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Holiday Express again chugs and toots through Oaks Bottom

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - This train is ready to delight Holiday Express riders. Braving all kinds of weather, more than 100 volunteers with the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) are again taking guests on a sentimental journey back in time – to ride the “Holiday Express” excursion train in southeast Portland.

“We’re having another great year of the Holiday Express,” ORHF Board President Doyle McCormack shouted to THE BEE from the doorway of the cab of the mighty Southern Pacific 4449 locomotive, as it was “steaming up” for another run.

This locomotive pulled “America’s Freedom Train” through all 48 continental states during the 1976 Bicentennial of the country; and Trains magazine readers chose the 4449 as the most popular locomotive in the nation.

As in past years, the locomotive and train are decked out in festive holiday lights, and the interiors of the vintage passenger cars are decorated with garlands, ornaments, and lights.

The trip starts at the Oaks Park Station, at the entrance of the historic amusement park. The round trip takes visitors on a 45-minute journey north, through Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and along the Willamette River north to the vicinity of OMSI, and back.

But what’s new this year, is that the locomotive and cars make their way to and from the new Oregon Rail Heritage Center, located two blocks east of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

“The Holiday Express excursions are our major fundraiser each year,” McCormack said. “And this year, we’ve offered excursions on three weekends, November 30 through December 16.”

With the cars coupled to the locomotive, McCormack throttled up the mighty engine, and it chugged toward Oaks Bottom, for its first run of the day. The occasional blasts of its mournful steam whistle could be heard miles away.