For a festive family adventure this holiday season, climb aboard the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation’s (ORHF) annual Holiday Express in Southeast Portland. While the vintage steam train chugs along the Oregon Pacific Railroad through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge, you and the kids can ride in fully decorated c. 1950s passenger cars, listen to holiday music, sing carols and (of course) meet Santa Claus.
A non-profit organization that also runs the Oregon Rail Heritage Center, the ORHF offers the Holiday Express rides most weekends in December, with multiple runs held on both Saturday and Sunday. Each trip is 40-minutes long, round trip.
Before boarding, my husband Erik, our four-year-old son Finn and I watch in fascination as the engineers prepared the 17-foot tall and 111-long black SP&S 700, its steam billowing. Built in 1938, this grand engine pulled the provide passenger service from Portland up the Columbia River Gorge to Spokane until 1956. On other days the express is pulled by the SP 4449, a 16-foot tall and 110-foot wide black, orange and silver steam locomotive completed in 1941. The 4449 pulled the Southern Pacific “Daylight” coaches from Los Angeles to Portland until 1955. It was restored by the ORHF in 1974.
Soon we’re clickety-clacking east on the 112-year-old interurban rail line, singing carols while enjoying the views of the Willamette River, the Springwater Corridor and the wintry wetlands of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.
Before long, Santa arrives in our car, handing out candy canes to young and old. He visits with Finn and all the other excited kids, asking each if they’ve been nice and what they want for Christmas this year. I nibble on my candy cane, wishing Santa and all our fellow passengers a wonderful holiday season.
When you go:
Holiday Express trains depart from Oaks Station, located across the street from Oaks Amusement Park. There is plenty of parking available in the amusement park’s large lot. For more information or to book tickets, visit the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation.