'Holiday Express' excursions again roll through Oaks Bottom
The haunting, nostalgic sound of a lonesome steam locomotive whistle again arose from Oaks Bottom, along the east bank of the Willamette River, as the Holiday Express excursions rolled on the first two weekends of December.
Some 60 volunteers from the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) again worked diligently to bring about what should have been the 17th season for the train rides â€“ but because of the pandemic having prevented the event last year, it was actually the 16th season.
State restrictions also cancelled a substitute event they'd created last year at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center (ORHC), Santa's Enginehouse, just hours before it was scheduled to open last Holiday Season.
"Our volunteers were disappointed, but accepted the need to give top priority to public safety," said ORHF volunteer and Board Member Jan Schaeffer. "It was especially a letdown when Santa's Enginehouse â€“ our 'plan B' â€“ also had to be cancelled."
About half of the volunteers were openly enthusiastic about returning to provide railroad rides this season; but the other half of the pool of volunteers was wary of exposure to the COVID-19 coronavirus; so, as a result, this year they were running "thinly staffed", as Schaeffer put it.
Returning from an excursion that stopped at the Oregon Rail Heritage Centrer, just east of OMSI, the mighty Southern Pacific 4449 steam locomotive whistle blew, signaling its return to "Oaks Park Station", a tent set up in the parking lot of nonprofit Oaks Amusement Park.
The SP 4449 was originally put into service in 1941 â€“ but after its retirement was donated to the City of Portland in 1958, and then was parked in Oaks Park. There, it languished until it was restored by volunteers. Most famously, this was the locomotive that pulled the "Bicentennial American Freedom Train" as it toured around our nation in 1976. It is one of several locomotives either being maintained, or restored, at the ORHC.
With some COVID-19 restrictions still in place, a maximum of 250 passengers was allowed on each excursion this December. "Wearing face masks is absolutely required, both in the station and on the train, for all riders, age 2 and older," Schaeffer told THE BEE. "Because of our very strong compliance with the mask mandate, we're foregoing selling coffee, hot chocolate, and cookies, this year."
"Our foundation's mission is to preserve, operate, and encourage the public to learn about and enjoy Portland's historic steam locomotives," Schaeffer explained. "Revenues from the Holiday Express go to operate and improve the Rail Center year around; and also help fund major projects, such as restoring and installing the Brooklyn Turntable," she continued.
"So, what could be more educational, and enjoyable, than a Holiday excursion in a colorfully-decorated vintage railcar, pulled by the steaming giant of an historic rail locomotive?" Schaeffer asked with a smile.
In total, there were 82 Holiday Express excursions over nine weekend afternoons and evenings, starting November 26, and concluding on December 19.
To learn more about the nonprofit Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation, and the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, visit their website â€“ www.orhf.org
Meantime, here's a brief BEE video of this year's Holiday Express â€“ youtu.be/prx7zGVHUYs
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