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Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation's Holiday Express Train with SP&S 700 ~ December 5th, 2009

by Elizabeth Guenzler

The Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation started an annual event in 2005 as the major fundraiser of the year for this non-profit, volunteer-run organization that takes care of the three steam engines that the City of Portland owns. Entitled Holiday Express and offered on the weekends between Thanksgiving and Christmas, this steam-led trip from Oaks Park in Portland {since 2012, from the Oregon Rail Heritage Centre} has grown in popularity and size over the years. Christmas cheer is everywhere, enhanced by the steam engine and passenger cars being decorated with lights and costumed volunteers, complete with a visit from Santa Claus, enthrall audiences young and old. In 2009, Bob and I decided to drive to Portland to ride behind Spokane, Portland and Seattle 4-8-4 700 as it was leading that year's Holiday Express on the hourly departures on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Spokane, Portland and Seattle 4-8-4 700 in the winter sun, decorated for the Holiday Express.

Broadside view of the steam engine.

The emblem of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway, which is jointly owned by the Great Northern Railroad and the Northern Pacific Railway. Its goal was to build a railroad along the north bank of the Columbia River. Remnants of the line are currently operated by BNSF Railway and the Portland and Western Railroad. The railroad was chartered in 1905 by James J. Hill to connect the two transcontinental railroads owned by him, the Northern Pacific and Great Northern, to Portland from Spokane, to gain a portion of the lumber trade in Oregon, a business then dominated by E.H. Harriman's Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railroads. Construction began in 1906 under the name Portland & Seattle Railway, proceeding eastward from Vancouver, Washington. 1906 also saw the start of construction of the line between Vancouver and Portland, including work on three major new bridges, crossing the Columbia River, the Oregon Slough and the Willamette River. The northernmost of these was the first bridge of any kind to be built across the lower Columbia River.

SP&S sleeper-lounge 600 "Mount Hood" (ex. Burlington Northern 1205 1970, nee SP&S 600 "Mount Hood"). Built 1950 and used primarily between Spokane and Portland until 1971, then ran between Chicago and Seattle before being donated to the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the NRHS in 1972.

Great Northern Railway coach "Plum Creek" (ex. BN 6013 1970 - converted to instruction car, nee Great Northern 60-seat coach 1210. Built in 1951, it is now owned by the Friends of 4449.

Willamette and Pacific coach 6200 (ex. Amtrak 5604, exx. Seaboard Coast Line 5404, nee Seaboard Air Line 6200). It was built in 1939 and purchased in 1985 by the Pacific Northwest Chapter NRHS.

Great Northern diner-observation 6800 "Red River" (ex. Burlington Northern 6800, exx. Amtrak 6800, exxx. Great Western Tours, nee Great Northern 1147 "Red River". It was purchased by the Pacific Northwest Chapter NRHS in 1986 after being part of the Louisiana World's Fair Daylight consist in 1984.

Northwest Railway Museum observation 2955 "James J. Gilmore" (nee Spokane, Portland and Seattle 2955).

The end of the train.

My ticket for the trip. We then boarded the train, which was the 14:00 departure rather than the 18:00 departure as our ticket stated.

SP&S 700 steaming out of Oaks Park station on a cold and sunny Saturday afternoon.

Ducks in Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge alongside the Oregon Pacific Railroad.

Eagles and other types of birds painted on the building across the river.

Bright sun and cold temperatures make for a very good steam show.

Taking a curve along the route.

Steaming along the Oregon Pacific tracks.

Continuing our journey.

Upon return to Oaks Park, SP&S 700 at rest waiting for the next group of passengers.

One of the speeders on which rides were offered in conjunction with the Holiday Express. Bob and I boarded one of the speeders for the trip along the Oregon Pacific Railroad.

A view of the speeder ahead of us.

The line of speeders make their way to the main line.

Samtrak caboose 900 which the volunteers used; as seen from the speeder.

Myself enjoying the view and my second speeder ride.

The view behind the speeder.

The view looking down the tracks.

Oregon Pacific NW5 187 (ex. Pacific Transporation Services 1001, exx. Burlington Nothern 987, nee Great Northern 187) seen at Golf Junction.

An passenger car of unknown heritage on a siding on the Oregon Pacific Railroad.

Upon our return, Spokane, Portland and Seattle 700 was waiting to depart.

SP&S 700 departing Oaks Park.

There were plenty of onlookers as the train started its journey.

The steam engine after dark, in natural light, as photographed by Bob.

Christmas lights shone brightly on the Holiday Express passenger cars.

We boarded the train for the 18:00 hour ride.

Myself on the "Red River".

The decorated speeders on the siding at Oaks Park. With that, we returned to the car and went to dinner, then checked into a hotel for the night before driving home the next day.

This was the first 'Christmas train' that I had ridden and it was an excellent experience. The Holiday Express has been running every year since (except 2020) and it is a tradition for so many Portland-area families. The organization, effort and scheduling that goes into putting on an event like this, for several weekends in a row, is a testament to the dedication and love that the volunteers of the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation have for their project, the community and keeping railway history alive for generations to come.