by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Riding the rails - from OMSI to Oaks Park, on an Oregon Pacific Railroad summertime train excursion.For the past eight years, Oregon Pacific Railroad (OPR) has been allowing the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation the use of their tracks for the Christmastime historic steam-locomotive-powered Holiday Express excursions, from Oaks Bottom to OMSI and back. And that will continue.

But now, this summer, folks can take that same ride in open-air cars (and the ever-popular caboose) on many of the warm weekend afternoons to come.

“OPR’s owner, Richard Samuels, is a rail fan at heart, and wants to share his passion for railroading and railroad history with the public,” explained volunteer licensed railroad engineer Brian McCamish, while sitting in the cab of the OPR 1413 diesel-electric locomotive.

“We have volunteers and employees who have the same passion for trains and who enjoy providing passenger train excursions, like this, for the public,” McCamish told THE BEE.

After being in the steel-fabrication business for two decades, Samuels formed Oregon Pacific Railroad 1991, when he bought the remains of the Portland Traction Company, now called the East Portland Division. His “shortline” railroad runs from the City of Milwaukie to industrial Inner Southeast Portland, via Sellwood.

“Our summer passenger excursions run along about six miles of track – the remains of what was once a vast network of interurban trolley and freight railroad branches,” explained McCamish.

“My ‘day job’ is with Boeing in Gresham,” McCamish said. “But, over eight years, I’ve volunteered and worked with Richard, until he was confident in my skills and issued my engineer’s license.”

Asked why he volunteers at OPR, McCamish replied, “Just be able to do this! Who doesn’t want to do this, right? It’s great being able to live almost everyone’s dream of running a train. I love it. It's fun!”

Although the powerful OPR 1413 is capable of pulling heavy loads at up to 65 mph, the trip from the station across from Oaks Amusement Park north to OMSI rolls along at no greater than 15 mph. Bicycle riders on the nearby Springwater Trail have no problem keeping up with the train; many of them smile at the passengers, and those bikers approaching the train give the engineer the whistle-cord pulling gesture – which McCamish accommodates with a light “toot”.

Along the way, train riders get a unique view of Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge on one side, and a breathtaking view of the Willamette River and downtown Portland on the other.

At the Oregon Rail Heritage Center near the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), the train comes to a stop – picks up more riders – and then heads back south.

Each 45-minute excursion can haul as many as 50 riders on the custom-made open-air cars. Even on a nice day, however, many riders vie for the opportunity climb up into the cupola of the circa-1926 restored OPR 900 caboose – to take in the view from its lofty perch.

The fare for the ride is modest; just $5 per passenger for the round trip. But here’s a tip: if you’ve always wanted to ride in the cab of a diesel locomotive, it’s worth every cent of the $10 special fare.

“Clearly, this isn’t a money-making venture,” McCamish said. “We’re just trying to cover the cost of the fuel.”

Typically, the train picks up passengers at Oaks Station, directly across from Oaks Amusement Park at 7805 S.E. Oaks Park Way, from noon until about 6 pm. But, unless it’s their last trip of the day, they also pick up passengers at the rail museum for the inverse round trip.

Because the excursion is staffed by volunteers, it only operates on certain weekends. The next outing currently is scheduled for Saturday, July 20. Check their website, and scroll down to the “Public Train Ride Schedule” before you head out:

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