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What Was it the Red Caps Were Saying?

Red Caps await the arrival of Union Pacific’s City of Portland at Portland Union Station in April 1968

What Was it the Red Caps Were Saying?

PTJ 2022-03by Bill Anderson/photos by the author

It’s late April, cool and overcast in Portland, Oregon. In other words, a normal, early spring day in the Rose City. However, the spring of that year, 1968, was having a not-so-normal start. Less than a month before, on March 31, a U.S. president who had been elected in a landslide announced that he was not seeking another term, due to a very unpopular war he advocated. Less than a week later, on April 4, an icon in the civil rights movement was murdered.

At Union Station, this would be the first spring in living memory that Union Pacific did not have at least two trains that owed their viability to the United States Post Office.

All was not dour, though. There was a strong rumor that Bobby Kennedy would have a campaign train out of Portland to Eugene, Ore., next month. There seemed to be some resistance on the part of Southern Pacific that might cause the train’s cancellation, however.

Spokane, Portland & Seattle

ABOVE The other side of Spokane, Portland & Seattle’s passenger trains is reflected here in the mid-afternoon departure of the Streamliner, Train 2, with through cars to Chicago via both Northern Pacific’s North Coast Limited and Great Northern’s Empire Builder. This day’s departure was unusual, with SP&S’s only E unit on the head end along with the usual two F units.

So here we have today’s scene. It’s mid-morning, and Union Pacific’s westbound City of Portland is running about 10 minutes late. With a swap of the sleeping cars for coaches, the arriving consist would then become UP Pool Train 457 to Seattle. But at the moment, Track 5 is bare.

At least this pause provides some time for the Red Caps to cuss and discuss the topics of the day. There was little doubt that the future for their jobs was not optimistic. The fact was that Union Station’s daily arrivals board was down to just eight trains. Even one of those, the Portland Rose, had already had an Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) hearing to discontinue its operation. What will the Rose City be without the Portland Rose?

“Well, with summer not that far away, at least the vacationers will fill up the trains.”

“Yeh, but summers go away before you know it, and then it’s back to the regular train riders that are fewer every year.”

“Oh, for the return of times like that Seattle World’s Fair in 1962. Remember when 457 ran in two sections between Memorial Day and Labor Day, or was it longer? Even Southern Pacific had to run two sections of the Cascade on some days to keep the train from going over 30 cars. Wasn’t that something…?”

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This article was posted on: September 10, 2022