University of Oregon students walk onto campus to University Street and hop on the brand new electric street cars. It takes them across the river to Springfield so they can hit a few bars – because Eugene is now alcohol-free. Two street cars labeled “the drunk express” load up the UO students at midnight when the bars close.
In the morning, the same students might decide the previous night put them in a bit of a rough state this morning so they’re not feeling the walk to campus. Instead, they just hop on the cheap streetcar to can get them within a block of class.
This isn’t some dystopian future in Eugene, this is the year 1910.
What started out as a rail car pulled by mules in 1890s was transformed into a four-line, 18.5 mile, fully electric streetcar system by 1915. The lines started at what was called the Southern Pacific Railroad depot and stretched to west onto River Road and to the east into downtown Springfield on main street. One line ran through campus from Franklin Boulevard down University Street to East Twenty-Fifth Avenue and then back up toward campus onto Columbia Boulevard and Moss Street, according to Richard Thompson in his book “Lost Oregon Streetcars.”
Thompson said he has been researching these historic streetcars since the 1960s while he was a student living in the dorms at the UO.
Streetcars were by no means unique to Eugene and were often seen as necessary for growing a large town or small city, according to Brittanica. The Oregonian said at the time the electric streetcar system was built in 1908 that this was the “Best Epoch” in Eugene’s history. The construction of the new streetcar system had a large impact on this time of innovation in the city but it was also the competing “Improvement Clubs” that each took ownership over a certain part of the city. Each group pushing to get their section of the city in on the new mode of transportation.
“Eugene cannot much longer grow and expand without it has a car system which will place its suburbs in touch with the business centre of the city,” an opinion article in The Eugene Daily Guard from Sep. 22, 1909 said.
The electric streetcar was eventually scrapped just like the mule-powered streetcar system before it. Those steel cars were voted out of commission April 1927 by the Eugene City Council in favor of a new bus system.
Most of the tracks have since been paved over, but some can still be seen in the Fairmount area on Columbia and Moss Streets.