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Holiday Express delights families, benefits new S.E. museum

by: David F. Ashton Day or night, the Holiday Express provides an authentic historical rail travel experience, and a scenic view of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge along the east bank of the Willamette River.

As engineer Jim Abney pulls the throttle and releases the brakes, the 440-ton septuagenarian machine called the 'Spokane Portland and Seattle 700' steam locomotive growls, hisses, and starts chugging its way down the Oregon Pacific Railroad Company rails out of Oaks Park Station, as another run of the 'Holiday Express' begins.

Taking this nostalgic journey, during the two-weekend early December schedule operated by the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation (ORHF) and affiliated organizations, has become an annual event for many families.

'This is our seventh year, believe it or not,' mused ORHF's president, Doyle McCormack. 'We've had people come back for several rides during a season. Others come back every year. Some of them were babes-in-arms when they first came years ago, and they are now pretty big kids, and they still enjoy the ride.'

McCormack observed that the Holiday Express is ORHF's primary fundraiser for the nonprofit foundation. 'We're in a major campaign now to build a new home for our three locomotives in southeast Portland. We've broken ground, and construction has actually started; we still need to raise all the money we can.'

'Since we started the Holiday Express, these events have raised $286,000 for our projects,' pointed out the organization's vice president, Sellwood resident Ed Immel. 'Even before we broke ground for the new center, we'd hired architects, consultants, and other professionals to lay the groundwork. We've committed another $150,000 over the next five years to finish the center.'

It takes a lot of volunteers - first to tune up the engines, and then operate them, and finally to host the thousands of riders who come to experience the Holiday Express, McCormack said. 'In fact, more than 100 volunteers are helping out this year, to make this a success.'

Interestingly, not all of their helpers are railroad buffs, McCormack added. 'Some of them are people who just want to help out, like folks from the Truck Museum in Brooks, just north of Salem, who come and give us a hand.'

Immel added, 'And, special thanks go to Dick Samuels, for allowing us to use his tracks every year.'

You can learn more about the Rail Heritage Center - even if you didn't get to ride the Holiday Express this year. See the plans for the new museum, and consider giving an end-of-the-year tax-deductible donation - ORHF is a registered, 501(c)3 nonprofit organization - by going online to their website: www.orhf.org .