Story & photos by Patrick Alexander
Oregon Coast TODAY
For some it’s a ’57 Cadillac, for others a double-engine Harley, but here on the coast, there’s only one serious contender for the title of “sweet ride.” The Candy Cane Express is thundering through another holiday season at the Oregon Coast, offering cookies, hot chocolate and the chance to rub elbows with Saint Nick, himself.
The excursion treats passengers to an out-and-back trip from Garibaldi to Rockaway Beach aboard a steam train packed with festive flair and festooned with Christmas lights to make it glow in the low winter light.
The excursion is bursting with romance and charm, with the train pulled by an Alco #25 steam engine, enjoying a slow-paced retirement after a career on the McCloud Railroad near Mount Shasta.
Scott Wickert, the railroad’s founder and chief mechanical officer, said the engine gets a great response whenever it hits the tracks.
“Everyone wants the steam engine out,” he said, adding. “The colder the weather is outside, the more the steam shows. It will leave a real big plume of steam going down the tracks. It attracts a lot of attention.”
Upon boarding the train in Garibaldi, passengers are greeted by a smartly uniformed conductor and offered a choice between a vintage train carriage with coach-style seats or a cozy, more modernly appointed carriage complete with a delightfully decorated Christmas tree.
The trip takes about 30 minutes each way, with the train doing an almost immediate turnaround upon reaching Rockaway Beach.
Once the train is underway, Santa’s helper makes her way through the carriages, handing out locally baked cookies and pointing passengers toward the cocoa station.
With everyone settled and enjoying their treats, it’s time for the main event; Santa and Mrs. Claus. Resplendent in their crimson garb, the couple make their way from seat to seat, visiting with each child aboard to hand out candy canes and listen to Christmas wishes.
The intimate surroundings of the train car, combined with Santa’s engaging manner are sure to bring a smile to the face of even the shyest kid aboard.
And even for passengers who simply refuse to believe in Santa, elves or flying reindeer, the trip still has plenty to offer.
With tracks hugging the shores of Tillamook Bay, the excursion gives passengers a front-row seat for views across the broad inlet, along with the luxury of being able to study the landscape in a way that simply isn’t possible from the highway.
“Depending on the weather and time of year you can see a lot of the birds out on the water, sometimes you can see seals,” Wickert said. “It just depends how diligently you watch.”
While Santa will be resplendent in his traditional red satin suit, passengers are encouraged to come as they are and dress with chilly winter temperatures in mind. When weather permits, the railroad will add an open-topped carriage to the train, giving people the option of getting that much closer to the scenery.
Wickert said the trip is a highlight for the railroad staff, many of whom are volunteers and who come from across the region to help out.
“Everyone on board this train is doing it because they love it,” he said. “It’s a labor of love.”
The Candy Cane Express departs at noon, 2 pm and 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 23.
Tickets are $22 for adults, $20 for seniors aged 62 and above, $17 for kids aged three to 10 and free for kids under three.
Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad is located in the center of Garibaldi at 306 American Avenue.
For more information or to book tickets, go to www.oregoncoastscenic.org.