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Grant's Getaways: Candy Cane Express

The Candy Cane Express, owned and operated by the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, takes on passengers at the Garibaldi Depot three times each Saturday and Sunday.

GARIBALDI, Ore. — You can tell a lot about a community’s holiday spirit by the celebrations they hold onto. The Tillamook County port village of Garibaldi, Oregon has a dandy!

Each weekend morning in December, railroad engineer Tim Thompson preps the business end of the “Candy Cane Express,” a Prairie 2-6-2 steam engine that roars to life in billowy clouds of steam.

“When one of these steam locomotives is hot, they really attract a crowd,” said railroad engineer Tim Thompson.

The engine was built in 1925. It burns recycled motor oil and it is rated to pull 29,000 pounds. 

“It’s like a big industrial furnace,” added Thompson. “The firebox is surrounded by a water jacket and as it boils, the steam rises and moves through super heater units and then down into the cylinders to move the train.”

The Candy Cane Express, owned and operated by the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad, takes on passengers at the Garibaldi Depot three times each Saturday and Sunday (10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.) for a 60-minute round-trip ride along the coast.

The steam engine pulls three passenger cars (plus the caboose) and that’s where you’ll find OCSR conductor Dennis Murphy. He said that the rail ride is “big, noisy, and bounce around,” but it’s also “every kid’s dream!”

“It’s one thing to read about a railroad in a book or see them in a museum, but quite a different experience to see them come alive with the steam billowing out of the auxiliary systems and pistons. When you see that, you never forget it!”

The Candy Cane Express rolls along a three-mile stretch of track from Garibaldi to Rockaway Beach, and at 10 miles an hour, it is a pleasant cruise.

Credit: Grant McOmie

“We go right along the water,” said Murphy. “We keep moving north and we go across a lake with water on both sides of the rail, and of course we roll right into downtown Rockaway Beach. It’s just good fun.”

Inside the passenger cars, the holiday lights and greenery mark the season while a Christmas tree, heavy with ornaments, stands in passenger car corner.

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Suddenly, a jolly old man clothed head to toe in red greeted young and old with a huge smile.

“Oh, there’s somebody I need to see,” said the man in a bright red suit who offered that the Candy Cane Express isn’t so much about him, but the people he meets along the way.

“If I can get a smile out of a child, well, that’s all the reward anyone could ask for.”

Young Keegan Ragan loves to ride on trains because the slow poke, ten mile an hour ride lets him see more of the coastline.

“When our family travels, it’s always by car and cars are small,” said the youngster. Aboard the train, I don’t have to sit in one seat, cuz there are many to choose from and with trains you don’t have a seat belt. You can get up and move around and I just like that!”

His parents, Martha and Brad Ragan, agreed that just like many other youngsters, their son has been absolutely hooked on train travel.

Credit: Grant McOmie

“Oh yeah, Keegan has lots of Thomas Trains, model trains, electric trains, Lego trains. It’s his thing, something he’s always been interested in and it hasn’t faded at all the time either. So, this is a perfect trip for our family.”

“Passengers enjoy hot cocoa, Christmas cookies in a nice warm spot that’s out of the rain and wind that we sometimes get here this time of year,” noted Murphy.

Engineer Thompson added, “This ride allows passengers to see that coast, enjoy some down time and even meet Santa Claus, while I take care of the driving. It is a terrific time!”

Credit: Grant McOmie

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Be sure to follow my Oregon adventures via the new Grant’s Getaways Podcast:

Each segment is a story-telling session where I relate behind the scenes stories from four decades of travel and television reporting.

You can also learn more about many of my favorite Oregon travels and adventures in the Grant’s Getaways book series, including:

"Grants Getaways I," Photography by Steve Terrill

"Grant's Getaways II," Photography by Steve Terrill

Grant’s Getaways: 101 Oregon Adventures,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Guide to Wildlife Watching in Oregon,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

Grant’s Getaways: Oregon Adventures with the Kids,” Photography by Jeff Kastner

The collection offers hundreds of outdoor activities across Oregon and promises to engage a kid of any age.

My next book, “Grant’s Getaways: Another 101 Oregon Adventures” will be published in 2022.