‘National Train Day’ attracts record crowds

Find out why so many people came to the event, held again at East Portland’s Oregon Rail Heritage Center …

As “Portland Train Day 2017” opens at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, crowds of visitors check out the city’s historic locomotives and other historic exhibits.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

“Portland Train Day 2017” organizers said they were worried about attendance, because of all the other major events on May 6. But, as it turned out, the volunteers at the front gate of the Oregon Rail Heritage Center counted about 1,000 visitors – during the first hour alone.

The daylong observance was launched by Amtrak in 2008 as a way to promote railway travel, and preserve railroad history on the Saturday closest to May 10 – the anniversary of the installation of the Golden Spike in Promontory, Utah, marking the completion of the first transcontinental railroad.

Guests admire the Nickel Plate Road #190 and SP&S #700 locomotives, at their home inside the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.

Although Amtrak stopped hosting Train Day two years ago, the volunteer rail enthusiasts of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) in East Portland have kept it going with a local “Rail Day”, now in its second year.

Many families wisely took the TriMet MAX Orange Light Rail Line to get there, while others searched for a parking space in the ORHC lot near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. That lot is under the Oregon Highway 99E viaduct, and parking was in short supply that day.

Event helper Liz Bacon spends a moment with ORHF President Doyle McCormick.

“These locomotives and railcars are part of Portland’s rich and storied railroad history,” commented ORHF President Doyle McCormick, also an engineer of the massive “Bicentennial Locomotive”, the Southern Pacific 4449.

“In the early years of Portland’s development, rail was the only major transportation in and out of here, other than going by river,” McCormick told East Portland News. “Portland Rail Day is an opportunity for people to come and learn about the railroads that served, and continue to serve, our city.”

The Sun family from China, by way of Hillsboro, pause for a photo in front of Portland’s SP&S #700 locomotive.

Coming from the Mt. Tabor area, Finnley Perkins was fascinated with this model train layout.

In the museum’s front yard, the famous SP 4449 locomotive was steamed up, attracting the attention of people from miles around. “She’s alive and well, having just gone through an intensive 2½ year boiler rebuild; we’re looking forward to getting her out and ‘stretching her legs’ later this year,” smiled McCormick.

In addition to looking over the three City of Portland owned locomotives, guests took in exhibits presented by model railroad clubs, learned about the nearby Brooklyn Rail Yard, took rides on three-rider “speeders”, and dined in a new food cart area.

It was a beautiful day to ride in the open-air car — in one of many excursions to and from Oaks Bottom and the historic Oaks Amusement Park, on Richard Samuels’ Oregon Pacific Railroad Company line.

With thousands of visitors coming for the day, it’s clear that Portland’s rail history will not be soon forgotten.

© 2017 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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