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Milwaukee Road 261 Minneapolis Jct to Glencoe 10/1/2017

by Chris Guenzler

The Friends of Milwaukee Road 261 had sent out an e-mail about two trips they were going to run going to Glencoe, Minnesota. I made my airline reservations but unfortunately I chose the wrong date so I would not be able to do the trip to Winthrop. I then ordered the ticket and made my hotel reservation near the airport at the Best Western Dakota Ridge Hotel. I ordered a rental car from Payless and was all set for a great trip.

I was up early at 5:30 AM and after showering and shaving, I let Toby, our new family dog, out into backyard to do his business. After finishing my breakfast, I took Toby back inside then awoke my mother before checking the Internet. Once done, I turned off the home computer then my mother drove me to the John Wayne Airport. I went upstairs to security and being TSA Pre-checked made it really easy and fast. I went to Gate 4 to wait for my flight and was pre-boarded and ended up with seat 17F after a couple who wanted to sit together.

Delta Airlines Flight 1884 9/30/2017

My flight took off and we went above the clouds really quickly and headed to the Twin Cities. I read my newest Hockey News and did some Sudoku puzzles before I watched "Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Men Tells No Tales" and saw about a third of it before we landed early and then the fun began.

The Twin Cities 9/30/2017

I had a car rental with Payless and after finding the counter on Level 1 with no one there, I called on the phone and was told to wait outside. About twenty minutes later they picked up seven people including me and drove us to the Payless Rental Car Center across Highway 11 from the Motel 6 where I am staying. With one person, it took about twenty minutes to get the car. I got a Kia and drove north then west before south to Motel 6 where I was given Room 200. I got on-line, cleared the e-mail then drove to the Mall of America, my first visit and was really impressed with what I saw inside. I went to Burger-Burger and had a great hamburger then followed a Hiawatha Green Line train over to the 28th Street station where I would board the train tomorrow morning if went according to plan. I then returned to the Motel 6 for the night.


I was up at 5:30 AM and after shaving and knowing that Interstate 35 West was closed, I left and took Hiawatha Boulevard into Minneapolis. I took the bridge across the Mississippi River then made my way to University Boulevard and a MacDonald's I knew about to get Hot Cakes and sausage to go. I then drove over to Minneapolis Jct and parked by the home shed of Milwaukee Road 261 and ate my breakfast.

Milwaukee Road 261

Milwaukee Road 261 is a 4-8-4 "Northern" type steam locomotive built by the American Locomotive Company, (ALCO), in Schenectady, New York in July 1944 for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad. It was used for heavy mainline freight work until being retired by the railroad in 1954. Instead of being cut up for scrap, the 261 was preserved and donated to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1958. Today the locomotive is owned, operated, and maintained by Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization Friends of the 261, which runs seasonal excursion trains using the 261. The steam engine, restored in 1993, has logged more than 25,000 miles under its own power since that time.


Built by the American Locomotive Company in July 1944, the 261 was originally operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, which was also known as the Milwaukee Road. The locomotive, weighing 460,000 pounds, is rated at a maximum of 4,500 hp and maximum speed of 100 mph is coal fueled. It had a 3 chime whistle and airhorn mounted on it. It operated with the railroad until retiring in 1954, and eventually donated to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin. As the new museum's first acquisition, 261 was moved to the museum site in 1958.

Milwaukee Road 261 In 1991, the newly formed "North Star Rail" selected 261 for restoration for mainline excursions. It was selected for a variety of reasons. The engine was large enough to handle the expected trains at track speed. It featured several modern features for a steam locomotive, including easier to maintain roller bearings. It also already had its asbestos lagging removed, which is very expensive to remove for environmental and safety reasons. Finally, 261's relatively short 10 year service life meant that the engine's boiler is more pristine, meaning it would take less work to rebuild the engine.

North Star Rail and the National Railroad Museum came to an agreement in November 1991 for a ten-year lease (which was later renewed ten years later). 261 was moved from Green Bay to Minneapolis to the GE shops at Humboldt Yard in September 1992. There, a full-time staff rebuilt the engine. Work progressed quickly, allowing for a hydrostatic test in June 1993, a test fireup in July, and the eventual restoration completion in September. After passing the FRA inspection on September 14, the engine deadheaded over Wisconsin Central in time for its first public excursions on September 18-19, 1993. The engine later returned to its new home at the leased Burlington Northern Minneapolis Junction.

The following year, 261 had an extensive season including excursions on the Wisconsin Central Railroad and the Twin Cities and Western Railroad. Notable events included "Chocolate City Days" excusions, campaign trains, a movie shoot painted as "Lackawanna 1661", running over CSX tracks for the famed "New River Train", and a wrap up celebrating the engine's 50th birthday.

The engine participated in the Steamtown National Historic Site's grand opening in July 1995. Over five days, 261 deadheaded from Minneapolis to Scranton, Pennsylvania. The locomotive stayed in Scranton for the next year pulling numerous excursions, including rare mileage trips, a rare snow plow run, and the engine's first steam doubleheader with Susquehanna 142. A Hancock 3 chime whistle was temporarily added to the locomotive and then replaced with an AT&SF 6 chime whistle, which it remains with today, but still also keeping its original non-Hancock 3 chime whistle and airhorn. 261 returned to the Midwest after almost a year at Steamtown. On its way home, the engine made its first runs over the newly formed Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. It pulled a few sets of excursions in 1997 and 1998 over BNSF and TC&W trackage.

The year of 1998 presented 261 on its biggest assignment yet as it was the first steam engine to pull BNSF's Employee Appreciation Special. The engine led a BNSF locomotive and a dozen of BNSF's business fleet around the upper Midwest portion of the BNSF's route. This brought the engine back to Chicago before heading north to North Dakota and Montana, then through Minneapolis into Iowa before the EAS concluded at Topeka Railroad Days. 261 ended the 1998 operating season after a few more days on BNSF tracks going from North Kansas City to Lincoln to Sioux Falls back to the Twin Cities on a Camerail Club Excursion.

The 1999 season was short with a weekend excursion in May from Minneapolis to Duluth along with runs on the Lake Superior Railroad Museum's tracks, along with another excursion in September. The year 2000 saw 261 leading excursions out of places like Chicago, Omaha, and Kansas City. The engine also led an AAPRCO special on August 29 to Duluth. The engine then led a long circle trip over the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railroad as well as the North Shore Railroad System before heading back home. The 2001 season had excursions out of Minneapolis and Montevideo over BNSF and TC&W tracks during June and July, in a complete match of Hiawatha passenger cars. The next year, 261 pulled an almost matching consist between Minneapolis and Chicago. At this point, insurance rates were skyrocketing due to outside events as well as new FRA guidelines. The Friends of the 261 had an insurance policy to run through 2002, making these trips among the last time that the group could afford to have 261 run solo.

In the following months, some major changes were made to the Friends of the 261's operations. With insurance being too high to charge reasonable ticket prices, the group decided to team up with Amtrak. Amtrak is self insured, so the added cost of excursion insurance was much less. However, Amtrak requires that all equipment meet Amtrak certification. The engine became the second steam engine to become Amtrak certified, and the Friends of the 261 began to buy or rebuild coaches that would meet Amtrak specifications. The first team up with Amtrak occurred in October 2003 with the engine's return to old Milwaukee Road tracks between Minneapolis to Winona, Minnesota. These trips have been repeated each year since.


In June 2004, the engine made its first return visit to Milwaukee since being restored, overnighting on its way to Chicago to participate in the Grand Excursion, an approximate reenactment of the original Grand Excursion of 1854. It departed from Chicago, arriving in Rock Island, Illinois to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first railroad to reach the Mississippi River. During the Grand Excursion, 261 made day trips to Savanna, Illinois over the Iowa, Chicago and Eastern Railroad, and to Bureau Junction, Illinois on Iowa Interstate Railroad, current owner/operator of the first railroad line to the Mississippi. The train then traveled north along IC&E rails near the Mississippi River, making overnight stops at Dubuque, Iowa and La Crosse, Wisconsin. The final leg up to the Twin Cities operated in Wisconsin on BNSF trackage.

261 ran an excursion from Minneapolis to Duluth via BNSF trackage in both 2005 and 2007.

Three June 2006 excursions were launched from Milwaukee: a dinner train in Friday 23 to Sturtevant, Wisconsin, and Saturday & Sunday excursions (24th & 25th) to Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. For these runs, the train was turned at New Lisbon. These excursions would be repeated in August 2008.

In September 2006, 261 and its train visited Rock Island, Illinois as part of RiverWay 2006, a Quad Cities celebration of the 150th anniversary of the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River in 1856. As part of the festivities, 261's train was coupled to a pair of Chinese-built QJ 2-10-2 steam locomotives for a trip to Homestead, Iowa, on September 15, 2006. The next day, 261 was added to run a "triple-header" from Rock Island to Bureau Junction, Illinois; then, on the following day, the QJs pulled the train, without 261, to Muscatine, Iowa, and back. Diesels were not used on any of these excursions.

In September 2007, Canadian Pacific 2816 and 261 reunited for another doubleheader to Winona. No diesels or water cars were used on the trip. The Friends of the 261 had helped the Canadian Pacific Railway plan 2816's return to the United States, as well as providing half of the consist 2816 led.

In May 2008, 261 was featured on a photo charter on the TC&W railroad. Following this, the engine was moved to Chicago for filming in "Public Enemies", a movie based on the life of John Dillinger and starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Though 261 was built ten years after Dillinger died, the engine did fit the bill for a steam engine that could be filmed at Chicago Union Station. The engine's final excursion before the required Federal Railway Administration's "15 year inspection" for 261 was a run in September 2008 on Canadian Pacific's ex-Milwaukee Road line from Minneapolis to Winona with a return on BNSF's ex-Burlington line from La Crosse to Minneapolis. Following the engine being pulled from service, The Friends quickly began a rebuild to the engine.

Acquisition from the National Railroad Museum

In 2009, the work on 261 was halted to concentrate efforts on Southern Pacific 4449. The famed "Daylight" was to participate in TrainFestival 2009, and the Friends of the 261 played a major part in the engine being able to participate. The group provided several passenger cars for 4449's excursion from Portland, Oregon, to Owosso, Michigan, that started on July 3, 2009, as well as TrainFestival 2009. After being away for three months, the 4449 arrived in Portland on October 20, 2009.

In November 2009, the Friends of the 261 and the National Railroad Museum had problems with negotiations over lease agreements. The museum was asking too much for the Friends to pay, especially while in the middle of a large overhaul. The Friends of the 261 decided to end the lease with the National Railroad Museum citing the high costs, and began looking for another locomotive to restore.

In mid-January 2010, the engine was found on the website of Sterling Rail, a rail equipment broker, stating that there was a sale pending. The engine was supposedly to be sold to a California-based collector, who would have potentially let the Friends overhaul and operate the 261; however, the transaction was never completed. At the time, Steve Sandberg, CEO of the organization, said he was engaged in talks with other organizations about leasing a different engine. In an e-mail dated November 17, 2009, he informed the National Railroad Museum his organization had decided to discontinue operating 261, according to Michael E. Telzrow, executive director of the National Railroad Museum. Per the terms of their agreement, the Friends of the 261 would be responsible for returning the locomotive to the Museum. The Friends of the 261 finally were able to purchase the locomotive in May, 2010 for $225,000, keeping it in Minneapolis and returning it to operation upon its rebuild.

2013 and Beyond

On September 29, 2012, 261 was test fired and ran under its own power once again.

In April 2013, it successfully operated a test train on the Twin Cities and Western Railroad. It ran normally from Minneapolis, and then operated tender-first back to Minneapolis.

On May 11, 2013 (National Train Day), 261 ran on an excursion north from Minneapolis to Duluth, where it met Soo Line 2719 for the first time. 261 stayed in Duluth overnight and had a photo shoot with 2719. On May 12, 261 eturned to Minneapolis. Amtrak P42DC 17 joined 261 for this trip.

On October 12, 2013 261 made a round trip fall color excursion to Willmar, Minnesota. On October 13, 2013, 261 made a second round trip excursion to Boylston, Wisconsin. Amtrak P40DC 824 joined 261 for these trips.

On September 27, 2014, Milwaukee Road 261 ran on a round trip Fall Colors Excursion to Duluth, Minnesota, returning to Minneapolis on September 28. The excursion traveled on BNSF's Hinckley Subdivision. Amtrak P42DC 174 joined 261 for this trip.

In 2014 it operated the Inaugural "North Pole Express" in St. Paul.

In October 2015 the 261 attended the 2015 Railway Interchange Show in Minneapolis October 4-7. On October 10, 261 pulled a daytime round-trip excursion to Boylston, WI, where it was wyed and returned to Minneapolis. The next day 261 did the same to Willmar, MN on October 11, but used a turntable to face forward for the return to Minneapolis. Amtrak's Phase IV heritage unit 184 joined the 261 for both trips.

The 261 traveled to St. Paul Union Depot under steam to be displayed along other equipment for "Union Depot Train Days", celebrating the 90th anniversary of the building. It was featured in a night photo shoot with Soo Line FP7 2500.On June 4, 2016, Milwaukee Road 261 ran a round trip to Duluth, Minnesota, returning to Minneapolis on June 5. Amtrak has been power short as of recent, so 261 performed this trip on its own.

In October 2016, the 261 operated three round trips from Minneapolis on the Twin Cities and Western Railroad, running on former Milwaukee Road tracks. The 261 operated with out a diesel helper except to be pulled back to Minneapolis as there were no places to turn the train around.

In June 2017, the 261 will operated on the Red River Valley & Western in North Dakota from Davenport to Lisbon and Breckenridge to Kindred on public trip plus Red River Valley & Western Employee Trips.

On September 30 the 261 ran an excursion train that include a rare mileage trip over the Minnesota Prairie Line, former Minneapolis & St. Louis track that has not seen passenger service since 1960. This trip will operate from Minneapolis Jct. to either Gibbon or Winthrop. On October 1, 2017 the 261 will head west from Minneapolis Jct., towards Glencoe on what was the route of Milwaukee Road's famed Olympian Hiawatha to Seattle/Tacoma and has not seen regularly scheduled passenger train service since 1969.

The Trip

After finishing my breakfast I then went to get pictures of one of my favorite steam engines.

Milwaukee Road 261 waits for today's steam action on the trip to Glencoe.

The steam train crew is servicing Milwaukee Road 261.

A view looking both ways up and down the train. I then gave Steve Sandberg my 2018 train calendar.

Conductor Ron Rahn chats with two Milwaukee Road 261 volunteers. Just after 8:00 AM they boarded the train with me being the first person on board. Greg Molloy, a good friend, was also aboard today. As I felt the train start to move at 8:55 AM, I went to the vestibule to photograph the start of this trip.

Milwaukee Road 261 starts to back the train to the junction with the Southeast Wye track at Minneapolis Jct.

The skyline of downtown Minneapolis.

The home of Milwaukee Road 261 at Minneapolis Jct. I called Chris Parker to let him hear some steam action.

Milwaukee Road 261 reverses to then go through the first curve of this trip.

Steam shoots out of this unique steam engine.

Milwaukee Road 261 backed to beyond the signal bridge and we waited to get a red over green signal. I called Elizabeth to let her hear some steam action.

The steam engine crossed over to the southeast wye track and headed down it.

Milwaukee Road 261 travelled over the southeast leg of the wye at Minneapolis Jct.

The train curved under Central Boulevard.

The train crossed a branch of the Mississippi River.

Crossing the main channel of the Mississippi River.

The train ran by the Target Field Northstar Commuter Rail station where I will board a train tomorrow morning.

Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins.

Lyndale Jct will start my new rail mileage as I rode in to the Twin Cities on my first 261 trip from North Kansas City in 1998 on the track that diverts here.

Running by the former location of the Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway yards and shops.

The Linden Yard yard office.

The train has reached Cedar Lake Jct which is our junction with the old Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway.

The train took the large curve just beyond Cedar Lake Jct.

The train ran by a few trees in autumn colors.

A few trees along a road we crossed over.

One of the many lakes along our route this morning.

Three views along our route.

The train ran by these dairy farms.

More trees in fall colors.

Two more views of the Minnesota countryside before we reached Bongards, the site of our photo runbys this morning.

I was first off the train and shot forward to give you this view of Milwaukee Road 261 at Bongards. We all detrained and I made a photo line behind a barn.

The reverse move here.

Photo Runby 1 at Bongards.

Reverse move 2.

Photo Runby 2. From here we went through the rain to Glencoe where it quit just before we arrived.

Stored Twin Cities & Western Railroad motive power in Glencoe. This is as far west as we went on this trip.

Views down the side of the train before I detrained for our fifteen minute stop here.

Twin Cities & Western GP39-2 2301, originally Kennecott Copper 790, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1978.

Two views of 2301 which would be pulling the train back to the Twin Cities. Once everyone was back onboard, we departed Glencoe for Minneapolis Jct.

The Milwaukee Road Glencoe station.

Twin Cities & Western CF7 Slug 302, originally Santa Fe F7A 250L, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1951.

Twin Cities & Western GP20C 3516, originally Chicago, Burlington and Quincy 901, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1961.

Twin Cities & Western GP10 406, originally Illinois Central 9144, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1956.

Twin Cities & Western GP38-2 2010, originally Norfolk and Western 4104, built by Electro-Motive Division in 1971. From here I joined my new friends Jeff Stabnow, Kate and Sadie in the Super Dome for over twenty miles. Good conversations were had as we traveled east.

At Norwood, the line I did not ride yesterday, joined our route.

The Norwood Young American water tower. I returned to my vestibule to wait my next pictures in Hopkins.

The train took a curve on our way back.

The train took the curve into Norwood.

The Milwaukee Road Hopkins station built in 1928

The Minnesota & St. Louis Railway Hopkins station.

The Milwaukee Road Jorvik Park station in St. Louis Park, built in 1887 and was operated until 1968. It now serves as a museum for the St. Louis Park Historical Society.

Northstar Commuter Train MP36PH-3C 505.

Northstar Commuter Train Sunday baseball train at the Target Field station. They lined us back down the southest leg of the Minneapolis Jct Wye but that would not work so we reversed up the southest leg and then took the northwest leg of the wye to the BNSF mainline before we pulled back into Minneapolis Jct, where I was first off. I drove to Interstate 35 West and took Hiawatha Boulevard back south in bumper-to-bumper traffic the whole way down. It took a lot longer to get back to near the Motel 6 but I found a Subway and bought dinner to take back to my room then worked on this story before calling it a night. It had been a great trip with Milwaukee Road 261.