‘Holiday Express’ supports steam-power historians’ dreams

Here’s one of our favorite East Portland holiday events. And, see how you can participate as this group works to establish a permanent home for these mighty, and historic,  locomotives …

The mighty Southern Pacific 4449 steams up as it begins to chug out of the Oaks Bottom station on another Holiday Express excursion.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The hiss, rumble, and chugging sounds of a steam-powered locomotive again brought a nostalgic feeling to the Holidays as Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation’s (ORHF) “Holiday Express” excursions — as they rolled between Oaks Amusement Park and OMSI, through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, in early December.

“It’s a great family event,” said ORHF Vice President Ed Immel, a Sellwood resident, as the mighty 4449 pulled away from the Oaks Park station. “Many folks look forward to coming back for the ride, on one or the other of the first two weekends in December, year after year.”

Thanks to the help of more than 50 volunteers, the excursion provides a unique, hour-long nostalgic experience for railroad, history. and steam-power buffs – while giving riders unique views of the Willamette River.

But even more, Immel said, it supports the mission of the foundation to preserve these transportation titans. “People want to save the locomotives; they’re part of what makes our city unique. Portland is the only city in the United States that owns three operational steam locomotives, and one that soon will be.”

The Holiday Express, powered by the ORHF’s Southern Pacific 4449 locomotive steams toward OMSI along Oaks Bottom.

Steam power built and shaped the development of the metropolis of Portland, Immel pointed out. “If it hadn’t been for the railroads and steamships, we might have turned out as an entirely different community.”

With the aim of preserving this “living history”, ORHF is moving forward to build a permanent home for this technology that shaped Portland, and helped build the nation.

As we’ve reported over the years, these historic locomotives must be moved from their present quarters in the Brooklyn rail yard, and very soon.

Ed Immel, vice president, Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, and board member, John Frazee stand ready to welcome visitors at the Holiday Express station at Oaks Amusement Park.

“We’ve purchased property just east of OMSI, and we’re in the process of obtaining the final permits, final design – and fundraising,” Immel said. “That’s why the Holiday Express excursions are so important. It’s one of our major fundraising efforts.”

ORHF plans to break ground for its new facility next May. “We must be out of the Brooklyn Roundhouse by January, 2012.” The Union Pacific, which has hosted the locomotives in one of the nation’s few remaining roundhouses, needs to expand into that space, to accommodate the Brooklyn Yard’s new role as Portland’s rail containerized-shipping headquarters.

The Holiday Express rolls back to the Oaks Park Station after another run.

Even if you didn’t get to take the Holiday Express journey this year, you can still learn more about the rail museum effort – and contribute to it.

See the plans for the new museum, and consider giving an end-of-the-year, tax-deductible donation – ORHF is a registered, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization – by going online to their website: CLICK HERE to open their homepage.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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