We all see signs and ads for upcoming projects and productions day after day after day. But when’s the last time you heard about local news—the new and exciting “coming soon” announcements for small towns? Butte Falls, with a population of 435 and a thick forest separating it from the rest of its neighboring cities, might soon have an opportunity to bring a cache of history and excitement right to its downtown stretch. The 70-ton Medco #4 steam-engine, built in 1925 for the Owen-Oregon Lumber Company (later Medco), is being restored by the Southern Oregon Railway Historical Society (a.k.a. SO Rail), and once completed, may one day return to Butte Falls where it used to carry lumber.
In the heyday of this Willamette Iron and Steel Works locomotive, Butte Falls was actively involved in lumber distribution, even sending timber to France during World War I. When the railroad closed in the following years, and the logging industry switched to trucks, the Medco #4 and other steam engines were all but forgotten. Though it takes a great deal of time and money to refurbish a steam engine, SO Rail is making steady progress on the project. As of 2019, the restoration (funded by generous donations and grants from individuals), has less than 20% to go before completion.
According to Jerry Hellinga, the Medco #4 project leader, and the chief mechanical officer for SO Rail, “the town of Butte Falls has been negotiating to acquire the needed right-of-way from the timber companies that own it so that the railroad can be located there. If they are successful, the Medco 4 will be moved to Butte Falls for operations once the necessary railroad track and facilities are built.”
One of the missions of the Southern Oregon Railway Historical Society is to preserve the operation of historical equipment, meaning that when the Medco #4 is finished with its restoration, it will be fully functional, just as it was in the early 1900’s. While the engine will no longer haul lumber and freight, visitors will be welcomed to explore the train and learn all they can about the era of steam-engines. If Butte Falls does acquire the “tourist railroad,” the potential for tourism increases tenfold. As it is now, during spring, summer, and fall, the Medford Railroad Park (where the Medco #4 is currently kept) welcomes bi-monthly gaggles of train-fanatics, ranging from small children in Thomas the Tank Engine tees, to the elderly population who may even remember working with trains. Bringing a refurbished engine to the town of Butte Falls would add to the area’s draw—and the fascinating history of Butte Falls. After all, a daytrip to a small forest-town boasting a waterfall and one of the last operational steam-trains around sounds like a nice adventure. And if you can learn more about the history of the railroads in Southern Oregon, that’s an added bonus. So, stay tuned for updates on the Medco #4, which may soon bring a season of excitement to Butte Falls.
Southern Oregon Railway Historical Society (2019). Website: http://www.soc-nrhs.org/index.html
Thanks to the newest addition to our SOREDI team, our SOU intern, Abigail Skelton, we will continue to feature some of the popular attractions located in our Southern Oregon communities. We consider each one of our towns and cities to be “jewels in the crown” that makes up Southern Oregon. If you have a story idea sparked by an inspiring local attraction, please e-mail our Communications Manager, Codi Spodnik and maybe Abigail will be giving you a call to follow up. If you are a SOREDI Member and you have some great news, please e-mail it to Codi so we can share it in our newsletter.