Special Features about Cemeteries Trolleys

The Infamous Corbett Ramp

John's Landing is a flatland between the Willamette River and the base of the West Hills. Corbett Street runs straight north-south along the base of the hills. Near the south end of Corbett at Nebraska, the avenue is split into a ramp that goes up an incline (12.8% grade, or 7.3 degrees).

Corbett Street and Ramp at Nebraska on December 9, 2020

Was this used by the Trolley / Street car? No. This is folklore. The ramp may simply be an artifact of a large retaining wall, similar to smaller ones on this east slope of the West Hills, above and around Barbur blvd, more related to creating terraces of buildable lots, i.e Land == $$. The ramp/wall was likely constructed Long After the F Line ceased operation.

Even though an electric trolley could have managed the slope, the F Line instead took a very gradual route along the hillside, using trestles to cross ravines. Similarly, the N-S Line turned east here on Nebraska and stayed at the same basic elevation to get to the Town of Fulton and lower River View Cemetery.

A definitive answer is needed however: When was the Corbett Avenue ramp built, and Why?

Brier Place Trench

Astonishing Google StreetView image of the Brier Place Trench, where the F-Line likely came up into Fulton Park.

Brier Trench Street View image

You can imagine the track and trolley coming through... this is so cool, you must see it in person. Go to Fulton Park, walk over the Brier Place toward Barbur Blvd, then take the spur north, also named SW Brier Place. Go to the dead in an stand there in awe.

LIDAR imagery for Brier Trench

See Thin vertical purple line in upper right of image.

LIDAR imagery for Brier Trench

Could this just be the result of digging a sewer line in 1925? We don't think so.

The thin horizontal purple line indicates a trench that aligns with SW Miles street - for reasons unknown, probably predating I-5! You can see it in person if you go there.


The 1909 Sanborn map below shows a WOODEN TRESTLE FOR ELECTRIC RY. Sanborn maps were made by an insurance company in order to assess risk of fire for insurance purposes, ergo the wood structure is shown, but not steel rails. This is from Sanborn Maps, 1909, Sheet 179.

Sanborn Maps, 1909, Sheet 179, showing WOODEN TRESTLE in the location where the Red Electric line passed.

We think this 'WOODEN TRESTLE FOR ELECTRIC RY' was for the Oregon Electric. Could it have been a remnant of the F Line, or perhaps used by the N-S Line?

The 1894 Portland Paving Map

On this map published in 1894, one can see a line that corresponds to our 'Green Line' to Greenwood Hills Cemetery.

Ignore most of the streets on the map below! This early plat of South Burlingame is goofy/flat because they did it on paper without regard for terrain. Some of these streets never became streets!

Stephens Creek is not shown on this early map!

1894 Portland Paving Map (Cropped) showing a rail line to Greenwood Hills Cemetery

The Green reference line was added to this 1894 Portland Paving Map, showing the Trolley line. Mainly, note that the line goes into and through 'Greenwood (Hills) Cemetery' toward River View Cemetery.

The Alexander Ceres Diagrammatic Map

This Map appears on Page 72 of Labbe's Fares Please!. I added the red dot to represent my house.

Metropolitan Railway Route Map [Labbe,p72]. Schematic Map by Alexander B. Ceres

The map is correct downtown where it simply followed established streets. Reading from north to south, the line came out of Portland on Corbett Avenue to Hamilton. Just past Hamilton, you can see that it turns into tracks, and veers off to the west into what was the side of Portland's west hills, and it stayed below the SPRR line. In Fulton Park, where you see the Powerhouse and the little spur, it got more difficult to represent what the line actually did.

Compare this black and white map to the Portland Paving Map (above), and you'll see that the F Line curved around with the SPRR a bit before heading south. It would have been hard to show the spur, the line, and the powerhouse all in that Fulton Park area on this scale. I am tempted to draw a better version of it, but I'll leave it alone.

Unfortunately, some people read the map to say the trolley went up Corbett Ave the whole way, and then turned into Fulton Park. Also the map shows the F Line cutting across the the Jewish Cemetery, and that just did not happen. We don't fault Ceres for the representation, it's pretty good. We don't know what map or maps he worked from, although it would be nice to know. Did Labbe have a engineering map, or a feeling for where the line went, and just summarized it to Ceres in a sketch, who then abstracted it onto some working map of the roads and river?

Schedules of F and N-S lines

To be added.

F Line Ticket (find or Mock one up)

Thompson has a copy of an N-S Line ticket on Page 19 of Portland's Streetcar Lines. We'd like to find an F Line ticket, or create one in the same style, but...

I-5 Construction Notes

We intend to submit an information request to ODOT for any reports filed containing a pre-construction pre 1960 survey of the I-5 corridor from the Terwilliger curves through the Corbett Ave exit. What was topography before the construction? What written survey notes or inventory of the right-of-way were made? For example, we know there was a massive retaining wall constructed for the Oregon Electric railway along there. SO, a decision was made to leave the wall in place (till 2010 anyway). Perhaps older trestles piers were removed, and so on. A topographic survey should show what the land was like south of the Fulton Park community center and garden area. What TOPO did they use, or make for the project?

Massive Retaining Wall along contemporary I-5

As we wrote on the F Line page, the Metropolitan Railway Co Line was difficult to maintain because the hillside was not stable. After the F Line was abandon, the Oregon Electric folks came along in 1913 and re-used that 'right of way' or natural geographic trajectory. In doing so, a massive retaining wall was put in place, which persisted long after the Oregon Electric ceased operation. It was even left in place when I-5 was built along that corridor in ~1957-59.

Massive Retaining Wall along I-5, retrieved from Google Streetview

Wen it came time to upgrade the older viaducts on I-5 and Barbur, the retaining wall was removed and one lane added for construction purposes in 2010. (?) The 1913 DATE BLOCKS from the massive Oregon Electric retaining wall were originally saved by ODOT. One date block went to the Oregon Electric folks at Brooks, Oregon. The other went from the ODOT facility in south Portland, to Tigard where it was intended to be used in their new downtown trail. When it came time to utilize it in the trail it was not to be found...a piece of history lost!

A Trainmaster article describes this retaining wall and construction project. Train Master Newsletter, October 2010, pages 10-11 only [836 KB PDF], also linked to from the Collections page.

Accidents and Delays

The trolleys to the SW cemeteries didn’t always run smoothly. There were accidents and mishaps that at the very least delayed service, but were sometimes serious enough to be reported in local newspapers. The Metropolitan’s F Line had a particularly serious accident in its second year of operation, with eleven of thirteen passengers injured, two severely. On Oct. 16, 1891, as detailed in the Morning Oregonian, an open trolley was traveling “at the rate of twenty miles an hour” on a downgrade, then started “careening wildly” as it approached a curved trestle somewhere between 2nd Avenue and Fulton Park. The trolley jumped the track and ran along the pedestrian walk before crashing through the guard rail and plunging thirty feet into a ravine. Because it was an open trolley, many passengers were able to jump out before the plunge, but others apparently were carried down with the car. There were no known fatalities, despite the paper’s rather graphic descriptions of some of the injuries. Passengers and at least one reader indicated that the motorman was driving too fast and recklessly, already a frequent complaint along the new hilly route.

Decades later, a more humorous incident unfolded on the N-S Line to Fulton. In the 1930s, near the end of that line’s history, the brakes on an empty trolley car “let go” during a motorman’s break at Corbett and Bancroft. As reported by Richard Thompson in Portland’s Streetcar Lines, the trolley rolled downhill on Corbett and up the slight grade to Nebraska, rounding that corner and rolling down to Virginia, where it crashed into Porcelli’s grocery. Fortunately there were no passengers aboard, and no bystanders were hurt.

In addition to runaway streetcars, the lines cutting through the hills south of Portland-proper were plagued with landslides, iced-up wires, snowstorms, and floods. Then there was Portland’s customary cold and wet weather, which could make riding the open cars uncomfortable. Mechanical and logistical delays, as well as disagreements with conductors about tickets not being honored for transfers, resulted in some disgruntled passengers through the years.