Board an excursion train while you’re visiting Oregon for FMCA’s Family Reunion in Redmond.
By Peggy Jordan
Associate Editor, Family Motor Coaching magazine
Some of the most gorgeous views in the United States can be seen in Oregon, where FMCA members are gathering in August 2014 for the association’s 90th Family Reunion & Motorhome Showcase. And what better way to see them than while aboard a whistling, steaming, chugging train?
Excursion railways provide changing scenery along with a meal; exciting train robbery enactments; and always a memorable time. Some Oregon lines trundle through tall woods; others follow the Pacific coast; and still others wind around pure mountain lakes and streams.
The first three of these four rail lines would not exist without the labors of many volunteers and countless hours of loving attention to detail. It takes an enthusiast to keep a train alive in the 21st century, but apparently that’s what Oregon has — plenty of train enthusiasts!
Once you learn about all these options, you may want to arrive in Oregon early, before the Family Reunion, just so you get to the station on time.
Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad
Just as its name suggests, this rail line runs up and down a portion of the Oregon Coast, specifically, the part between Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach in the northern part of the state. Trains run daily through September 7 this year and on weekends until September 28. Special holiday excursions also take place.
The gorgeous views from this rail line make it popular. Its history makes it even more interesting. The railroad was started in 2002 by a hobbyist who originally intended to create a live, working railroad museum. Obviously, one thing led to another! Since then, the volunteer organization has restored numerous steam locomotives and railway cars, and uses some as part of the line.
A major player in this excursion business is a 1910 Heisler steam locomotive, which is fueled by recycled motor oil. How’s that for being ecologically conservative? Extra passenger benefits include being permitted to ride in the cab of the locomotive for a small extra fee; ask about this when purchasing tickets. Plus, if you have an adventuresome canine, he or she is allowed to journey with you in the open-air cars.
For more important facts, visit the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad Web site at www.oregoncoastscenic.org; email
Eagle Cap Excursion Train
Okay, stop. What is an eagle cap?
The mountains of northeastern Oregon now called the Wallowa originally were named the Eagle Mountains. Eagle Cap was the name given to the tallest peak — or, so the settlers thought. It turned out that their measurements were a bit off. But, no matter. The name Eagle Cap eventually came to refer to an entire wilderness area within the Wallowa range, now part of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
As with the Oregon Coast rail line, this one is preserved and run by volunteer effort. The two counties crossed by the 63-mile-long railroad formed a partnership, and the Oregon legislature provided funds to help buy the old line. Today the train is staffed by professional train engineers, and the car hosts are a local group of enthusiasts.
After the train departs from the beautiful new depot in Elgin, get ready for wilderness. This part of Oregon is chock-full of mountains, lakes, and rivers, and the wild things that live there. As you tour, your excursion may have a theme like “Summer Sundowner” or “Cowboy Country Dinner,” or you may fall prey to a train robbery! Check the schedule at www.eaglecaptrainrides.com; or, call (800) 323-7330 or (541) 963-9000.
Sumpter Valley Railroad
Among other things, Baker City, in eastern Oregon, is known for its location near the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. It’s a fabulous place where you may wish to spend at least half a day or more. But this is a train story. So, let’s drive 23 miles southwest of Baker City and stop at the McEwen Depot, home to the narrow-gauge Sumpter Valley Railroad.
Just like the Oregon Trail, this railway line was forged by quite a bit of unpaid work, beginning when a small group of volunteers formed in 1971. Just like the pioneers, they did not have much to start with. The track was entirely gone. (It was scrapped in 1947.) No problem. Just build some track on the abandoned railroad right-of-way! The most recent result of their efforts is 7 miles of new track. And it is still growing.
The Sumpter Valley line has an extensive schedule; it runs on weekends through the end of September, with special excursions in October and December. In August, for example, you can take round trips on Saturdays and Sundays, some of which include train robberies. (Obviously, the same gang is terrorizing all of Oregon’s excursion trains ….)
Rides in the cab of the locomotive also are available with almost any excursion; you very well may find a steam engine pulling your train, too. The railroad has three steam locomotives, three mechanical locomotives, and one diesel electric model.
For more information and to make reservations, visit Sumpter Valley Railroad at www.sumptervalleyrailroad.org or call (866) 894-2268, (541) 894-2268.
Mount Hood Railroad
This is the most “commercial” of the four excursion trains, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Plus, this rail line is dedicated to using restored rail cars.
The train is based in Hood River, Oregon, a lovely town in the northern part of the state, near where the East Fork of the Hood River joins the mighty Columbia River as it rolls on toward the Pacific Ocean.
The railroad line travels from Hood River south to the town of Parkdale and back, for a total length of approximately 21 miles. The train schedule generally runs from mid-April to the end of October.
Theme trips include murder mystery dinner trains and (another) train robbery. Other excursions include a Brunch Train and a Tribute Artist Dinner Train. For the latter, you won’t guess who the “artist” is! Okay, perhaps you will. Let’s just say you’d better wear your blue suede shoes.
Mount Hood Railroad’s Parkdale Excursion tour is a narrated trip through the beautiful and fruitful Hood River valley, with woods, orchards, and vineyards, plus views of Mount Hood and Mount Adams. The train returns after an hour layover in Parkdale. Riders can choose to sit in a restored domed lounge car for a better view.
Another of the Mount Hood Railroad’s restored cars is a 1955 Pullman car formerly used as a Long Island Rail Road club car. Today it has a dance floor and sound system, and is rented for special functions such as reunions, parties, and receptions.
For more information about the Mount Hood Railroad, visit www.mthoodrr.com or call (800) 872-4661 or (541) 386-3556.