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The Willamette Valley Southern Railway Company
Commerce Comes to South Clackamas County
by Mike Dunton
Clackamas Southern Railway Company > Willamette Valley Southern Railway > Willamette Valley Railway
1911 to 1939

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The Community of Liberal, Oregon

Wilhoit Mineral Springs History Page

Oregon Pacific Railroad

Evangelical Community Chapel

Victor Hugo Dunton House (1916)
and the
Dunton Family Farm



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In January of 1914, a company that had been floundering since its formation in early 1911 - the Clackamas Southern Railway Company - was reorganized as the Willamette Valley Southern Railway Company. Only three months later, in April, the assets of the company were taken over by the Portland Railway Light and Power Company. It was set up as a subsidiary of their interurban division.

The company took out a new $3,000,000 mortgage to guarantee a $700,000 bond issue and used it to road. The Clackamas Southern had only created six miles in the nearly three years of their existence.

They completed work and the line was opened for service from Oregon City to Mount Angel via Molalla on October 23, 1915, a distance of 31.02 miles. A proposed spur to Wilhoit Mineral Springs was never realized.

The Willamette Valley Southern Railway Electric Locomotive ca. 1915

As reported to the Governor, the total cost of building and equipping the line was $1,895,146. Included in the railway's inventory were four closed passenger cars, one electric locomotive, and two combination closed / open passenger cars.

The Willamette Valley Southern Railway used 50 ton, 1,200 volt locomotives developing a tractive effort of 14,800 pounds at a speed rating of 10.8 miles per hour. This was typical equipment for this kind of medium service line.[3]

Unfortunately, the largely rural communities that the railroad served never quite supported the business. Timber stands in the area had not yet been fully developed so the railway's business had to rely on carrying passengers and freight. The population was small and passenger traffic minimal. Mail was carried. Agriculture was the main enterprise of the region. Potatoes, eggs, cream, poultry and meat were transported to Oregon City and Portland. For several years, railcars of apples were shipped to Portland. However, below zero temperatures in the winter of 1919 killed much of the apple orchards in the area and ended that lucrative trade.

The train passed by several of our ancestors farms and businesses. The owner of the Liberal Store, Uncle Bill Vick[1], would regularly take his 1910 Buick to the North Liberal station to pick up supplies for the store. And for a time (not sure of the dates) the store was also the Liberal, Oregon post office. As the train passed through the homestead of my Schoenborn relatives, my Great-grandfather[2] harvested and loaded railcars with cordwood which was sold to the paper mill at the Willamette Falls in Oregon City.

In 1927, a large company, the Eastern & Western Lumber Company of Portland, looked like they might be the saving grace of the failing line. They built a logging railroad spur into their forestland just south of Molalla and began shipping large quantities of logs early in 1927.

Eastern & Western Lumber Company - March 26, 1946
Eastern & Western Lumber Co. steam engines on a spur near Liberal, Oregon in March of 1946.

With the promise of revenues from this new business, the nearly bankrupt railroad was reorganized into a new company called the Willamette Valley Railway Company. However, all hope faded when a fire burned through the timberlands owned by Eastern & Western in September of 1929.

In May of 1930, the track between Kaylor (southwest of Molalla) to Mount Angel was abandoned which shortened the line to 20.5 miles.

The Southern Pacific Railway had constructed a spur from Canby to Molalla in 1912 in response to the creation of this line in 1911. [Note: This spur is still partially in operation as the Oregon Pacific Railroad.]  As the Willamette Valley Railway was failing in the early 1930s, there was talk of the Southern Pacific purchasing it. It is presumed that if it has been better adapted for steam locomotives, the sale may have occurred.

When the Eastern & Western logging operations stopped, so too did the Willamette Valley Railway. Lacking capital and any prospect of hope, the company went bankrupt, the tracks and trestles were decommissioned, and the right-of-ways eventually reverted back to the original landholders.

Willamette Valley Southern Railway Schedule Front Willamette Valley Southern Railway Schedule Back

Willamette Valley Southern Railway Schedule
April 1, 1926

I found this schedule while remodeling a dining room wall in our family's farm house.  Unfortunately, it was rather insect or rodent eaten, but the schedule is largely intact.

It should be noted that by the time this schedule was printed, Molalla was the proverbial "end of the line."

Map of the Molalla Area Railways Cordwood Stacked in WVSR Car

Cordwood Stacked in WVSR Car

My Great-grandfather2, Henry Schoenborn, cut and sold cordwood to the paper mill at Willamette Falls in Oregon City who used it to generate power for their operations. You can just make out the electrical power lines above the car.

Buckner Creek Trestle Buckner Creek Trestle
These images are of the trestle that passed through the canyon Henry Schoenborn's2 (The Richard Schoenborn homestead) property at Eldorado, Oregon.


  • "Fares, Please!" by John T. Labbe, 1982
  • "The Yoder Store & the Willamette Valley Southern," The Oregon Trail Pioneer Newspaper, by Gail McCormick, Nov/Dec 1994
  • Dunton / Schoenborn Family Archives


1.  William "Bill" Jakob Earnest Vick, b. May 28, 1881, was the founder of the old country store at the intersection Macksburg Road and what is now State Highway 213 in Liberal, Oregon. He was the brother of our farm's "co-founder", my Great-grandmother, Eda Caroline Vick Dunton.  The store is still in operation and the building listed on the historic register.

2.  Henry Richard Schoenborn (1889-1983) was the Great-grandfather (and a mentor) of Mike Dunton. He was born on the family homestead at Eldorado, Oregon and lived a life that saw much change in the world. Literally from the horse and buggy age to the computer age. Although the original homestead was broken up into parcels, most still remains in family possession.

3The American Yearbook: A Record of Events and Progress, 1916

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