By day or night, Holiday Express delights

If you haven’t taken this train ride yet, see why there’s still time to enjoy this “time machine” trip in Holiday transportation of the past …

Another ride on the Holiday Express comes to an end, as the train pulls into the Oaks Park Station.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The steam whistle of the mighty Spokane Portland & Seattle 700 locomotive creased the cold night air, as it chugged along the Willamette River through Oaks Bottom. The Holiday Express train rides had begun their brief season, on the evening of November 29.

This year, it’s that 5,000 horsepower 1938 steam locomotive that’s pulling the historic passenger rail cars from Oaks Park to the Oregon Heritage Rail Museum near OMSI and back.

Chugging slowly to a stop, it’s the City of Portland-owned historic steam locomotive, Spokane Portland & Seattle 700.

Standing outside the large, heated reception tent set up in the historic Oaks Amusement Park parking lot, Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) Vice President Ed Immel – who represents the Northwest Railway Museum – looked on approvingly.

“The first year we started these rides near OMSI. The parking wasn’t very good, and the grounds were muddy,” recalled Immel. “This is the ideal place, almost like it was designed to support the Holiday Express excursions. We have a paved lot, free parking, a warm tent for passengers – and a safe place for folks to safely see the locomotive in action.”

Volunteers Michael Pride, Ed Immel, Don Klopfenstein, and Bob Frazur make sure the steam train excursions run smoothly – and, on time.

A life-long resident of the area, Immel said he has but a short commute to the Holiday Express depot – he lives near Sellwood Park.

Based on rider polls, Immel told East Portland News, “About a quarter of the people who come, tell us they’re new to the experience. We love to see their smiles; they seem to be really enjoying themselves when they disembark from the train.”

And, about 70% of those new riders rode as a result of a direct referral from a friend.

“Riders, especially parents with kids, say the 45-minute trip is long enough to get a good experience, but short enough for to not bore children. Santa Claus rides the trains, and ‘winds up’ the youngsters a little bit during the ride.

Engineer George Landrock – an Amtrak engineer who runs from Portland to Klamath Falls – gets ready to pull out the SP&S 700 for another Holiday Express run through Oaks Bottom.

“We keep hearing, ‘What a nice Holiday experience this is! You don’t have to use up a whole day or a whole evening to do this’.”

The passenger cars are decorated to enhance the Holiday spirit during Holiday Express runs.

The maximum of 210 adult riders on each trip enter the train through the boxcar, decorated with wrapped Christmas gifts and a tree; the cars are cheerfully decked out with lights.

More than 200 volunteers put on the festive train ride, rotating positions over the three long weekends, ending December 15 this year.

“Our volunteers come from all over, including a couple from California and a lady from Olympia, Washington,” Immel said. “Many our ‘car host’ volunteers who staff the rides are affiliated with the National Rail Historical Society.

Most people buy their tickets online, through Tickets West, Immel said. “But, as many as 30% of the ticket sales occur while the riders are boarding the train. We have a little overflow room in the Mt. Hood car, so we rarely disappoint anyone who just stops by for a ride.”

All of the funds raised from Holiday Express rides go to help pay down the property loan for the Oregon Rail Heritage Museum, recently opened to the public near OMSI.

Finally, Immel expressed appreciation for the man who owns the tracks on which the Holiday Express runs. “Dick Samuels of Oregon Pacific Railroad is great to work with; he is such a big supporter of what we do.”

The Spokane Portland & Seattle 700 chugs off into the night into Oaks Bottom, as another Holiday Express run begins.

The Holiday Express runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through December 15. For more information, to get directions to the depot, or to buy tickets securely online, see their webpage: CLICK HERE.

To learn more about the Oregon Heritage Rail Museum, open year ’round, visit their website: CLICK HERE to open their homepage.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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