PDXCurious Photo at Tilikum Station

December 19, 2018

An Explanation of the Curious Photo at Mt. Hood Brewing Co. Tilikum Station

By Arlen L. Sheldrake for the Pacific Northwest Chapter National Railway Historical Society (reprinted here with permission)

The opening of Tilikum Station on July 5th was greeted with enthusiasm by the community and the volunteers at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center. An inspection of the interior décor revealed a curious photo.

The curious photo, the only person photo in the Station, shows a man standing in front of a Mt. Hood Railroad green painted locomotive. The photo has, as of yet, no caption or explanation. This prompted my curiosity and led me on a road of discovery.

RLK and Company is the organization that is the concessionaire for Timberline Lodge and also owns Mount Hood Brewing (2013) with a location in Government Camp and now one in SE Portland. RLK are the initials of the company founder/owner Richard L. Kohnstamm. This is the man that in 1955 founded the company and rescued a deteriorating Timberline Lodge from a grim fate. There was even talk at the time of burning the derelict down!

All this background is fine but what about the picture? Timberline Lodge is on the other side of Mt. Hood from the Mount Hood Railroad and it is a good distance from end of track at Parkdale to Government Camp and Timberline Lodge.

Come to find out, Richard was a friend of Jack Mills and according to son John, Richard’s banker at U.S. National Bank. Jack Mills and other investors purchased the Mount Hood Railroad from Union Pacific in 1987 (Iowa Pacific acquired the line in 2008). Richard was one of those investors. Son Jeff Kohnstamm, current owner of RLK and Company, had the exterior of the building on top of the former Valley and Siletz Railroad flat car painted in the same green that one sees in the photo of his father in front of the Mt. Hood Railroad locomotive. The photo of his father was placed in the car by Jeff to honor the memory of his father Richard L. Kohnstamm, 1926-2006.

According the Clem L. Pope book, Switchback to the Timber (1992): “In the mid-80’s the Union Pacific Railroad made a decision to concentrate its efforts on transcontinental shipments and offered its branch lines for sale. If buyers were not found the branches were to be phased out. Once more the Hood River Port Authority intervened and persuaded the Union Pacific to defer action on the Mount Hood branch until the Port had time to examine the possibility of making the railroad a tourist attraction. The study must have been favorable because it was not long before a group of local investors, headed by Jack Mills, a county commissioner and former vice president of U.S. National Bank began extended negotiations with the Union Pacific. After two years of meetings the Union Pacific agreed to accept $650,000 for the Mount Hood properties and the former U.P. station at Hood River.”

Fred Duckwall, a long time Port of Hood River Commissioner and classmate, tells me his research indicates the Port was never interested in purchasing the railroad but wanted it preserved and operational.

One can make the case that like the preservation of Timberline Lodge, this group of investors, including Richard Kohnstamm, saved the Mount Hood Railroad branch from the scrapper.

Son John also relates that his father was quite the rail fan including enjoying listening to locomotive sounds on his car tape recorder.

Visit the Tilikum Station, 401 SE Caruthers (immediately south of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center), for a good wood-fired pizza and draft beer and take a look at the picture and facility that honors the man whose vision, dedication and investment we continue to appreciate and enjoy today.

Note: While I like wood-fired pizza, the parmesan cheese is really special. They grate it daily from a large block of the cheese.

Sources: Timberline Lodge, A Love Story, The 50th Anniversary Tribute, 1986; The Oregon Encyclopedia: Richard L. Kohnstamm (1926-2006); John Kohnstamm; Jeff Kohnstamm, President, RLK and Company; John Burton, Director of Marketing & PR, Timberline Lodge & Ski Area; Switchback to the Timber by Clem L. Pope; Fred Duckwall.