Summertime rail excursions roll through Oaks Bottom

Take a look at this fun and inexpensive new warm-weather adventure, on the tracks of the Holiday Express. Their next run is on July 20 …

Ready for another summertime excursion through Oaks Bottom, the Oregon Pacific Railroad passenger train picks up passengers at Oaks Station.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
For the past eight years, Oregon Pacific Railroad (OPR) has allowed the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation the use of their tracks for the Christmastime historic steam-locomotive-powered Holiday Express excursions, from Oaks Bottom to OMSI and back.

Now, this summer, folks can take that same ride, in open-air cars (and the ever-popular caboose) on many warm weekend afternoons.

Oregon Pacific Railroad volunteer licensed engineer Brian McCamish is ready to open the throttle, bringing the OPR 1413 diesel-electric locomotive to life.

“OPR’s owner, Richard Samuels, is a rail fan at heart, and wants to share his passion for railroading and railroad history with the public,” explained volunteer licensed railroad engineer Brian McCamish, sitting in the cab of the OPR 1413 diesel-electric locomotive.

“We have volunteers and employees that have the same passion for trains and who enjoy providing passenger train excursions, like this, for the public,” McCamish told East Portland News.

Riding the rails, from OMSI to Oaks Park along the Springwater Trail, on an Oregon Pacific Railroad summertime train excursion.

After being in the steel-fabrication business for two decades, Samuels formed Oregon Pacific Railroad 1991, buying the remains of the Portland Traction Company, now called the East Portland Division. His railroad runs from Milwaukie to industrial inner southeast Portland, via Sellwood.

“Our summer passenger excursions run along about 6 miles of track – the remains of what was once a vast network of interurban trolley and freight railroad branches,” explained McCamish.

“My ‘day job’ is with Boeing in Gresham,” McCamish said. “But, over eight years, I’ve volunteered and worked with Richard until he was confident in my skills and issued my engineer’s license.”

Kids of all ages look to be enjoying their ride during this Oregon Pacific Railroad summertime excursion.

Asked why he volunteers at OPR, McCamish replied, “Just be able to do this! Who doesn’t want to do this, right? It’s great being able to live almost everyone’s dream of running a train. I love it. It’s fun!”

Although the powerful OPR 1413 is capable of pulling heavy loads at up to 65 mph, the trip from their station across from Oaks Amusement Park north to OMSI rolls along at no greater than 15 mph. Bicycle riders on the nearby Springwater Trail have no problem keeping up with the train; many of them smile at the passengers, and those bikers approaching the train give the engineer the whistle-cord pulling gesture –which McCamish accommodates with a light “toot”.

Along the way, train riders get a unique view of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge on one side, and a breathtaking view of the Willamette River and downtown Portland on the other.

The Oregon Pacific Railroad’s owner, Richard Samuels, can’t resist climbing into the engineer’s seat, and taking folks for a ride on his very own historic railroad.

At the Oregon Rail Heritage Center near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), the train comes to a stop – picks up more riders – and then heads back south.

Each 45-minute excursion can haul as many as 50 riders on the custom-made, open-air cars. Even on a nice day, however, many riders vie for the opportunity climb up into the cupola of the circa-1926 restored OPR 900 caboose – to take in the view from its lofty perch.

The fare is modest; just $5 per passenger for the round trip. But here’s a tip: if you’ve always wanted to ride in the cab of a diesel locomotive, it’s worth every cent of the $10 special fare.

“Clearly, this isn’t a money-making venture,” McCamish said. “We’re just trying to cover the cost of the fuel.”

Typically, the train picks up passengers at Oaks Station, directly across from Oaks Amusement Park at 7805 SE Oaks Park Way, from noon until about 6:00 p.m. But, unless it’s not their last trip of the day, they also pick up passengers at the rail museum for an inverse round trip.

Conductor Fred Rouse signals that it’s time to return to Oaks Bottom from the new railroad museum near OMSI.

Because the excursion is staffed by volunteers, it only operates on certain weekends. The next outing currently is their “Big Summer Ride” on July 20. The next one is scheduled for July 20. Check their website, and scroll down to the “Public Train Ride Schedule” before you head out: CLICK HERE.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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