Historic Structures

Building the Oregon Trunk Bend Railroad Depot - Oregon Trunk Railway Passenger Station, Bend Oregon

During the winter and spring of 1909, John F. Stevens located the route of the Oregon Trunk from the Columbia River to Bend. He then personally contacted ranchers along the right of way, and purchased their properties for the railroad. Legend has it that Stevens disguised himself as a sportsman interested in fishing on the Deschutes and used the name John F. Sampson. Stevens then purchased the stock of the Oregon Trunk in a clandestine transaction conducted "about midnight in the rain under a tree in a public park in Portland".

Stevens contracted with Porter Brothers Construction Co. of Seattle for the construction from the Columbia to Madras, and with Henry and McFee, also of Seattle, for construction from Madras to Bend. The rival Des Chutes Railroad mobilized its forces under the command of Chief Engineer George W. Boschke. Boschke brought in the Twohy Brothers Construction Co. of Portland for the grading and track work.

By mid-summer of 1909, the Hill forces were working on the west bank of the river, and the Harriman forces were grading on the east bank, with advance parties from both lines claiming strategic points in the canyon. Materials and supplies for the two railroads swamped the local wagon roads, and the Columbia Southern and Great Southern railroads enjoyed their last profitable months. In the rival construction camps, feelings ran high. Dynamiting, sabotage, and occasional brawls punctuated the long summer and fall. George Palmer Putnam covered the scene for the wire services:
At one point the Hill forces established a camp reached only by a trail winding down from above, its only access through a ranch. Forthwith the Harriman people bought the ranch, and "no trespassing" signs, backed by the armed sons ofltaly, cut off the communications of the enemy below.

By the end of the year, the silliness of the Deschutes Canyon War was apparent to even the most partisan participants. E.H. Harriman had died in the fall of 1909, so Hill and Robert S. Lovett, who succeeded Harriman, worked out an agreement for joint operation in May of 1910. Both railroads would use the Oregon Trunk line from North Junction to South Junction (10.4 miles) and from Metolius to Bend (42.6 miles). Both railroads would also use the 24 miles of Des Chutes Railroad track from South Junction to Metolius. With the drama gone, the railroad building proceeded smoothly enough.

The Oregon Trunk was a difficult and expensive railroad to build. Reports of the cost vary from twelve to twenty-five million, with the latter figure more probable. The accounting confusion is no doubt due to the fact that the railroad was built as two railroads, both of which were financed by their parent companies. In 1953, the Oregon Trunk's debt to its parent, the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle, was $26,139,229.19. This sum represents more than the construction costs, but it confirms the level of funding that the Oregon Trunk required. The route to Bend was a successful one, however, with 0.4% grades on most of the line, and maximum grade of 1.3%. Curves were kept within 6 degrees/100'. Total mileage, Columbia River to Bend, was 157 miles.

When he began work on the Oregon Trunk, John F. Stevens (1853-1943) was widely known as America's best railroad civil engineer. By the end of his career, thirteen years later, that appraisal was extended beyond the U.S. and beyond railroad work. Stevens' largest projects were the Great Northern Railroad, the Panama Canal, and his work on the Russian railroad system.

Stevens was born in Maine and educated at Maine State Normal School, which offered no formal training in engineering. He learned to survey, however, and found his first professional position as a surveyor for the city of Minneapolis in 1873. He switched to railroad work in Texas two years later, then became a "location engineer" on railroad construction projects in New Mexico, British Columbia, and Minnesota. At the age of 33, with his apprenticeship behind him, Stevens supervised the construction of the Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic Railway across Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

James J. Hill recognized Stevens' talents in 1890 and hired him as a location engineer for the Great Northern. In "locating" or designing the route of the Great Northern, Stevens demonstrated his uncanny sense of space and form. A location engineer's job is to create the route of the railroad through the terrain. Working on foot in the wilderness, frequently alone, Stevens discovered Marias Pass across the Rockies and Stevens Pass across the Cascades.

Stevens was able to translate the tortuous mountain country of Montana, Idaho, and Washington into the continuum of straight lines and flat planes that a main line railroad must follow if it is to succeed. As a result of Stevens' work, the Great Northern was built on a shorter route and at lower elevations than any other east-west transcontinental railroad. This engineering success permitted the railroad to operate longer trains at higher speeds than the competing lines. Hill, for his part, was able to translate this technological advantage into a financial advantage for the Great Northern.

By 1895 Stevens was Chief Engineer for the Great Northern, and in 1903 he was Chief Engineer for the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific. Then, in 1905, Hill and President Theodore Roosevelt persuaded Stevens to take over as engineer on the Panama Canal project, which was hopelessly mired in mud, heat, disease, and politics.

Stevens reorganized the dispirited canal workforce and set into motion the efforts at sanitation that would eventually mitigate the disease problem--which included dysentery, pneumonia, and malaria as well as the dreaded yellow fever. Stevens also lobbied the American government to re-consider the design of the canal itself, changing the old French idea of a sealevel canal into one with locks and a fresh-water lake at its center. Finally, with this crucial decision in hand, Stevens set about coordinating the construction of the canal, the locks, the dam on the Chagres river, and the railroad system that would move the millions of yards of earth. In David McCullough's analysis, "The Panama Canal was among other things one of the greatest of all triumphs in American railroad engineering."

When Stevens left Panama in 1907 he was very much a national figure. He returned to work for Hill, and began designing the Oregon Trunk. He then became President of the Oregon Trunk Railway in 1909 and later President of the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle after the Oregon Trunk was completed in 1911. In 1917, he was sent to Russia by President Wilson as head of a commission to advise the Russian government. He worked in Russia until his retirement in 1922.

Ralph Budd (1879-1962) was Stevens' close associate and the second Chief Engineer of the Oregon Trunk. Budd's career was more conventional than Stevens', beginning with an engineering degree from Highland Park College in Des Moines, Iowa. He first worked as a draftsman for the Chicago Great Western Railway, and then in 1903, as a division engineer on the construction of the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific line from St. Louis to Kansas City.

Budd reported to Stevens on the Rock Island Railway, and the two apparently worked well together. Their talents and temperaments seem to have been well matched. Stevens was the archetypal surveyor--a rugged outdoors man, blunt, visionary, and more than a little mercurial. Budd, the draftsman, was perhaps more detail oriented, and possessed a calm and mild-mannered demeanor notably lacking in Stevens.

When Stevens went to Panama, he asked Budd to accompany him as railroad engineer for the project. After 1906, when Roosevelt had been persuaded to build a canal with locks, the relative importance ofrailroad operations in Panama abruptly changed. With the sea-level canal plan, spoils from the canal would have been moved by dredging. The new plan would require another means to move the spoils, however. Only a state-of-the-art railroad system could move the immense volume of earth from the canal excavations to the earth-fill dam on the Chagres River or to a dumping ground. The Panama Railroad, such as it was, dated back to the California gold rush and was barely adequate to bring supplies to the construction camps. Worse, it was built on ground that would soon be inundated by the lake that would form behind Gatun Dam.

Budd's first task in Panama was to double track the old Panama Railroad and bring it into the 20th century. His second task was to design and build a new railroad on higher ground that would meet the requirements of moving earth and supplying materials for the canal construction. He succeeded admirably at both tasks. After Stevens left Panama in 1907, Budd remained until 1909, when Stevens lured him to Oregon.

Ralph Budd signed on as construction engineer for the Oregon Trunk, with Stevens in the position of Chief Engineer. Soon, Budd became Chief Engineer, and Stevens became President. As Chief Engineer, Budd supervised construction of the railroad from the Columbia River to Bend, the portion designed by Stevens. In the summer of 1909, however, before construction was well started, Budd assumed the task of designing a route south from Bend into California.

Despite his advancing years and his official retirement in 1907, James J. Hill was still in charge of the Hill railroads and he had grandiose plans for the Oregon Trunk. He reportedly told this to Budd in very clear terms: "This is not a railroad that is being built up on to the plateau of Central Oregon to stop there. It is the Oregon Trunk". Hill's point was that in railroad terminology the word trunk refers to a main line rather than a branch line. Budd got the message and set to work surveying a route from Bend to Klamath Falls, and then on to Beiber and Keddie, California, where the Oregon Trunk would join the main line of the Western Pacific. This extension of the Oregon Trunk was completed in 1931.

Hill also wanted to bring a transcontinental extension of the Burlington west from Wyoming across Idaho and eastern Oregon, through Bend to Portland. Covering the "vast reaches of central and southeastern Oregon in and on virtually every sort of conveyance," Budd personally surveyed most of the Oregon portions of this unlikely route, which was never built.

After bringing the Oregon Trunk to Bend in 1911, Budd continued as Chief Engineer for the Spokane, Portland, and Seattle, the parent of the Oregon Trunk within the Hill system. Later, he worked directly with Hill as his assistant until Hill's death in 1916. Finally, at age 40, Ralph Budd assumed the presidency of the Great Northern Railway in 1919.

Budd's subsequent work for the Hill lines put him in the presidency of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy. As president of this large and profitable railroad, he influenced the direction of American railroads through the Depression and the World War II period. Among his many accomplishments was pioneering the use of diesel-electric locomotives.