Steam whistles mark the return of the ‘Holiday Express’

Families from all over outer East Portland – and beyond – are enjoying rides on this Christmas themed train …

Those ready to ride wait on the Springwater Corridor Trail and watch the arrival of the “Holiday Express”, pulled by “America’s Freedom Train”, the Southern Pacific 4449 steam locomotive.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Since steam locomotive enthusiasts began providing excursions along the Willamette River in 2005, it’s become a tradition for many families to take rides on the Christmas-decorated and well-heated “Holiday Express” train that clickety-clacks along the Oregon Pacific Railroad tracks near Oaks Park.

On some evenings, the nostalgic sound of the “Daylight Express” Southern Pacific 4449 locomotive’s steam whistle can be heard for miles.

Jacob Randall, James Randall and Kara Kassay, who holds Charlotte Randall-Kassay, are greeted by “the jolly one” – Santa Claus.

Their first year, when building the Oregon Rail Heritage Center (ORHC) was still a lofty ambition, volunteers set up their “station” in an empty field near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

“The next year, we established ‘Oaks Station’ here at Oaks Amusement Park where there’s plenty of free parking and utilities available,” recalled Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) Vice President Ed Immel, as the new season began, immediately after Thanksgiving Day, on Friday,  November 23.

ORHF Vice President Ed Immel spends a moment with “Holiday Express” Stationmaster Dave Larson.

Last year, he remarked, they first tried opening the season on “Black Friday”, and found that all of the tickets quickly sold out – which was again the case this year.

Each 45-minute jaunt from Oaks Park north to the ORHC and back carries about 200 revelers, plus the volunteer train crew – which adds up to about 14,000 riders during the four-week season, Immel told East Portland News.

Ready to set the “Johnson Bar” and throttle up the historic SP 4449 steam locomotive is engineer Scott Cordon.

The daylight trips are ideal for families with smaller children, and give riders stunning views of the Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge from one side of the train, and the Willamette River on the other side, Immel pointed out.

“During our nighttime excursions, the cars feel more cozy with Holiday lights strung up to illuminate the interiors, but not so much that you can see out the windows clearly,” Immel reflected. “And, on many of the evenings – although we don’t coordinate with them – you can see the ‘Christmas Boats Parade’ on the river, or the Willamette Shore Trolley decorated and running along the west side of the river – as well as the city’s skyline.”

Audrey Stokes and James Stokes look thrilled – held by their nana and grandpa, Sharon Olson and Garrett Stokes – as their “Holiday Express” ride begins.

The tickets sold for the 70 excursions over four weekends support the ORHF, and pay for expenses – which include fueling up the Southern Pacific 4449 steam locomotive with 6,800 gallons of used motor oil that they buy from Jiffy Lube. “Interestingly, it doesn’t need to be refined; we just pump it into the tender!” mused Immel.

“It’s so much fun to see the eyes of little kids open wide when Santa comes by,” he said. “And, for adults, the ‘Holiday Express’ provides a unique experience, allowing one to step back in history.”

As night falls, the mighty SP 4449 steam locomotive pulls out of Oaks Park Station.

Just then, the conductor called “All aboard”, and another group of revelers headed on board for a ride on the “Holiday Express”.

The “Holiday Express” leaves from Oaks Amusement Park, located at 7805 SE Oaks Park Way, 97202, Saturdays and Sundays through December 16. Book tickets now; rides popular times sell out quickly. For more information, and to buy tickets securely online, CLICK HERE.

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

© 2018 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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