Noted local railroader Richard Samuels passes

His sons carry on his work, including running the SamTrak ‘Oaks Bottom Excursion’ trains, enjoyed by so many outer East Portland families …

Why was Richard Samuels so broadly smiling in this photo taken in 2013? It’s because he was at the controls of one of his locomotives running along the “short line” Oregon Pacific Railroad that he bought and developed. East Portland News archive image

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

His family, friends and many in the community were surprised and saddened when the owner of the “short-line” Oregon Pacific Railroad, Richard A. “Dick” Samuels, passed away suddenly on May 28, after a brief illness, at age 77.

In April, 2021, the railroad – which carries freight between Molalla and the Brooklyn Rail Yard – celebrated 30 years of service to the area, according to his eldest son, Tim Samuels. To see a detailed history of this local railroad, complete with photos, visit the company’s website: CLICK HERE.

>> And, to see our 2007 article “Railroad owner shares museum dreams with ‘Holiday Express’ riders”, CLICK HERE.

Gathered to remember their father, Craig Samuels, Brian Samuels, and Tim Samuels are aboard their PR&T 100 locomotive in the Oregon Pacific Railroad yard.

Not long after their father’s passing, Richard’s sons – Tim, Brian, and Craig Samuels; they all work for the railroad their dad bought and developed – gathered to share their thoughts with East Portland News.

“I’ve been working with my dad for 34 years, starting at the steel fabrication company he owned – doing painting, drilling, and cutting beams before working on the railroad,” Tim led off. “My brothers have been here for 26 and 28 years, respectively.

“My dad grew up around Milwaukie; he loved railroading, and always dreamed of owning a railroad,” Tim continued. “He was fortunate enough to live out his dream, running this one for 30 years with his kids, and he was healthy enough to continue until shortly before he passed away.”

While there are only seven major railroad companies in the country, according to 2021 statistics, there are currently 528 “short-line” railroads, like the Oregon Pacific Railroad, operating today.

A ‘working’ railroad
Although his dad’s dream was fulfilled, it wasn’t as a hobby. “It’s a working railroad,” Tim explained. “Our railroad is like a middleman between the Union Pacific and the customer/shipper. We give customers much better service than a large railroad can. For example, if they need a railroad car moved, they call me on my cell phone, and we come and do it for them!”

The “middle” son, Brian, said he is more of fabricator and mechanic; but all three brothers perform rail maintenance projects – including fixing bridges, replacing track and ties, and tamping ballast.

About to return to work in the Oregon Pacific Railroad railyard, brothers Craig, Brian, and Tim Samuels are now running their late father’s rail business.

Gets a ‘second chance’ in life
“I am Richard’s youngest son,” acknowledged Craig Samuels. “I did some dumb things out of high school, and my dad helped me realize that I needed help; I started working with him when I was 19 years old.

“My dad gave me a ‘second opportunity’ in life; I’ve done well at it, and I continue to enjoy working with the rails, driving trains (he’s a licensed locomotive engineer, as is his brother Tim), doing some mechanic work, and learning all the rules and regulations – a little bit of everything! It’s got me where I am today,” Craig said.

In 2015, drawing on the knowledge of Richard Samuels, Lorentz Bruun Construction asked him to oversee moving a caboose from the Woodstock neighborhood down to the “Bruun Dock Studios” – across the tracks from the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, near OMSI. East Portland News archive image

Preserved railroad history
In addition to running the railroad, Craig said, “If it hadn’t been for my dad’s railroad, I don’t think the Oregon Rail Heritage Center (ORHC) would be there; and it’s likely that the steam engines now there would still be at Oaks Park, just rusting away down there.

“And, a lot of people don’t know that when they wanted to put in the Springwater Trail, from the OMSI area down to past Oaks Amusement Park, we moved our tracks over by 17 feet, which allowed space for the trail, next to our tracks,” Craig pointed out. In fact, that section of the Springwater Trail is the only instance of rails running next to an established hiking trail in the State of Oregon, we’re told.

Here’s Richard Samuels, on board a 2006 Holiday Express excursion, doing what he liked to do best: talking with folks about preserving railroad history. East Portland News archive image

Samuels remembered, at the ORHC
On the day when the restored, historic Brooklyn Yard Turntable bridge was moved, Oregon Rail Heritage Center Board Member Doyle McCormack said, “Richard’s death was unexpected, and a real blow to the railroad community. We’ve operated our Holiday Express trains on his rails; and, we’ve really appreciated everything that he’s done for us.”

His sentiments were echoed by the voluntary crewmembers of ORHC’s historic 4449 and the 777 locomotives, who were also standing by, watching the turntable bridge move. “I sure wish Dick Samuels could’ve been here to see this; he was so important to so many of us,” one said.

During the 2017 Holiday Express excursions, the ORHC’s Ed Immel spent a moment with Richard Samuels in Oaks Park Station. East Portland News archive image

His last wishes observed
Although his passing was sudden, Richard Samuels made it clear to his sons he didn’t want a traditional funeral.

So, in late June, his family and friends gathered at the Oaks Park Station and boarded the company’s passenger excursion train. They held a wake for Richard while slowly traveling on his railroad toward Portland, along rails he’d laid and maintained, as the scenery of Oaks Bottom and the Willamette River rolled by.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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