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The Milwaukee Road 261, Kenosha Streetcar, NRHS 2004 Convention and CP 2816 plus Amtraking to and from!

by Chris Guenzler

I received my Friends of the Milwaukee Road Newsletter in mid February announcing the participation of the Milwaukee Road 261 in the 2004 Grand Excursion. The original Grand Excursion of 1854 was a celebration by the Rock Island Railroad. A passenger train from Chicago to Rock Island with the 13th President of the United States, Millard Fillmore. Once in Rock Island they boarded a fleet of steamboats for the trip up the Mississippi River to St Paul and on to the Falls of St Anthony in Minneapolis. The Grand Excursion of 2004 is a yearlong event celebrating and commemorating the historic Grand excursion of 1854.

I checked my end of the year school date then figured where I could get on the Milwaukee Road 261 which would be Milwaukee. I then ticketed for all the trips from Milwaukee to La Crosse and the Circle trip out of St Paul on July 2nd. Next I got Amtrak tickets in Sleeping Cars but could not get a room east on the Empire Builder. During the 261 layover in Chicago I would be going to McComb, LA in Sleeping cars both ways. From La Crosse to Minneapolis I would take Amtrak so I could be there for the NRHS Convention. Next I got my hotel rooms for all nights then Bob Riskie, the Amtrak Conductor decided to join me from Davenport on so a few hotel reservations had to be changed with no problem. I really wanted a room on the Empire Builder so I kept checking but the price was way too high. I had my Amtrak Guest Reward Points so with a few phone calls I got my rooms on the Coast Starlight, Empire Builder and both ways on the City of New Orleans. I would only pay for the rail fare La Crosse to Minneapolis {MSP} and a round trip MSP to Minot on the Empire Builder. When the NRHS Booklet finally came in late April I decided on the bus to Duluth Trip with a North Shore Lines Train trip to Two Harbors, Museum Tour and the Night Photo Session. I was in contact with Minnesota resident Dennis Larsen who had heard me on Lets Talk Trains and offered to drive Bob and I to the train of July 2 as he would be riding with us. On July 3 the three of us would be chasing the Milwaukee Road 261/Canadian Pacific 2816 double heading trip St Paul to La Crescent and return with the river boats arriving St Paul on that date. The 261 would be doing the Westminster Hill to St Paul and the Short Line Hill Trips on the 4th of July. I learned on May 28th that the CP 2816 would be running a four day trip with the Milwaukee Road 261 train set from Minneapolis to Portal. I called the Friends of the 261 for tickets and the bus connection for that rare mileage of the former Soo Line tracks. A trip to Amtrak rescheduled my return and I booked on line a Minneapolis to Minot round trip to break up the layover from the July 4th to the 7th departure of the CP 2816. Most of the hotels for that trip were then gotten and I was all set. The Friends of the 261 did not have hotels yet for Glenwood and Minot but I was set with everything else up to that point.

That was until I checked the Friends of the 261, finding on the home page "THE CP TRIPS ON JULY 7-10 ARE TEMPORARILY ON HOLD". I found out the reason and decided to wait it out. In the mean time I started a backup plan to rent a car in Minneapolis and then visit the Wisconsin Great Northern in Spooner, WI, Camp 5 in Laona, WI and Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, WI. An additional Amtrak ticket from MSP to Minot would be required if I had to do this plan. Only time would tell.


ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS BY THE CP RAILWAY. CHILDREN UNDER 10 YEARS OF AGE WILL BE NOT BE PERMITTED TO RIDE. ALL PASSENGERS AND CREW WILL NEED TO SIGN A RELEASE AND RETURN TO ME PRIOR TO THE TRIP (NOT THE DAY OF). I WILL FORWARD ADDITIONAL INFO ON THE RELEASE AS SOON AS I HAVE IT. I found this on the Milwaukee Road 261 web site on June 9th and I was now ready to finish up the hotel reservations for the trip. I finished up the school year and I was set to go!

Surfliner 763 6/17/2004

I slept longer than normal before packing then drove the van down to the Santa Ana Amtrak station to start my second longest trip ever. 763 pulled in right on time with the ever smiling Marisol as the conductor who took my ticket to start me on this journey. Our train was pulled by F59PHI 462, Business 6852, Cafe 6300, Coach 6406, Business 6204 as a coach and Cab Car 6851. I read the USA Today and relaxed the whole way to Los Angeles on a very overcast June morning. The train arrived at LAUPT three minutes early and I walked down to a bench to wait for the Coast Starlight to back in. The Southwest Chief pulled in from Chicago at 9:10 AM only 50 minutes late on the trek from Chicago.

Coast Starlight 14 6/17/2004

The train back into LAUPT and our sleeping car attendant Terry Ray was putting on the finishing touches to our car. About 15 minutes later he opened the door to the Ohio and I boarded room 9. I set up my room before I went to photograph our train. Our consist was Caltrain F-59PH I 2011, P42DC's 171 and 72, Baggage 1252, Transition 39022, Sleepers 32071 Arizona, 32013 Ohio and 32118 Wyoming, Parlor 39974, Diner 38042, Lounge 33030 and Coaches 34041, 34508 Kiddie, 34113 and 34106. Our train departed Los Angeles on time and Ken Ruben who was riding coach to Oxnard joined me in my room for a visit until after Glendale. I made a trip to the Parlor Car for some Cinnamon Rolls which I took back to my room for some Coca-Cola and Yes "Live From Osaka". The book that I am reading on this trip is John Grisham's "Last Juror" another of his novels. After the usual three meets with Metrolink trains and Surfliner 774 we arrived at Simi Valley where Bob Riskie had bicycled down to see me off and to wish we me luck. We were on time for the first time in days but I had to wonder how long that would last? Back on the move again, I walked back to the lounge car to talk with Ken until he departed our train at Oxnard. We made our way to Santa Barbara and later passed one UP freight at Ellwood and then went into the siding at Capitian for the UP 5703 East holding the main because he was too long. He could have thrown the east switch for us but he did not so that cost us some extra time.

The Starlight ran through the brush fire zone of last week and the repaired trestle that had the line shut down for eight days. We ran around Point Conception and through a foggy Vandenberg Air Force Base to Narlon where we waited for the UP Dispatcher 15 minutes to issue our new track warrants. We continued to East San Luis Obispo where we sat for another 18 minutes before we started moving up the southbound main all due to freight train congestion.

After a very lengthy crew change and then respotting the diner for watering we departed SLO at 4:50 PM {3:43 PM}. At 5:00 PM we passed Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and they called me in to dinner. I enjoyed a New York Steak {menu 5} and a sundae as the train climbed Cuesta Grade and descended through Templeton where we met the late southbound Coast Starlight. I went to the Pacific Parlor Car Theater for the showing of Calendar Girls, a very good movie, as the Starlight headed down the Salinas Valley. I detrained at a cool Salinas for a fresh air break an hour fifteen minutes late. I listened to Trevor Rabin, a former guitarist of Yes. After Watsonville I made my bed and called it a night.

6/18/2004 Waking up north of Redding two and a half hours late, I went to the Parlor Car for our trek up the Sacramento River Canyon. We passed two UP's sitting in the sidings waiting for us to pass. We got stabbed at Delta by UP 5805 West which was too long for the siding. After some pleasant conversations in the Parlor Car, I went to breakfast of French Toast and Sausage. We held the mainline at Sims the entire time I ate for the UP 5039 West. It was then announced that the UP 5039 had to set out a car at the next siding of Conant creating a backlog of four trains that were now waiting to get by us. UP 5081 West was first, UP 4258 second and UP 4895 West with NS and CSX engines. At least we were stopped at a beautiful location along the Sacramento River as we waited. Once we got going again the Castle Crags and Mt Shasta stood out beautifully in the morning skies as we approached Dunsmuir. We departed Dunsmuir at 8:50 AM {5:04 AM}.

The Starlight climbed out of the Sacramento River at the Cantara Loop and headed up the grade to Mt Shasta City. At Mott the UP 5698 West was holding the main as we passed by. I returned to the Parlor Car to one of my favorite comfortable chairs for the trip to K Falls. At Penoyar we took the siding for the UP 5445 West. When we got north of Bray they announced that passengers connecting to the Empire Builder in Portland would be bussed to their train from Klamath Falls. That is why I am going all rail to Seattle with the night in a hotel tonight. Bussed once never too be repeated. As we came into Klamath Falls our conductor said, "The Union Pacific has too many chiefs and not enough Indians to keep their trains moving!" After some fresh air at K Falls we departed at 12:04 PM {8:26 AM}.

I napped to Chemult where there was the BNSF 5451 West waiting at the junction for us to clear. After doing a double stop we departed Chemult at 1:31 PM {9:40 AM}. At 2:28 PM we entered the Cascade Summit Tunnel then started our descent to Oakridge. We made it to Heather where signal problems brought the Coast Starlight to a stop. After a few miles of dark signals we finally reached a green signal and returned to track speed then onto Eugene a fresh air stop which we departed at 4:53 PM {12:44 PM}. We ran to Shedd where we met a later southbound Coast Starlight as I was having a repeat of last night's dinner. I then went to the Parlor Car Theater to see "Along came Polly". As I watched the movie we went into the siding at Marion for yet another westbound UP freight and stopped at Salem at 6:50 PM {2:03 PM}. We ran north to Labish where we met Cascade Talgo 507 followed by going to Gervais running into the siding there for UP 5726 West. We took another twelve minute hit at the Steel Bridge before we reached Portland Union Station leaving the rails of the Union Pacific behind.

Now a BNSF train we left Portland at 8:43 PM {4:05 PM} and then ran north to the Willbridge Drawbridge where we sat waiting for it to close after the passage of river traffic. We crossed the Columbia River at 9:11 PM into Vancouver, Washington. I was still reading the "Last Juror" until we came to North Vancouver where we came to a stop waiting for a BNSF freight to pass by. I decided to take a nap as we rolled the miles north.

6/19/2004 Midnight came and went before we had reached Tacoma which we departed at 12:20 AM {7:05 PM}. The Coast Starlight ended this trip of many delays with a good final sprint to Seattle with an arrival time of 1:06 AM {8:30 PM} or 4 hours and 36 minutes late. I would be making a same day connection to the Empire Builder in Seattle.

Seattle 6/19/2004

I detrained and walked through the station to a waiting taxi to the Kings Inn for what was left of the night. I stayed in bed until 7:30 AM before walking to McDonalds for the usual Hot Cakes and Sausage breakfast and then to Ralphs for some more Coca-Cola. I later called home before calling Lets Talk Trains, the Internet radio show about trains. After watching a little television I checked out before walking down to the waterfront for some Amtrak Cascade 517, trolley and I hoped some BNSF action which I received some all of. I walked north to Board Street to catch the trolley down to near King Street Station.

I walked down to the Royal Brougham Street crossing to wait for Amtrak Cascade 507 to depart at 1:14 PM. He was followed by the BNSF 2965. I walked back to King Street Station via the Stadium Market for some supplies before I waited for my next train. The Empire Builder pulled into King Street Station at 3:55 PM.

Empire Builder 8 6/19/2004

This train consisted of P42DC 153 and 171, Baggage 1261, Transition 39009 Sleepers 32110 Tennessee and 32079 Georgia, Diner 38011 and Coaches 34037 and 31513 {former smoker}. The 171 was on the point of my northbound Starlight out of Oakland. The train was boarded at 4:10 with me having room 7 in the Georgia with my sleeping attendant Prince. One thing I do not understand is why when a car is painted into the new Amtrak scheme why they lose their State names on the outside. They also lose the large "Superliner" on the outside. Inside the room beside the usual Empire Builder timetable is a 75 year Empire Builder Route Guide, "Along the Trail of Lewis and Clark" and "Glacier, the Complete Guide to the Park" one of my favorite places that I have ever visited. I love the Many Glacier area of the park. We departed Seattle right on time before plunging into the tunnel under downtown Seattle.

The Empire Builder ran along the shore of Puget Sound through Edmonds and Everett where it turned inland east to cross the Cascade Mountains at Stevens Pass. We had a Rail to Trails presentation to Wenatchee and then the next day from Whitefish to Shelby. His program was excellent both days. I had dinner with a couple going to Milwaukee then onto Sturgeon Bay. The number 5 dinner menu once again so it would be the same meal once more but different scenery and company. The steak was done in a sauce this time for a different taste. We met a BNSF freight at Barring and proceeded through Skykomish.

The train started up the 2.2% grade for twelve miles by turning south to cross the Moss River on a curved trestle, a most impressive scene.

The Empire Builder continued our climb to the West Portal of the 7.79 mile long Cascade Tunnel, the longest tunnel in the United States completed in 1929.

As we passed through the bore I made my way to the last car to get the East Portal of the Cascade Tunnel. The Builder descended through Icicle Canyon, passed through Cashmere before we arrived at Wenatchee, our early evening fresh air stop.

On the move again, we joined the Columbia River before we crossed it at Rock Island. We ran along the east shore for several miles before we climbed out of the Columbia River Valley on a very interesting twilight climb. We then headed east for Spokane and once the twilight turned into night, I called it an evening.

6/20/2004 I woke up at Libby, Montana and went downstairs for a refreshing shower. I walked back through the Portland section to get the consist which was Lounge 33048, Coaches 34085 and 31014 {former smoker} and Sleeper 32022. This was the first day of summer and even at 5:30 AM it was light enough to see the beautiful scenery as we ran along the Kootney River. We left the river behind at Riverview and climbed the relocated line due to the construction of the Libby Dam. We followed the Fisher River to the 7 mile Flathead Tunnel, the second longest tunnel in the United States. We paused at Rock Creek to let the tunnel vent before we entered the long bore. I sat down for breakfast with the same couple I had dinner with last night then excused myself for a picture of us exiting the Flathead Tunnel.

Breakfast was waiting on the table and it was another great meal. The train then ran to our next station of Whitefish, Montana.

I detrained for a picture of the complete Empire Builder. We made our way east to Columbia Falls, crossed the Flathead River at Coram before we made our way to West Glacier {Belton}.

I rode in the lounge car all the way to East Glacier crossing a very beautiful Marias Pass with me acting as a tour guide for my new friends. I excused myself for a few pictures along the way.

I excused myself for a few pictures along the way. After a fresh air stop at East Glacier, I returned to my room as we crossed the Two Medicine River Bridge and started relaxing for the rest of the day. I detrained at Shelby along with the tour group who was doing a Lewis and Clark trip and visited the station there adding it to the list of stations I have been in. Early in the afternoon we arrived at Havre where I detrained for an ice cream sandwich on a very pleasant day.

The Empire Builder continued rolling eastward with me still reading the Last Juror and listening to music. The only excitement on this very quiet afternoon was when the train set off a dragging detector alarm and had to be inspected before we reached Glasgow. More fresh air was taken at Wolf Point on a very windy afternoon.

Later we arrived at the next fresh air stop of Williston and I visited the station there. As of the last timetable change in April, all Superliner trains were now non smoking with smoking breaks or as I call them fresh air breaks. The cars which were used as lounges are still on the trains. I think that Amtrak needs to convert these cars to low level seating to increase revenue or turn them into bicycle carrying cars so passengers would not have to box their bikes.

More excitement just east of Stanley, North Dakota as we lost head end power for about fifteen minutes before we came to a stop to fix it. "Remember every trip is an adventure!" At 9:00 PM Central Daylight Time I finished the "Final Juror" and it was an excellent story. Right at sunset we made it to Minot and I enjoyed our last fresh air stop of the evening. We had gotten paint balled last night west of Skykomish and we took 55 hits. I read the North Dakota Empire Builder Route Guide I picked up in the station and listened to some more music before calling it a night.

6/21/2004 I woke up just outside of the Twin Cities at 6:00 AM. I went to the dining car for French Toast and Bacon. The train passed the home of the Milwaukee Road 261 shops as we made our way to Midway Station. Here the train was serviced and two Express Cars 71258 and 71272 plus two Road Railers 462127 and 462162 were added to our train. Due to BNSF excellent train handling we arrived thirty five minutes early. My friends and I have staked out our spot in the lounge car for our trip along the Mississippi River. We left Midway on time and headed to St Paul where I got my first look of the Canadian Pacific Empress 2816 laying over at the CP Rail Pig Eye Yard. I can not wait to ride behind her in a couple of weeks. This is the first time I have ever seen the CP Rail side of the river in complete daylight as my only other eastbound trip was 8 hours when we got to this point. {That story is my reclaiming my final states for my sobriety!} We crossed the Mississippi River before Hastings and made our way to Red Wing.

South of Red Wing we did some good river side running along Lake Pepin. Where the river curved away the tracks ran straight across the floodplain. The Empire Builder crossed the Whitewater River as it sprinted towards Winona and cruised along Lock and Dam 5. I took a fresh air break at Winona and minutes later ran by Lock and Dam 7 then ducked under Interstate 90. The train crossed the Mississippi River and entered Wisconsin stopping at La Crosse, our next fresh air stop. Back on the move again I prepared my materials for the Milwaukee Road 261 trip tomorrow and my hotel tonight when we passed through the only tunnel of the day at Tunnel City before we arrived at Tomah. I had a lunch of an Angus Beef Burger and a Sundae with my new friends that lasted through Wisconsin Dells.

At Columbus a passenger forgot that it was his stop but his attendant saved the day with a PA announcement to the conductor. I had gone from a sunny Mississippi River to a gloomy Wisconsin rainy day. As we made our way to Milwaukee where my new friends got off, I wondered how you would pronounce Oconomowoc a town we passed through. I said my goodbyes to my new friends and wished then well. The Milwaukee Road 261 greeted me at Milwaukee but it was hidden behind a freight train. During the final fresh air break of the trip I ran into Don Crimmin of the Friends of the 261 and who was working on this trip. Now we were off for our final sprint of the trip to Chicago with a stop at Glenview. Due to some slow running on Metra due to track work we arrived at Chicago Union Station, a mere thirteen minutes late ending an excellent trip on the Empire Builder. Special thanks to both the BNSF and CP Rail for excellent train handling.

Chicago 1 6/21/2004

I went to the food court for a pair of Gold Coast Char Dogs and a new fill puzzle book before going to the north boarding area of Chicago Union Station to wait for my train back to Milwaukee.

Hiawatha Service 339 6/21/2004

Since I had now ridden the whole Empire Builder Route in a sleeping car, I took the next train back to Milwaukee to be in position to ride the Milwaukee Road 261 back to Chicago tomorrow. This train had P42DC 179, Horizon Coaches 54048, 51501, 54556 and 54580 with Cabbage Car 90208. We boarded 15 minutes early and made an on-time departure. I listened to music and did word fill ins back to Milwaukee on this very rainy afternoon. One good thing about riding this route both ways today is that I am getting a good feel for it.

Click here for Part 2 of the story.