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The Continuing Adventures with the Milwaukee Road 261

by Chris Guenzler

The Milwaukee Road 261 Circle Trip and a surprise! 7/2/2004

After another short night of sleep I was up early for another breakfast before checking out. Bob and I went out front of the hotel to wait to be picked up. Just as we stepped outside, Dennis Larsen pulled up to pick us up. We drove over to St Paul and parked in a covered parking lot next to St Paul Union Station. We walked up a ramp to find a long line to board our steam train this morning. At 8:00 AM the Milwaukee Road 261 backed the train to the loading location. The only car added to our train was the Caritas located between the Springmaid 1202R and the Montana. Boarding soon took place with only three vestibules open so it was a mad rush to board. The three of us ended up in the Arizona in single seats. I took a seat next to Don Jackson from Cottage Grove, MN, a short distance east from here.

At 8:34 AM the Milwaukee Road 261 departed St Paul heading down the former CB&Q to La Crosse before we stopped a few moments for a rail grinding train to pass. We paced an eastbound coal train for a short distance before we came to a stop again. On the move again we ran under the Dayton Bluffs before passing through Pig Eye Yard. We slowly made our way through the construction zone of Interstate 694 then ran through Newport and the large 3M plant was passed where Don used to work. We ran on a ledge above the former Milwaukee Road tracks. Lock and Dam 2 was passed on the river before we ran through St Croix and passing under Highway 61. The King Cove Marina was passed before we slowed for the crossing of the St Croix River and entered into Wisconsin at Prescott. I learned what a Wing Dam was and to never pass a boat over one as we sped along the Mississippi River. The Milwaukee Road 261 slowed through Diamond Bluff with Wisconsin Highway 35 running along our route. We crossed under the Highway heading over the river to Red Wing as we then crossed the farmlands and forest. The Milwaukee Road 261 steamed through Bay City at a rapid pace as we then cruised along Lake Pepin and sailed through Maiden Rock. There is plenty of haze in the air from all the humidity in it. We stopped at Pepin to grease the Milwaukee Road 261's rods.

The Milwaukee Road 261 departed Pepin at 10:50 AM to continue the journey south to La Crosse. We crossed the Chippewa River before we neared the south end of Lake Pepin and reached Trevino. There is a group of passengers all wearing tye dye T-shirts celebrating a 50th Wedding Anniversary on our train from Lake City, MN. The Milwaukee Road 261 rolled through Alma, Cochrane and Fountain City with a US Corps of Engineers Station. The channel of the Mississippi River curves all over the valley along here as the Milwaukee Road 261 continued south to Lock and Dam 5. We came to a stop at Winona Jct to get new track warrants since we had left CTC territory. We continued through East Winona and entered the swampy country along the east side of the river. The train passed Lock and Dam 6 and later ran through Tempealeau. We went under Interstate 90 before we reached North La Crosse.

We slowly walked the Milwaukee Road 261 around the connecting track {new mileage} at Grand Crossing and into the CP rail yard. We slowly steamed through the yard and came to a stop to service the Milwaukee Road 261 where it was watered and greased.

At 1:25 PM the Milwaukee Road 261 whistled off and we met Amtrak 8. I spotted Dan Chazin in one of the coach vestibules. Remember you can find the stories Dan has written on by clicking on the Travel link on the home page. The Milwaukee Road 261 steamed by the La Crosse Amtrak Station before we crossed the Black River on the newly rebuilt bridge. This was followed by crossing the Mississippi River to return to Minnesota.

The Milwaukee Road 261 made the turn to run along the west side of the Mississippi River on the Empire Builder Route. We steamed through Dakota and steamed north on to Winona with Sugarloaf off to the west on the bluffs. We stopped in Winona to a non existing crowd and there was only half a dozen people here to greet us. The Amtrak crew changed here before we were off and running north. We crossed the ex CNW line now the Dakota, Minnesota and Eastern. The Milwaukee Road 261 sped through Whitman siding and minutes later ran by the Bass Camp Resort then Lock and Dam 5. We ran by the town and siding of Weaver with the CP 9612 West in their siding waiting for us to pass by. We went by Weaver Bottoms off to the right and then the 261 steamed across the Whitewater River.

Traffic was heavy on Minnesota 61. The bottoms I learn are too thin to walk on and too thick to paddle though. The bottoms end right before Kellogg and we returned to the farmlands as we steamed through Midland and onto Wabash where a two Soo Line unit freight in a siding and another with two CP Rail units waiting for our train to run through. The Milwaukee Road 261 returned to the river running at Reeds Landing before we reached Lake Pepin running to Lake City at track sped. I had been invited into the Milwaukee Road 261 tool car for a visit.

The Milwaukee Road 261 serving crew prepares to go into action when we reach Red Wing, our next servicing stop.

The Canadian Pacific Empress 2816 had run down to Red Wing pulled by a diesel on the rear end as part of an employee trip. When we left Red Wing we passed the Milwaukee Road 2816 before we headed out of town. The Milwaukee Road 261 steamed by the Treasure Island Casino, Prairie Island Nuclear Power Plant and more wetlands were passed along our route. At East Hastings the Illinois Chicago and Eastern 6447 was waiting along with another CP Rail eastbound before we curved in Hastings. We crossed the Mississippi River and ran back through St Croix. We retraced our route this morning and our conductor came into our car to tell us. He said, "There are a few not happy passengers aboard our train." Don then said ,"HA over H always is greater that one!" HA means Horse's ass and H is Horse. We ran though Cottage Grove at a much reduced speed due to tie replacement. At Newport we switched back over to the old CB&Q with our sped increasing. We paced the BNSF 6919 beneath the Dayton Bluff before we pulled into St Paul to the loading area at 5:15 PM.

The major surprise comes steaming by!

On the way to the gate after detraining, I saw Frank Sandburg who gave me some information about tomorrow. He then told of the planned side by side running up Westminster Hill of the Milwaukee Road 261 and Canadian Pacific Empress 2816. Dennis took Bob and I over to St Paul Union Station and give us a brief tour of this beautiful building. Now to find a location to get pictures of these two steam engines. We found a bridge on Lafayette Road that was on Westminster Hill at East 7th street on the BNSF. What we discovered is that this is a prime railfan location in the Twin Cities. The BNSF, UP and CP Rail all use this short but steep grade. Here we joined about thirty railfans waiting for the big event to take place. Each of the two outside tracks go through a tunnel to head north while the two middle tracks climb the short but steep hill over the other two tracks as they head west.

First a BNSF freight climbs Westminster Hill. That was followed by a UP train descending.

A eastbound BNSF train was next.

A CP Rail eastbound came down grade next. Then we all saw smoke!

CP Rail Empress 2816 climbed Westminster Hill on the outside track. About fifteen minutes we some more smoke off in the distance.

The Milwaukee Road 261 then took its turn climbing Westminster Hill. What a show of smoke and sound the Milwaukee Road 261 provided for all of us there. After saying goodbye to all my friends on the bridge, Dennis drove Bob and I to the Days Inn Midway. We checked in and found our room. I went to Arby's for dinner before returning to the room and watching a little television before calling it a night.

The 2816/261 Doubleheader 7/3/2004

We arose well before the sun and Dennis picked us up at 5:05 AM before we made our way to Minneapolis Jct where we found the Canadian Pacific 2816 on the point of the Milwaukee Road 261's train. After a photo I picked out a location and several other photographers joined me at it.

As soon as the train started to move two photographers kept running in front of the train getting into everyone's pictures. Two very rude people wrecked all the other people's pictures.

I made a quick move and relocated to a new location to watch this incredible departure. Once the Cedar Rapids passed we went up Central by Shoreham to a Denny's for breakfast. We drove to St Paul and the train had not even left yet.

So we went to Mounds Park on Dayton Bluff for the departure with St Paul and the Mississippi River in the scene. A red signal assisted us to our next location.

We drove to Pig Eye Yard and got up on the walkway over the yard for our next runby.

Another red signal, allowed us to jump ahead to Hastings where we set up for the picture of the train crossing the Mississippi River. The bridge then lifted and we got the Mississippi Queen passing under the Hastings Bridge.

Once the bridge came back down, then the 2816/261 and train steamed by.

Amtrak Empire Builder followed the steamers then ran by them at East Hastings.

We drove to Red Wing and caught the steamers arriving into town.

This servicing stop allowed various pictures including one off the parking structure.

The steamers then departed Red Wing after being serviced.

Back on the highway we caught the train again after Kellogg.

We ran south as the train made a passenger stop at Winona, so we drove ahead and found a spot south of Homer, MN. Here I met Skip Waters of Dallas, TX reader of my web site and a listener of Lets Talk Trains.

We ran ahead to La Crescent where I met Skip again catching the train coming in. While the train was being serviced we went to Subway for lunch. As we came out of lunch the train pulled down to be wyed.

We drove down to a bridge and I climbed up to get a picture of them backing. We then drove up Appleblossum Hill for a quick look before we headed north to our next location.

We picked a spot north of Dakota right along the Mississippi River. North of Winona we stopped for an eastbound CP Rail coal train.

South of Weaver we caught the train running along the river again. Then the rains came. First it was a light shower which we ran through for miles until we came to the real heavy rain shower. We got ahead, stopped and the train sped by in this cloudburst. Lightning and thunder echoed off the bluff. This storm was awesome.

We stopped at Red Wing at the Hardees's in the former Great Western Station. Great railroad display on the second floor.

We stopped by the station as the train was still there. Dennis got a great idea. We could go to Lock and Dam 2 where there is a covered platform and we could shot pictures across the Mississippi River. We got there just as a boat was going through the locks which was really interesting. A BNSF freight ran west before our train came.

The 261/2816 then came by in the pouring rain. We stopped for gas and an Arby's for me while Bob got takeout from the Perkins in Cottage Grove. We drove back in the rain to the Days Inn ending an exciting chase of the 2816/261 Doubleheader. Special thanks to Dennis for all of his knowledge, driving skills and friendship on this trip. This was a great day of railroading and the weather made it more special. We watched "Something about Mary" before we called it a night.

For pictures of the river boats click here.

July 4th, 2004

Up early Bob and I walked to the south side of Interstate 94 where Bob went to church and I went to the laundromat. I walked back via Cleveland Ave and at the Minnesota Commercial Railway Shops here came a three car local backing across the crossing behind me. Later we walked to McDonalds who was not open for breakfast but would not open until 10:00 AM. I settled for a chocolate donuts and a coke at a gas station. On the walk back to the Days Inn crossing the bridge just west of it was a two unit Twin Cities and Western transfer run heading east to St Paul. We stored our bags and waited for a taxi to take us to Harrison Street, home of the Milwaukee Road 261 for our last trip behind that engine. After a 40 minute wait the taxi finally came taking us to Harrison Street. Here we saw the Amtrak units on the rear of the train and the Milwaukee Road 261 on the point. The auxiliary tender and the Minnesota would not be used on this trip.

Milwaukee Road 261 Westminster and Short line Hill 7/4/2004

I choose the ex CZ CB&Q Silver Larch to ride in on today's trip. This is an ex California Zephyr car with Amfleet seats. Right on time at 11:00 AM, the Milwaukee Road 261 started pulling forward to Van Buren. Here the Milwaukee Road 261 came to a stop. We then backed around the wye to Harrison Street on the route I rode on that Milwaukee Road 261 trip from North Kansas City to here. We then pulled forward to Minneapolis Jct giving me a new section of track to ride.

We now had returned to the mainline and with Milwaukee Road 261 leading steamed our way east. We ran between the double stack trains to Union Yard and at Union Tower I could see where the line to the Stone Arch Bridge and downtown Minneapolis took off. At St Anthony, the line Amtrak uses to Midway Station took off. This location is also known as GN Junction with the Minnesota Commercial yard to the south of us. We traveled east by BNSF Midway Yard and by Midway Stadium home of the St Paul Saints. The Milwaukee Road 261 went under Snelling Ave and by Energy Park. Milwaukee Road 261 went slowly by Dale Street then by the Minnesota Transportation Museum at the Jackson Street Roundhouse. We joined the UP line at Westminster before we went under Lafayette Avenue as we headed east down the steep Westminster Hill. At Seventh Street we turned onto the west leg of the St Paul Wye.

I got my last Milwaukee Road 261 Hot Dog and talked with Crimmins for awhile. Skip Waters from Texas found me in the Silver Larch and we talked briefly. The Celebration Belle and the Spirit of Peoria entertained us as we waited for our next departure for Short Line Hill at 1:02 PM.

We passed the Mississippi Queen, St Paul Union Station and the Delta Queen as we passed Robert Street. We ran along the Mississippi River to Chestnut Jct where Short Line Hill takes off.

The Milwaukee Road 261 steamed and chugged loudly up the grade away from the river. The engine worked hard at pulling our train up this steep grade and soon we ran by Fordson Jct before passing through the neighborhoods for four miles. We reached the top of Short Line Hill then crossed over Interstate 94 before we came to a stop at Merriam Park just short of the Minnesota Commercial Shops. This would be our turnaround point on this trip. At 1:44 PM the Amtrak diesels started pulling us back to St Paul. We descended back down Short Line Hill more slowly than we climbed. Skip came up to me telling me that he had upgraded to Premium Class for the trip back to Minneapolis Jct for $25 and offered to do the same for me. Minutes later I had been upgraded and minutes later we arrived back into St Paul. Skip and I walked outside the train all the way to the Cedar Rapids which we boarded.

I had once been in the Cedar Rapids on that almost trip to Two Harbors on the Milwaukee Road 261 trip to Duluth a few years ago. This would be my first daylight trip in this car and would be the great way to end my Milwaukee Road 261 trips for 2004. It has 24 Parlor Seats and 7 lounge seats. Skip and I talked almost the whole time to departure time with me enjoying Coca Cola. I saw and briefly talked to Doyle McCormick of SP 4449 and he later joined us in the rear of the Cedar Rapids. At 4:04 PM we backed out of St Paul out to East Division Street where we waited on a green signal.

The Milwaukee Road 261 then stormed up Westminster Hill. With Doyle sitting with us we had great steam railroad conversion all the way back to Minneapolis Jct. We were wyed once again so that the 261 could be cut off and put into its fenced area of the shops. The Amtrak units then pushed the train to a stop at the detraining area and when the train came to a stop, the Milwaukee Road 261 trips for 2004 for me were all over. I said goodbye to Doyle, Skip and all the rest especially the crew of the 261 for the excellent trips. Special thanks to North Star Rail, the Friends of the Milwaukee Road 261, CP Rail, BNSF, ICE and Iowa Interstate for everything they did to make the Milwaukee Road 261 Trip for 2004 a success.

One last picture of the Milwaukee Road 261 then I found Bob and we started our walk back to the Days Inn. Bob told me our Empire Builder was over an hour late out of Chicago. We walked by the University of Minnesota before we stopped at an Arby's/Sbarro where we stopped for dinner and a rest. We then continued walking and at Transfer Road, Bob went straight back to the Days Inn.

I detoured via the Minnesota Commercial Shops.

Here I shot just a few pictures before I returned to the hotel. I reclaimed my luggage then Bob and I walked over to Amtrak to wait for our train. Bob is off to Grand Forks and I am going to Minot. We arrived at 8:00 PM and did nothing but wait for our train to arrive. About 8:45 PM the Amtrak units from the Milwaukee Road 261 train brought all the private cars over to the Amtrak Station to be taken back to Chicago on Tuesday. Dennis came in to say goodbye as he had just gotten off the Celebration Belle and we thanked him for everything.

Click here for Part 6 of the story.