Prominent Railroad Managers of Portland

There have been but very few important changes among those officials who have had to personally superintend the actual and practical operations of the road during the past twelve or fourteen years. Mr. E. P. Rogers enjoys the distinction of being the ” Pioneer of the road.” Most of those prominently connected with the early organization of the road are dead. Among those may be mentioned J. H. Moores, I. R. Moores, E. N. Cooke, Joel Palmer, J. S. Smith, S. Ellsworth, James Douthitt, J. H. D. Henderson, Greenberry Smith, A. L. Lovejoy, A. F. Hedges, W. S. Newby, J. P. Underwood, Gov. Gibbs, and last, but by no means least, Ben Holladay. To Mr. Rogers belongs the distinction of being the eldest officer now connected with the operating department of the road. He first came to Portland in 1870, and assumed the position of general freight and passenger agent, and the exacting duties of that position he has for the past seventeen years discharged with strict fidelity to the best interests of the corporation, and to the satisfaction of the general management.

Mr. John Brandt is also an old and efficient officer of the company. Mr. Brandt came to Portland in 1873, and in July of that year assumed the position of general superintendent of the road. This position he has filled proficiently for the past fourteen years. The fact that Mr. Brandt has been retained as superintendent through all the changing fortunes of the road, and under the different managements, is the highest evidence of his competency and thorough experience in the practical operations of a railroad.

One year later Mr. R. Koehler came to Oregon. . As before stated, he came first as resident financial agent of the German bondholders. He entered upon the active duties of the position July 25, 1874. Since that date Mr. Koehler has been an active and prominent factor in the management of the company’s affairs-as financial agent, vice president and manager, and as general receiver. His long retention by the owners of the road, and the implicit trust reposed in his ability and integrity are the best endorsements that could be offered.

Under the management of these gentlemen the roads have been operated for a long period with as rigid a measure of economy as the financial conditions of the company demanded, and yet with as much liberality and in as satisfactory a manner to the public service and the necessities of traffic as was possible under all the existing circumstances. The company was entangled in a somewhat complicated mesh of litigation during the first few years of its existence, and the corporate name has figured very extensively in the records of the United States Courts and Courts of the State, both as defendant and plaintiff to a tangled mass of suits. But when the unsettled, uncertain state of affairs is considered, when the controversies and desperate struggles for mastery, the heated and bitter rivalries, and the inevitable conflict of personal and corporate interests are all taken into account, the abundant harvest of tedious litigation which followed, seemed but a natural and legitimate result.

Few roads of equal length in this country have enjoyed a similar measure of exemption from disasters, when all the disadvantages under which operations have been maintained have been taken into due consideration. Prom first to last there have been no serious collisions of rail accidents on the line involving the extensive loss of human life, or the destruction of much valuable property. This very important fact speaks in most emphatic terms of the care, caution and good judgment displayed in the management of trains for the past seventeen years.

This article would be incomplete without the mention of Mr. H. Thielsen’s name, and of the important part he took in the enterprise. Mr. Thielsen first arrived in Portland March 1, 1870. He at once assumed the duties of chief engineer and superintendent combined. Practically he became the acting manager of the road. Under his supervision the twenty miles of road which have been constructed between East Portland and Rock Island were rebuilt. He had charge of the building of the entire line between Rock Island and Roseburg. Mr. Thielsen has also built the line on the West Side from Portland to St. Joe, except some little preliminary operations done prior to his arrival here. Mr. Thielsen remained in charge of the engineering department of the road, and as practical. engineer until the retirement of Holladay. Mr. Thielsen was succeeded by Mr. Koehler in 1874 in the practical management of the road. Subsequently he retired from all connection with the road, and soon after accepted the position of chief engineer of the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company.

The car shops of the company were established by Holladay in 1870, and were located two and a half miles south of the east side depot. Since they were first started, from eighty to one hundred men have been kept employed. Mr. Brandt has long held the position of master mechanic. Heretofore, the facilities for making necessary repairs and building new rolling stock have been comparatively adequate to meet the requirements of the company; but now, that through connection has been established, the necessity for the enlargement of the shops and the increase of facilities has become imperative.

The Narrow Gauge System

No history of Portland would be complete without some notice of the system of narrow gauge railways which terminate here, for having no other outlet for their business, the Narrow Guage System and the Metropolis city must always be mutually dependent on each other for prosperity.

This system was projected by Joseph Gaston, Esq., who has been noticed as the pioneer of the road between Oregon and California. Mr. Gaston took up the idea of a system of cheap and economically managed lines to more perfectly develop the resources of the Willamette Valley, in the year 1877, and for that purpose incorporated a company to construct a road from Dayton to Sheridan, in Yamhill County, with a branch to Dallas in Polk County. He knew that any move of this kind would be regarded as a hostile demonstration by the owners of the Oregon Central, with which he had been formerly connected, and, therefore, to avoid drawing their fire to as late a day as possible, he commenced his road at a point distant from this city, as if it were to be an unimportant affair. He relied for his means to carry out the enterprise mainly on the wealthy farmers of Yamhill and Polk Counties, and made much’ the same appeals for popular support by public meetings and otherwise, as he had formerly made in behalf of the Oregon Central line. And although the owners of the Oregon Central very early comprehended the interloper in their field of business, and put out men to talk down and oppose Gaston, he had by April 1st, 1878, made such headway as to be able to break ground at Dayton and purchase the iron and rolling stock for forty miles of track. He pushed his work with great vigor, and in six months had the first forty miles of narrow guage railroad in Oregon in operation.

After thus far succeeding the opposition did not abate their efforts to check or cripple Gaston’s scheme of a system of railways coterminous with the Willamette Valley. They saw too plainly that it meant low rates and no profits to their lines, when compelled to compete with the little. narrow guage which was already picking up produce and passengers at every cross road. Mr. Villard was then rising to his zenith of power, and first offering to buy out Mr. Gaston without pledging himself to maintain the road he had built, he turned to buying up the claims for iron and other debts against it and threw it in the hands of a Receiver. But the man who had built forty miles of railroad, without a sack of flour to start with was not likely to be gotten. rid of in that summary way. And Gaston quietly and speedily arranged with a syndicate of capitalists in Dundee, in Scotland, to take his road off his hands and carry out his plans of extending it not only to Portland, for which Gaston had incorporated the Willamette Valley Railroad Co., but also southwardly by branches on both sides of the Willamette River.

This brings in the Oregonian Railway Company (Limited), a corporation organized under Royal Charter in Dundee, Scotland. This company was organized through the efforts of William Reid, Esq., of Portland, who became its President. Mr. Reid quickly took the Gaston road out of the hands of the Receiver, and went to work in 1880 with great vigor to extend its lines to both sides of the Willamette, to the west side track and crossing the Willamette River at Ray’s Landing and constructing from Dundee, in Yamhill County, to Coburg, in Lane County.

After successfully operating this narrow guage system, now grown to be a formidable factor in the development of the Willamette Valley, and while Mr. Reid was in the midst of his work in extending the road from Dundee to Portland, Mr. Villard entered into negotiations to lease the narrow guage lines, which lease for 99 years, was finally accomplished in the year 1882. Upon the making of the lease, the work of extending the road to Portland was indefinitely suspended.

It is but justice to record, that Mr. Reid bitterly opposed the making of this lease, and warned his constituent stockholders in Scotland, that although they might be stipulating for a handsome income on their investment it was not keeping faith with the people of Oregon, whose people and legislature had heartily encouraged the road by granting it the public levee in this city for terminal grounds, and by much other substantial aid, and that the lease would terminate badly. Mr. Villard operated the Narrow Gauge lines for about a year, and then repudiated the lease as made without authority or power, and abandoned the property to the tender mercies of the United States Circuit Court, which placed it in the hands of a Receiver for preservation during the pendency of the litigation to determine the validity of the lease.

Upon the execution of the lease, Mr. Reid withdrew from the Oregonian company, and in the year 1886 incorporated the Portland and Willamette Valley railroad company to construct a narrow gauge road from Dundee, in Yamhill county, the northern terminus of the narrow gauge lines above mentioned, to the city of Portland. This twenty-seven miles of track was very expensive, but was pushed to final completion to the public levee in this city in the year 1888. It is now known that leading capitalists of the Southern Pacific railroad have purchased, not only this last road built by- Mr. Reid, but also all the lines constructed by the Oregonian company; the lease to Villard having been declared void by the Supreme Court of the United States, and the Scotch stockholders losing all their investments, but the bondholders and other creditors of the road being paid out of the proceeds of such sale to the Southern Pacific company.


Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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