Because Garden Home was a junction point of two lines of the Oregon Electric Railway, Garden Home was a well known landmark across the Portland area. Oregon Electric service from Portland to Salem began service in January, 1908, and freight traffic in July, 1908. Passenger service to Forest Grove began in October, 1908. Passenger service continued until 1933, and freight service continued into the 1940s.
The Oregon Electric line ran seven miles from downtown Portland, through Multnomah Village, to Garden Home, where the tracks split. From Garden Home, one track continued west twenty one miles to Forest Grove, and the other track initially ran fifty miles south to Salem. In 1911, the line from Multnomah Village was upgraded from a single-track on a large trestle along today’s SW Maplewood Avenue to a double-track along today’s SW Multnomah Blvd, with several smaller trestles. By 1912, the southern line was extended all the way to Eugene, and 22 trains per day arrived into Garden Home from Multnomah Village.
The Oregon Electric line left south out of downtown Portland parallel to, but downhill from (east of), SW Barbur Blvd. Near Burlingame, it turned west into Multnomah. It swung south approaching SW Garden Home Rd, then to the northwest crossing today’s SW Multnomah Blvd at SW 45th, before making a sweeping arc along the path of today’s SW Maplewood Ave on a massive elevated trestle, before swinging onto the path of today’s SW Multnomah Blvd and into Garden Home.
From a March 24, 1944 issue of the Beaverton Enterprise Newspaper, we know the Garden Home train station building was physically moved to downtown Beaverton sometime before March 24, 1944 (thank you to Rosy T. at Portland General Electric for assisting us with research about the Garden Home railroad station’s electrical substation).
Aaron Frank transporting his horses by train
Gerry Frank recalls how his father used the Oregon Electric to transport his horses by train:
My father, Aaron, bought the property because he wanted a place for his show horses. It was a perfect location since the land was adjacent to the Nicol Riding Academy and the Portland Hunt Club; and the Oregon Electric railroad came directly from Portland to Firlock Station where we could load and unload the horses from the estate.
The hobo camp
Clark Stephens recalls the hobo camp near the Garden Home station:
There was a hobo camp in the woods just east of the railroad station towards Canby Street, near the four switch tracks so there was a lot of activity there. There would be 6 to 12 guys in there, riding the rails. Our parents cautioned us not to go down there but I never heard of any problems. One day when I came home from school for lunch, my mother had hired one of the men to spade the vegetable garden. When asked, I said I’d studied geography that day. The hobo said “You get your geography from a book; I get mine from the top of a boxcar.”
Bob Feldman recalls a train wreck at Firlock station:
In the 1940s, passenger trains had been discontinued but steam trains continued to haul freight and logs. Bob witnessed a huge cloud of steam rise from the terrible train wreck at about SW 78th an area then called Firlock Station. The train was going east when it suddenly stopped. The track buckled causing the engine to roll over. That was the last train on that track. They took up the track some time afterwards. This was in the area of 78th which was then called Firlock Lane.
Portland Golf Club has named their 15th hole Firlock Station. Their website identifies the history of the hole as “An entire engine and half the car turned over opposite the green in the mid-forties…This was the site of Firlock Station on the old Oregon Electric (train) – the only way to get to the Portland Golf Club prior to 1916.”
Clark Stephens recalls two separate train wrecks:
There were two derailments, one at the Firlock train station. (The Portland Golf Club calls this adjacent hole “Firlock Station” and mentions the train wreck on their website.) The tender was located ahead of the engine and got off track. Then the engine at the back kept on pushing the railcars zigzagging the cars off the tracks.
Once when I was about 4 years old, a steam engine derailed on the trestle east of the train station. They had to bring in a derrick and get the engine back on the tracks. Steam engines were used to haul the logs. It was believed that Southern Pacific owned the straight track from Tigard to Beaverton and they wanted too much money to use the tracks. So the owner of the logs made a deal with Oregon Electric to run on their tracks to Garden Home and then switch and go on into Beaverton and out to Cornelius Pass through the tunnel in the west hills and supply the mills along the Willamette River. That’s why the log trains were coming through Garden Home.
Route diagrams and schedules
Right of way maps
The Red Electric Railroad
The Oregon Electric Railway competed with the Red Electric Railroad. The Red Electric ran from Portland to Hillsdale to Beaverton on tracks that in many places were just to the north of the Oregon Electric.
The Red Electric line left south from downtown Portland up a four percent grade on what is now SW Barbur Blvd. It turned north onto what is now SW Bertha Blvd at Burlingame and, passed underneath Capitol Hwy, and then west along what is now SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. It dipped down to run along the north edge of Alpenrose Dairy and past the northern edge of the Portland Golf Club (the Oregon Electric ran along the southern edge of the Portland Golf Club), before angling northwest to Beaverton.
Today, there’s an effort to establish a walking trail along parts of the Red Electric Railroad right of way. You can read more about the Red Electric history and trail at swtrails.org.
By Tom Shreve, April 2020