SP 4449 returns – to power magical Holiday railroad ride

Find out why these East Portland ‘Holiday Express’ excursions are more popular than ever …

Again this year, riders crowd onto the Holiday Express excursion train, for a steam-powered ride through history – and Oaks Bottom.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

For more than a decade, families and friends have joined Santa Claus and his elves for a magical ride on a Holiday Express excursion.

The shrill blast of the steam locomotive’s whistle signals that folks are boarding decorated, vintage rail cars and are about to be taken through the “wilderness” of the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge on round-trip ride from Oaks Park Station into the city on the Oregon Pacific Railroad line.

Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation Vice President Ed Immel, and museum docents Dave Larsen and Don Klopfenstein, are only three of scores of volunteers who run the Holiday Express excursions each December.

“This is the 11th year we’ve run these excursions,” reflected Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation Vice President Ed Immel.

Although they advertise the train rides that run the first three weekends in December, Immel told East Portland News, “Our greatest single advertisement for these excursions is the sound of the whistle.”

East Portland’s Christine DeVillier, and Nola Lee held by Richard Lee, board for a ride on the Holiday Express.

Colorful holiday lighting welcomes riders of the Holiday Express.

After 15 months in maintenance, the famous 433 ton, 110-foot-long Southern Pacific 4449 locomotive is again on the rails, pulling the passenger cars of the Holiday Express pleasure trips.

Over each year’s season, about 150 volunteers staff the train station, serve on the train, and crew the locomotive, Immel remarked.

After greeting riders next to the Southern Pacific 4449 locomotive, Santa Claus heads aboard the train.

Many passengers say that their Holiday Express ride is the fun highlight of the season, Immel said. “But, we all do this for a serious reason: The ticket sales help keep the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation’s museum financially going.”

Most of these trips leave the Oaks Park station with all 210 coach seats occupied.

“Many of our excursions are sold out in advance,” Immel pointed out. “About half of our riders come from ZIP Code 97202; the others come from all over the area. Last year we served about 13,000 riders. We think we will equal or exceed that total this year.”

Decked out for the Holidays, the Southern Pacific 4449 locomotive is ready for another run of the Holiday Express through Oaks Bottom to OMSI and back.

The last weekend Holiday Express runs of the season will be on Sunday, December 20. To book seats, or for more information, see their website CLICK HERE.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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