Chet Gunderson opened Wire Wheel Sales & Service Company on February 23, 1919. This was the beginning of what would become today’s Gunderson.
Chet’s younger brother Al joined the company in 1923, and the beginning of Gunderson Brothers was born. Al was a people person and handled the sales and marketing side of the company. Chet, on the other hand, took the role of the technologist and business builder.
“Gunderson Brothers” became an official corporation.
At the beginning of WWII, Gunderson was contracted by the U.S. Maritime Commission to build a test lifeboat from plywood.
Gunderson Brothers contributed major components to the “Bridge of the Gods”- which stands today connecting Oregon and Washington in the Columbia River Gorge.
Chet purchased 11 acres of land along Northwest Front Avenue for its ease of access to the Willamette River. This property is where Gunderson remains today.
Gunderson built more than 3,600 lifeboats, landing crafts (LCMIS) and rafts. Employee, Stan Baier, designed and patented the first plywood lifeboat to be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard for unrestricted ocean use.
Gunderson launches its first barges: two pineapple barges for the State of Hawaii
Gunderson received an order for landing craft for the Korean War.
One of the most unusual projects taken by Gunderson happened between 1955 and 1958. It was called the File-A-Way parking machine. This machine had a moving elevator system to lift automobiles up to 10 stories high then park them in individual cubby holes. The parking structure was installed on the corner of Southwest Fourth and Yamhill. Now, a SmartPark facility occupies the space across from Pioneer Square Mall.
Gunderson helped shape what is today’s city of Portland. They helped contribute to numerous building projects that required steel fabrication services. Some of these projects included the Federal Reserve Bank Building, Oregonian Building and Portland State University.
Gunderson entered the railcar market with a boxcar underframes order from Southern Pacific Railroad. By 1960, the first railcar was produced: a Side Dump Gondola for Union Pacific Railroad.
Portland’s Marquam Bridge was erected. Gunderson manufactured steel parts for all the approaches to the bridge. Similarly, Gunderson-fabricated steel was also used on the Hawthorne Bridge, Coos River Bridge, Hood River Bridge, Tigard Interchange and Terwilliger Interchange Crossing.
The aging Gunderson brothers sold their business to FMC Corporation and became part of the Ordinance Division. They went separate ways: Chet retired the same day as the transaction, while Al became the subsidiary’s sole president. Bruce Ward–who soon becomes a major player in the transition to modern day Gunderson–was hired as sales manager. Later on, in 1965, Bob Gunderson, Al’s son became Gunderson’s President.
Bob Gunderson died in a plane crash and Bruce Ward became Gunderson’s President.
Oregon Governor Tom McCall was given a tour of Gunderson during his visit to the Front Avenue facilities. Years after Governor McCall toured the facilities, Governor Victor Atiyeh became a board member for Gunderson’s parent company: The Greenbrier Companies.
Through the 1970s, numerous railcar types were introduced, including the covered hopper. This car type has been hugely successful and is used for transporting everyday products including grain, sugar, cement and sand. In 2017, Greenbrier celebrated the production of our 50,000th covered hopper.
International trade skyrocketed and the intermodal era began. The Twin-Stack® intermodal railcar was pioneered and designed by Gunderson, and had the ability to stack shipping containers two-high. This car type revolutionized railroads and freight traffic and are still among the most popular today. In 2017, Greenbrier celebrated the production of its 100,000th intermodal railcar at Gunderson.
On February 28, 1985 Gunderson was sold to The Greenbrier Companies, co-owned by Bill Furman and Alan James and BW Industries, owned by Bruce Ward. Bruce Ward became Greenbrier’s partner, a major shareholder and president of the new Gunderson. He retired in 1990, but remains a valued member of the Greenbrier-Gunderson family today.
The iconic “Portlandia” statue–sculpted by Raymond Kaskey–was delivered to Gunderson via rail. Gunderson donated covered space in the shop for Kaskey to complete and assemble. On October 6, the finalized statue was sent up the river on a barge for installation in downtown Portland and has become a landmark of Portland’s culture.
The Husky-Stack–designed to handle heavier loads–was introduced to the market.
After a 10-year absence, Gunderson re-entered the Marine market. In the years between 1995 and 1999, Gunderson built and launched a groundbreaking 14 ocean vessels.
Saudi Railway Company placed an order for 1,200 tank cars. The designs were completed by Gunderson’s engineers and manufactured at Wagony Świdnica in Poland before being loaded onto a ship for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Gunderson produced an articulated ocean-going and chemical tank barge for Kirby Offshore Marine. Kirby Barge 185-01 measures over 578 feet long, the length of 1.5 football fields, and is the largest vessel ever built at the facility.
Gunderson launched three vessels, including two eighty-thousand barrel articulated tank barges.
Gunderson–home to some of the most innovative marine and rail designs–remains the location with the largest side-launch ways on the West Coast and the market leader in intermodal railcar production.
From our start as a wooden and wire wheel company to the leading-edge barge and railcar design and manufacturing operation we are today, Gunderson has grown immensely in the last century. The one thing that has never changed is our respect for people. The hard work and dedication from each and every employee is what made Gunderson a success in 1919 and is what continues to drive our accomplishments in today's freight transportation market.
Greenbrier Gunderson opened an exhibit at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center! The exhibit will run from February 2019 through February 2020. Entrance is free - come check it out!
Greenbrier Gunderson sponsored a float in the Grand Floral Parade on June 8, 2019. The team won the "Rose Festival Court Award" for teamwork and enthusiasm. For more on the float and Rose Festival, see our story from KPTV.
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