information on this Inner Southeast railroad museum, go online – And, to see the massive turntable making its move, here's a brief BEE video –

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