Portland Traction Co – Local History in the Backyard

Kids and Easter Oregon Mountains

We just got back from an Eastern Oregon-to-Montana-and-back road trip and I was lamenting that during our house addition work that we didn’t uncover any dinosaur bones or historic relics. We visited the Painted Hills and Fossil, Oregon, to look for fossils and we did find some! While in Bozeman, we visited the Museum of the Rockies which has an amazing and accessible dinosaur museum. I also learned while listening to podcasts during our long hours on the road that if you find a dinosaur fossil on your property, it belongs to you. This has lead to a private market for dinosaur bones which seems very wrong somehow but there you go… start digging for your very own T-Rex!

T-Rex at Museum of the Rockies

Anyway, we got back home after what felt like a month away and the yard weeds were knee high. So, early on Sunday morning I went out to tackle them and while pulling fresh, happy weeds from next to our newly built foundation, I found a little thing:


As you can see it’s very weather-worn and if it didn’t have a punch in the middle, I probably would have overlooked it. The more I examined it, the more I felt like it had the word “PORTLAND” stamped on it. On the other side, I could read “FOR.” I brought it inside and asked my kid to dig out her kid-microscope so we could examine it and we determined that it was something interesting. I started thinking maybe a trolley token of some sort. There used to be trolley lines criss-crossing Portland including out to our neck of the woods. Right now, the City is digging deep to finally pull the some of the remaining trolley tracks out of SE 52nd – a bit of history gone forever.

We did some pencil and paper rubbings on it and it looked like the back side said “GOOD FOR.” We started Googling for vintage trolley tokens and bingo! If it was a pristine token, we would have been able to read: “Portland Traction Co.; Good For One Fare.” Further reading revealed that these particular tokens were in play for about a decade, from the mid-1940s to mid 1950s and good for busses and trolleys. Our little home was built in the early 1950s, right in the middle of this time period, so I have to imagine that this token came from a worker who had some part in building our house. I do hope they were able to get home safely that night!

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I enjoyed this write-up on some history of the tokens (scroll down to image of the Rose City bus) including the fact that when the company decided to get rid of them, they just dumped them in the ocean. THE OCEAN! You have to wonder what millions of these nickel alloy tokens did to that spot of the ocean floor outside of Newport. Probably not great! Ahhh, history. When you want to get rid of something, just throw it down a ravine or in some body of water. What could go wrong?

Also, this page on Portland Interurbans has some lovely imagery including that “Sellwood Car House, Office and Club House” which, fun fact, the office and club house is now office spaces and I spent three months employed by a design agency there. I used to hang out out back next to the derelict train tracks and make phone calls on my lunch break. One day–shocker–a short train rolls by! Apparently this bit of track is owned privately and this guy… I don’t even understand what goes on but he has some train cars and uses them…? I love this little town.