|Union Pacific's OC Switcher pulls the last car out of the Blue Heron paper mill in downtown Oregon City.|
On Wednesday, with no prior warning, the Blue Heron Paper Company announced that its mill in Oregon City was closing. The last day for hourly employees would be just two days later. The mill ceased production on Friday afternoon, and for the first time since 1829, the hum of industry fell silent on the east bank of Willamette Falls. There was one empty boxcar remaining in the mill when the closing announcement was made. Fittingly, that car had brought in a load of recycled paper earlier in the week -- the chief raw material used at the mill, and reason for its closure. Increased demand in China has driven the price of recycled paper above what the mill can afford. Just after midnight on Saturday morning, Union Pacific's OC Switcher came into the mill and retrieved that car. Several ex-mill workers, most who had worked their final shift in the previous 24 hours, were watching from 505 Tavern (note the sign on the sidewalk). One even stepped outside to toast the train, shouting, "One more time" as the two SW1500s pulled across state highway 99E. No less than six railroad photographers were on hand to document the end of this era.