‘Holiday Express’ excursions reverse course this season

Here’s a family event that’s become a tradition for families  all across outer East Portland in December

The 2022 Holiday Express excursion train chugs south from the Oregon Rail Heritage Center this year, pulled by the borrowed “Polson Logging Co. No. 2” steam locomotive.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Hearing the haunting and nostalgic sound of a steam locomotive whistle along Oaks Bottom is one signal that the Holiday season is upon us – it’s the sound of the Holiday Express train again rolling between the Oregon Rail Heritage Center (ORHC) and Oaks Amusement Park.

Riders on this historically evocative excursion are again enjoying the vintage passenger cars decorated with Holiday lights, Santa Claus and his elves, and candy canes for all “good little children” on the train.

Amidst tendrils of steam, the Dennis family stopped outside the Oregon Rail Heritage Center for a selfie in front of the “Polson Logging Co. No. 2” steam locomotive, before climbing aboard their Holiday Express train ride to Oaks Park and back.

But a new wrinkle this year is that, from Thanksgiving weekend through December 18, it departed, and returned to, the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, near OMSI, and not from “Oaks Park Station”.

When asked what was behind the decision to change the departure station, the Rail Center’s Marketing Manager – Carolyn Meeker – told East Portland News, “We realized we have always had this perfect location right at our feet!

“Making the decision to run out of, and return to, the ORHC Engine House this year was agreed upon by our Board of Directors, and implemented by Renee Devereux, our Executive Director, with the support of our many volunteers,” Meeker explained. “We can now share everything this museum has to offer with all of our Holiday Express riders, which makes it extra special for everyone.”

Inside the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, Holiday Express riders were invited to view the museum’s remarkable collection of working steam locomotives, including the famous “Bicentennial Train” locomotive, the Southern Pacific 4449 – itself decked out for the Holidays.

Another change that may have surprised some riders is that the Holiday Express is not being pulled by the ORHC’s best-known working steam locomotives – neither the famous and mighty Southern Pacific 4449, the Spokane Portland & Seattle 700, nor the Oregon Railway & Navigation 197.

“The SP 4449 has a very long wheel base – and that, combined with its massive weight, can cause Oregon Pacific Railroad (OPR) rails [which are used between the two destinations] to spread, particularly in the curves,” Meeker told us.

“An occasional run [of the SP 4449] on the OPR track is fine, but with the 83 weekend runs we make after Thanksgiving in four weeks each year – it’s become too much,” Meeker went on. “We are very excited to have the “Polson No. 2”, an historic steam-powered logging locomotive on loan from the Albany & Eastern Railroad and Rick Franklin for the Holiday Express this year.”

The Polson Logging Co. No. 2 is a 2-8-2 “Mikado” steam locomotive built by the Baldwin locomotive works in 1912 for the Polson Logging Company in Hoquiam, Washington.

“Steaming up” on the siding, while Holiday Express passengers loaded beside the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, was the “Polson Logging Co. No. 2” steam locomotive.

Unlike the last two seasons, there aren’t any special concerns about COVID-19 this year. “We’ll completely understand if our riders would like to wear a mask, but this is not being required either in the Center, or onboard the trains,” said Meeker.

More than 100 volunteers – many of whom have worked on every Holiday Express since its inception – help make the Holiday Express run – this year, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through December 18th.

“The Holiday Express is our #1 fundraiser; it literally funds the museum, and ‘keeps our lights on’ for the year!” Meeker exclaimed.

© 2022 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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