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The man who owned and ran Sellwood's railroad, and helped launch Southeast's rail museum, has passed

DAVID F. ASHTON - Why was Richard Samuels so broadly smiling in this photo taken in 2013? Its because he was at the controls of one of his locomotives running along the short line Oregon Pacific Railroad that he bought and developed into a successful business. His family, friends, and many in the community were surprised and saddened when the owner of the Sellwood-based "short-line" Oregon Pacific Railroad – Richard A. "Dick" Samuels – passed away suddenly on Friday, May 28, after a brief illness, at age 77.

In April of this year, the railroad – which carried freight between Milwaukie 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 – www.oregonpacificrr.com).

Not long after their father's passing, Richard's sons – Tim, Brian, and Craig Samuels, who all work for the railroad their dad bought and developed – gathered to share their thoughts with THE BEE.

"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 operating in the U.S., such as the Oregon Pacific Railroad.

A 'working' railroad

DAVID F. ASHTON - About to return to their work in the Oregon Pacific Railroad railyard are brothers Craig, Brian and Tim Samuels. His sons carry on their fathers business, including running the SamTrak Oaks Bottom Excursion trains, enjoyed by so many over the years. Although their dad's dream was fulfilled, it wasn't just 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 do perform rail maintenance projects – including fixing bridges, replacing track and ties, and tamping ballast.

Gets a 'second chance' in life

DAVID F. ASHTON - In 2015, drawing on the knowledge of Richard Samuels, Lorentz Bruun Construction asked him to help oversee the moving of this caboose from the Woodstock neighborhood down to the Bruun Dock Studios - across the tracks from the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, near OMSI. "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; and 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 added, "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 down Oaks Park, just rusting away.

"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 made 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.)

Samuels remembered, at the ORHC

DAVID F. ASHTON - Heres Richard Samuels, on board a 2006 Holiday Express excursion, doing what he liked to do best: Talking with folks about preserving railroad history.On the day when the restored, historic Brooklyn Yard Turntable Bridge was moved there [see separate story], the Oregon Rail Heritage Center's Doyle McCormack stepped aside to tell THE BEE, "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."

Those sentiments were echoed by the voluntary crewmembers of ORHC's historic 4449 and 700 locomotives, who were also watching the turntable bridge move to the Rail Heritage Center. "I sure wish Dick Samuels could've been here to see this; he was so important to so many of us," one commented.

His last wishes observed

DAVID F. ASHTON - During the 2017 Holiday Express Christmastime excursions, the ORHC's Ed Immel, left, spent a moment with Richard Samuels in "Oaks Park Station", where riders boarded and later exited the holiday train rides.
Although his passing was sudden, Richard Samuels had 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 Railroad Station and boarded the company's passenger excursion train. There they held a wake for Richard, while slowly traveling north on his railroad toward Portland, along the rails he'd laid and maintained, as the scenery of Oaks Bottom and the Willamette River rolled past.


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