|Last Update: August 2, 2008
|PGE's map of the Bull Run power plant, dam and flume system.
|PGE's Little Sandy River Flume Railroad is probably one of the least known and forgotten railroads in Oregon.
Partly because it's well hidden and partly because it's basically a small tram road. But nonetheless, this nearly 100
year old railroad has real historic significance and it's still an active part of Oregon's railroad history. Built almost
entirely on trestling, it's perhaps, technically, the longest active railroad trestle in North America.
The flume and railroad were built in 1909 for the 22 mega-watt Bull Run Power Plant. The all wooden flume is unique in several ways. It's a
large box style flume, but is almost entirely built on trestling that is over 3 miles long. With the railroad built on top of the flume, it is perhaps the
longest railroad trestle in existence. Certainly, the longest trestle still in use. The purpose of the railroad is to allow maintenance personnel to
inspect and repair the flume via speeder type vehicles. It's been in use for more than 95 years.
The flume runs between the Little Sandy Dam and Roslyn Lake, along the Little Sandy River, diverting water to the man made lake. From the
lake, the water runs down hill via large underground pipes to the Bull Run hydroelectric power plant, located along the Bull Run river. Just
before reaching the Roslyn Lake, the flume enters a concrete tunnel, which was built in 1925.
It was discovered that the Little Sandy River did not have enough year round flow to power the plant. A second dam was constructed on an
entirely different river and valley south of the Little Sandy Dam. The Marmot dam was built on the Sandy River and diverted water, via a concrete
flume and several tunnels, including one that is over a mile long, to the Little Sandy River, to increase water flow.
It's amazing that the Little Sandy River wood flume has lasted all of these years. Being only 3 miles long, it seems that building a more
reliable, stronger pipe system would have been relatively inexpensive, compared to the constant maintenance needed for a wood flume. Part of
the reason for keeping the old flume might have been that the power plant has been on the chopping block for many years and PGE was always
hesitant to invest in upgrading the flume. But no doubt, another reason is that the flume was so well designed and well built back in 1909, that a
new flume or pipe, simply was not needed.
The water that comes through the Little Sandy Flume does not directly run to the power plant, but rather keeps Roslyn Lake filled up. The Bull
Run Power plant, which runs off of Roslyn Lake generates enough power for more than 10,000 homes. However, it's days are numbered.
PGE has selected this old, but historic power plant to be dismantled and taken off the grid. The Marmot dam is the first part of the system to be
shut down and dismantled by 2007. By 2008, the Little Sandy River dam, will be removed. By 2009, the flumes, tunnels and power plant will be
disposed of in one form or another. Likely destroyed. Ironically, by then, it would have reached it's 100th birthday.
The wood flume is of large historic significance. It's one of the oldest in the country still in use. It's also in a relatively remote area, not
accessible by roads, except for one short section. The flume has been well maintained and some sections have been rebuilt over the years,
but it's largely original. It will be an extreme shame to see it destroyed.
The fate of the flume and power plant are not clear. But in looking over the PGE documents about decommissioning the plant, it seems clear
that the only groups to come forward and strike an agreement with PGE are environmentalists, river rafters and fisherman. None of which may
have an interest in historical preservation. It's possible that the flume and power plant might be saved for historical preservation, but so far, I
know of no evidence that's the plan.
So, until it's destroyed, we plan to try to document the flume and railroad as much as possible. Below are photos from our first two visits of the
area, including some photos courtesy of Portland General Electric.
|The Marmot Dam
|Photos of the Marmot Dam on the Sandy River. Neither the Little Sandy River dam or the Marmot dam are accessible to the public. The Marmot dam is more
than 50 feet high and has an extensive fish ladder system. This where the it all begins. A concrete flume, combined with several significant tunnels flow water
from the Sandy River, 3 miles to the Little Sandy River Dam. This is to supplement the flow of the Little Sandy River, which was found to not have sufficient
flow to power the plant year round.
Portland General Electric photos.
|This is only the photo I was able to get of the Marmot flume. I took it at the west end of tunnel number 3. This tunnel is located about a mile west of Marmot
dam. The most significant tunnel, is tunnel number 2, located west of here, and tunneling about a mile north under the Devil's Backbone, dumping out in the
Little Sandy River near the Little Sandy Dam.
|The Little Sandy River Dam
|The Little Sandy River is the primary source of power for the Bull Run Power Plant. Virtually all of the water from the Little Sandy River is diverted through the
old wood box flume, more than 3 miles to the Roslyn Lake.
Portland General Electric Photo
|The Flume, east end
|Most of the three mile long wood flume and railroad is not easily accessible, even by foot. Because PGE uses the railroad on top of the flume to access most of
it, there was no reason to build a road or even a foot trail along the bottom of the flume. Walking on top of the flume is forbidden. In these PGE photos, we see
the PGE speeder and crew inspecting the flume somewhere along the east end. Note the new metal trestling that apparently replaced the original wood
trestling in this rock slide prone area.
Portland General Electric Photos.
|The Flume, west end
|Looking east along the flume from Phelps Road. Here the flume continues another almost 3 miles to the Little Sandy River dam. The flume is probably one of
the curviest trestles in existence and certainly the longest.
|Phelps Road is the only road that gets anywhere near the flume. PGE has signs on the flume clearly indicating that climbing on the flume is not
permissible. Phelps Road is a short dead end road that only accesses a few homes in the Little Sandy River valley. Because of this, the flume is a well
hidden piece of history that is little known and less visited. From Phelps Road you can explore the flume from the ground on foot. I only walked east a few
hundred yards and shot these photos.
|Some close up views of the flume. The railroad appears to be standard gauge using very light weight track. The flume, while originally built in 1909, appears
to have rebuilt since then, at least in some sections. Note the modern treated lumber that was likely added in recent decades.
|Phelps Road is the only road that the flume crosses over. It's very near the end of the flume. Most of the flume is in a remote area, not accessible by vehicle
and even not easily accessible by foot. One interesting feature located at the Phelps Road crossing is this water spout that is probably meant to fill fire trucks
who might have to respond the area around the flume.
|Looking west along the flume, from Phelps Road. Not far from here, the flume dumps into Roslyn Lake. But not before passing by PGE's flume
|Hiking west along the flume from Phelps Road. Note the wood ladder to reach the top of the flume. I noticed a serious of numbered plaques nailed on certain
columns. At first, I thought they might be distance markers, but they weren't in any kind of series, so I'm not sure of their purpose.
|PGE's Railroad maintenance Shops
|The maintenance shops where PGE stores it's speeders and equipment to maintain the wood flume. I was surprised at how extensive the shops were for just
3 miles of wood flume. I was also surprised to find not one speeder, but at least three. And possibly more stored inside the shops. Note that the railroad splits
into three tracks, including one track that goes into a speeder shop building. Also note how the water leaves the wood flume and enters a concrete flume. Just
a few feet past the shops, the water will enter a short tunnel before exiting and then dumping into Roslyn Lake.
|I was able to get a real close up view of one of the speeders. The body is unique and appears to be custom made specifically for PGE. It appears that they
built three similar, but not identical bodies. I also noted that the undercarriage varied between the speeders indicating that they were built on different
chassis. The bodies appear to be designed to carry a number of passengers in relative comfort. Also note the hand hold that mounted on all sides of the
speeder. This is to allow workers to walk around the speeder while on the flume without falling through the flume. .October, 2005
|Compare the newer style speeder to the old style that were originally in use in this photo from PDX History.
|One interesting aspect of this speeder is that it's powered by a little diesel motor. Most speeders are powered by air cooled or liquid cooled gasoline motors.
One likely reason for using a diesel is the fact that this speeder is larger than most and has to haul one or two large heavy trailers and crane along the flume.
And finally, the flume is on a permanent grade. Each wheel has sanding apparatus, which no doubt, comes in handy during the rainy and icy seasons. Note the
mini-disk brake, which is located on each side of the speeder.
|Ii took these shots of the interior of the speeder through the windows. The interior seems to be fairly comfortable and designed to haul a number of passengers
in relative comfort, as opposed to being crammed into a typical railroad speeder. The controls are interesting and appear to be totally custom made, perhaps
along with the whole speeder by PGE. Note how the speedometer only reaches 15 mph. Actual speeds are probably well below that. The throttle appears to
be made from an old B&M automobile transmission shifter. The brake handle is the red rod sticking out of the floor. It might be entirely manual, I'm not sure.
|This was the second of three speeders that I saw stored outside. This one appeared to be older and I suspect is the back up speeder. The exterior design is
similar, but it appears to be powered by a different set up. The under carriage also appears to be different. I didn't want to go poking around too much, so my
photos of this speeder are limited.
|The first photo shows the third speeder that I saw. I didn't want to mess around too much at the PGE shops, as this is private property, so I avoided walking
over to the speeder to get a closer look, but it appears to be timelier design of the other two. The blue building has tracks running to the inside and is likely
where the speeders are repaired. It's possible that more speeders are located inside. I'm most curious where the original speeders from the early days are
located. Were they scrapped or are they stored here? Or perhaps are some of their parts still found on the current speeders, such as the under carriage? Note
the two trailers and cranes that are towed behind the speeders to make repairs on the flume. And finally, one of PGE's dump trucks was parked there as well.
|The first photo is the Little Sandy Flume as it exits the concrete tunnel that it entered just west of the PGE flume maintenance shops, into Roslyn Lake. The
flume was built in 1909 along with the power plant, however as the date indicates, this tunnel wasn't constructed until 1926. It's not clear if the flume originally
ran water directly to the power plant, or if this concrete tunnel simply replaced the original tunnel that was probably wood lined.
|The Bull Run Powerplant
|The Bull Run power plant is nearly 100 years old, and PGE obviously feels that it's reached the end of its usefulness. When it was constructed in 1909, it was at
the height of modern day technology. Powering thousands of homes and a large percentage of the Portland community. Today, the 10,000 or so homes that this
22 mega-watt plant powers is but a drop in the bucket. But it's historical significance is no less important. It will be extremely shameful to see it destroyed, if
indeed, that is PGE's plans. I would much rather see it turned into a museum, but historical preservation does not seem to be a priority. Three photos on left:
October, 2005. Photo on right: the turbines inside the powerhouse, Portland General Electric photo.
|The flume railroad is not the only railroad associated with the Bull Run Power plant. A significant, but long forgotten railroad was actually built
from Portland to the Bull Run River for construction of the power plant. After construction, the railroad continued to serve passengers and freight
along it's route until the depression of the early 1930s caused it's demise. Today, the line is largely gone, but there are a few remains, which I'll
document, along with the line's history in a separate future article in my abandoned railroads section.
If you do visit the flume, be sure to respect the fact that it can be dangerous. PGE makes it very clear that no one should climb on the flume.
Also, while the shops were not gated off or marked with no trespassing signs, it's still private property, so beware. The flume can be easily and
safely viewed from Phelps Road, however. Also, the Bull Run power plant and surrounding area is generally open to the public with hiking trails
around the power plant, giving good views of the plant and surrounding scenic area.
|PDX History - Bun Run
Lots of neat photos about the history of Bull Run, and this flume
PGE's site on the Sandy River dam and powerplant
PGE's website about the removal of the Bull Run power plant and dam
|If anyone has any further information on any of the above railroad that you'd like to share, you
can Email me anytime. Thanks.
|Return to the Railroad History Page
Return to the Historical Expeditions Page
Return to my main Home Page
|Copyright © 2005-2008 Brian McCamish, All Rights Reserved
Note about the photos on this site:
Most photos were taken by me, except for those that are otherwise indicated. I usually allow people to use my photos for personal use or
websites. Simply Email me. I may not have authority to grant permission regarding some photos that were only loaned to me by others
specifically for this website. Every effort has been made not to include other's photos without the proper permission and credits, however, if you
see any photos which belong to you and that I don't have permission to use, I apologize. If you send me an Email, I will remove the photos
immediately or give proper credit, which ever you wish.
The PGE tram and flume have been officially decommissioned and therefore, this operation has been moved to the
abandoned railroad section of our website. Both dams are removed or undergoing removal, water no longer flows through
the flume and Roslyn Lake is completely dry. The flume is scheduled to be removed later in 2008, airlifted out section by
section and dismantled.
|Reclaimation and Decommission of the PGE Bull Run system
|PGE is well underway of the Decommission of the Bull Run Power plant system. The first part of the decommission process
is the destruction and removal of the Marmot Dam. This Dam provided additional water supply to the Little Sandy River and
Dam, before it was carried to Roslyn Lake via the flume and then to the Bull Run power plant. By removing this dam, the
Sandy River will now flow unimpeded through this area.
PGE has created a new website which describes the process of removing the dam and the future of the project:
These links to videos are courtesy of Mike Wills of PGE
Videos of the dam remove and explosion
Videos of the breach of the coffer dam
Slide show of the breach
The Little Sandy River Dam is scheduled to be removed in 2008, along with the removal and draining of Roslyn Lake. This
will presumably take place in the spring and summer of 2008 and be completed by the fall of 2008.
Other structures and clean up removal are scheduled to be completed by 2009. This possibly includes the LIttle Sandy
Flume. PGE has made it clear on their website that they intend to remove the flume and return everything along the Little
Sandy River to its natural habitat. The tunnels will be closed off to humans, but remain accessible for bat habitat.
We understand PGE's desire to reclaim this entire project and restore everything to its natural state, but are extremely
dissapointed that such rare and historical structures appear to be slated for destruction. Unfortunately, it appears that no
one has come forward to advocate for the preservation of the flume, largely because it was a historical structure that served
in silence and solitude and was largely unknown.
The Bull Run Powerhouse is slated to be sold to a prospective unnamed owner and preserved under the National Historic
Preservation Act according to PGE. We are extremely happy to hear that at least the Powerhouse will be saved.
If more information becomes available I will update here. Again, thank you to PGE for providing us with this information so it
could be passed along to you via this article.
|Other relevant links
|These pictures were taken in July 2008. It doesn't look much different, but the flume is now empty of water and is now completely decommissioned. The plan is
remove the flume in 20-25 foot sections and haul them out by helicopter, then dismantle them at another location. This is scheduled to take place later in the
summer of 2008.
|With the flume now completely decommissioned, water is no longer flowing into Rosyln Lake and as of early summer, 2008, it was completely drained. The last
concrete tunnel of the flume, which flowed into the lake has been sealed off and the concrete pumping stations demolished. The lake was already extremely
shallow, but it appears to have filled in even more.