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Milwaukee Road 261 to Duluth, almost Two Harbors and the Minnesota Zephyr Dinner train

by Chris Guenzler

The idea for this trip hit me after I had got the E tickets for the two day trip to Chicago behind the Milwaukee Road 261 in June. I looked at the Friends of the Milwaukee Road 261 web site and thought why not and got tickets for this trip as well. I used my Alaska Airline Miles for a trip on Northwest Airlines and made the hotel reservations. AAA got me a rental car to use and then I made a reservation on the Minnesota Zephyr Dinner Train and I was set to go. My Geo Metro was fixed with a low mileage engine so I had my car back to use once I came back from this trip. I had an internal engine explosion and I felt lucky it had happened where it did. I needed a vacation after two weeks of Sanford 9 testing and those kids on this year's case load. I can not wait for this school year to be over. I was packed and ready to go the night before this trip was to start.

Northwest Flight 116 5/17/2002

I drove our family's van to Orange County Airport, said good bye to my mother and stood in line for fifteen minutes at the Northwest ticket counter getting my boarding pass. That was followed by going through post 9/11 airport baggage security screening. It didn't feel any different than those pre 9/11 times I flew until I got to the gate where random passengers were further screened. I sat listening to Chicago 17 before boarding the plane. We left on time but had to sit on the runway until after 7:00 AM as there is a curfew against takeoffs before that time. I enjoyed my flight with highlights being the Grand Canyon, Goosenecks of the San Juan and Pikes Peak. We arrived in Minneapolis on time and I headed straight to Hertz rental car

Minneapolis 5/17/2002

At Hertz they not only took my Amtrak Guest Rewards card but also my Alaska Airline mileage card so I got credit for both. I rented a Kia Motors "Rio" which was a very nice model to drive about. I took Minnesota Highway 55 into town and ran along the construction of their new light rail line.

I drove to Harrison Street where I took some pretrip pictures of the Milwaukee Road 261 and train. Next I checked in at the Best Western {University} and relaxed for over about two hours.

I headed for Stillwater, Minnesota by way of the Minnesota Commercial Railway. After signing a release, I was free to take all of the pictures that I wanted and did. I stopped back by the dispatchers office to say thanks and he gave me directions on where to find their hump set working. I thought driving out to Stillwater would be easy but it was bumper to bumper on the only road that leads out to Wisconsin from the Twin Cities which made my journey more taxing than I had expected. I made it to Stillwater and found a Rexall for some Alka Seltzer Plus for my now dripping sinuses.

The Minnesota Zephyr Dinner Train 5/17/2002

I saw F7A 787 and knew I was in the right spot. I visited the Stillwater Depot which houses a railroad and logging museum before shooting both ends of the train. I caught up writing the trip so far in the parking lot prior to going into the depot to wait for boarding. The train consisted of F7A 788 {ex Northern Pacific}, Baggage {ex Milwaukee Road}, Dome Coach {ex Missouri Pacific} named St Croix, Table Car {ex C&O}, Table Car {ex Denver Rio Grande}, Table Car {ex C&O}, and the Grand Dome {ex Southern Pacific} and F7A 787 {ex Northern Pacific}. I was assigned to the Lake View, the second ex C&O table car and after I was seated I asked Laura my attendant to take a picture of me with my camera which she happily did. She then suggested that I take a tour of the Grand Dome, the ex SP home built dome car built at the Sacramento Shops. I wished Bill Wallace of Bananafish Tours could see this car as he used to own a sister car. The Zephyr Cabaret, a group of singers in US Army costumes sang as they walked through the car. Shrimp Cocktail was on the table as we sat down followed by Chicken and Wild Rice Soup. My table mates were from Plymouth, MN, a suburb of Minneapolis.

At 7:30 PM, the train started its slow march towards Duluth Jct. We ran north along the St Croix River seen through the trees along the highway below the cliff. We climbed a short grade that took us over Highway 95. As we climbed away from the river, there were retaining walls to hold the slopes in place. This area is Dutchtown as the train climbs to the west following Browns Creek up the 2.2 percent grade to gain 250 feet in elevation. On this trip I was drinking pink lemonade with my meal. I walked the rest of the train and rode in the St Croix Dome Car, ex MP. I had this car to myself while the rest of the passengers were enjoying their salads. I enjoyed the cascading miles of Browns Creek and to the top of the grade at the Oak Glen Country Club. I returned to my table and minutes later the largest piece of Prime Rib I had ever had to eat arrived. The train rolled by the Sawmill Country Club and later a beautiful lake on the north side of the tracks. We reached the turn back point of the trip near Duluth Jct and during the stop the engineer walked back through the train to switch ends. We asked to see a picture of his girlfriend and he showed us a picture of Diana Swayer of Good Morning America fame with him and his wife. We headed back to Stillwater making the same slow trip and started with a dessert of Cheesecake and I must say I was stuffed.

Out of the blue our conductor asked me if I wanted to ride up in the engine. You know what my answer was and we walked through the Grand Dome into the engine room and finally the cab of the F7A 787. As a kid this was my favorite type of engine and this was the first time I ever had a chance to ride in one of them. At three and a half miles per hour this was the slowest trip I had ever taken displacing the Eureka Southern for that title forever. We arrived back in Stillwater and as I walked off the train I had a few thoughts to share about this trip. Laura was an excellent server, the food was top rate and the ride will always be a memorable experience. I drove back to Minneapolis and had a good night's sleep.

Milwaukee Road 261 to Duluth 5/18/2002

I was up early filled with excitement as I prepared for the day's activities. After checking out, it was about a five minute drive to where the Milwaukee Road 261 was kept. I parked and found a seat in the Nokomis, an ex Central of Georgia car, later of the Algoma Central Railway in Canada. I was greeted by Tim who was my car attendant for the trip to and from Duluth. I returned to the ground to shot the Cedar Rapids, the ex Milwaukee Road Skytop-obs on the rear before walking to the front for a picture of the Milwaukee Road 261 on the point of the train for my customary picture before the start of the trip. I was rewarded with a BNSF freight prior to returning to my seat to relax before departure.

The Milwaukee Road 261 and train left right on time starting slowly before briefly stopping at Van Buren St. I walked back to the concession car for a Coca-Cola and to get my souvenir ticket. I returned to my seat as the Milwaukee Road 261 started through Northtown Yard. We headed to Coon Creek where we left the BNSF's Chicago to Seattle mainline and headed out onto the Hinckley Subdivision. We came to a stop and were told a man had handcuffed himself to the rails because we disliked steam trains {That was never substantiated}. The many horses we saw were always running at full speed away from the steam train. Once we had cleared the green flag at Cambridge after 40 miles of 25 miles per hour slow orders, the Milwaukee Road 261 finally got to stretch her legs. The countryside is slightly rolling with a lake in any of the low spots. Remember Minnesota is the 10,000 lake state. We highballed through Brahm and Grasston after crossing Snake Creek before we reached Brook Park and crossing several branches of Pokegama Creek.

Right before Hinckley the Milwaukee Road 261 stopped to lube the engine before performing a double Photo Runby. We had a diabetic emergency but the medical personal on the train took good care of the person. Once on the move again after passing through Hinckley, we crossed the Grindstone River prior to running to Sandstone where we crossed high above the Kettle River. We passed through miles of forest and marshes. The Milwaukee Road 261 ran through Askov and Bruno before crossing the Net River on a 396 foot high trestle and a short distance later entered Wisconsin. In the siding at Foxboro was a Union Pacific bare table train waiting for the Milwaukee Road 261 to clear the mainline. We crossed the Nemadji River and a few miles later crossed the Black River on a 1,600 foot trestle, the longest on the trip. We arrived at the junction with the ex GN line to Fargo at Bolyston and met a BNSF empty coal train on the double track segment of our route. We passed the BNSF yard at Saunders before crossing over both the Duluth, Winnipeg and Pacific as well as the Duluth Missabe and Iron Range tracks on a bridge. Next we ran through M&J Jct and at Central Ave we met a train with Wisconsin Central power. We went through Superior with the BNSF yard to the north to LST&T JCT where the Milwaukee Road 261 was walked around the curve with crew members making sure that the Milwaukee Road 261's drivers stayed on the rail. We crossed the Grassy Point Drawbridge and back into Minnesota with about twenty-five Teddy Bears on the pilings of the draw span. I wondered what was the story of those Teddy Bears? They walked the Milwaukee Road 261 around another curve before we ran along the west side of Duluth along the harbor's waterfront. We went by the ore docks now served by conveyor belts and not trains anymore. We passed the BNSF yard with two wye tracks before we pulled into Duluth Union Station ending a wonderful trip behind the Milwaukee Road 261.

Duluth 5/18/2002

I immediately toured the Lake Superior Railroad Museum housed in the lower level of Duluth Union Station. I went around the building to shot pictures of the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range SD-18 193 before going inside the museum under the train sheds of the old station attempting to shot the museum's collection in very poor light. Once I was done, I returned to where the shuttle buses were to load finding a very long line of passengers who had not even been taken to their hotels yet. With it now almost five in the evening and a train to catch at 6:30 PM, two couples and I decided to find food and to check in to the Best Western when we returned from the evening trip. We ended up at the Incline, a bowling alley where I had chicken drumettes before we returned to wait to board the evening trip.

Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range 193 to Marbles 5/18/2002

This trip was to be a diesel pulling the Milwaukee Road 261 and train to Two Harbors and the Milwaukee Road 261 pulling us back to Duluth. At least that was the plan trip until they backed the Milwaukee Road 261 and train down to the wye in the BN yard to turn it for the return trip to Minneapolis tomorrow as well to led on the return from Two Harbors tonight. We were told that on the crossing on one leg of the wye that two of the driving wheels rode up and over the rails. A decision was made with all of the passengers waiting out in the cold at the depot that the DM&IR 193 would pull the entire consist back up to the depot and it would take the train out solo. After the North Shore Scenic Railways train pulled into the depot then the 193 pulled the train into the depot. They announced that because we were all patient that all drinks would be free on the trip tonight as their way of saying thanks to all of us who waited. Too bad I am now living a sober life but I will be fine in the morning verses all of those you abuse tonight. I was first in line and they gave me a chance to ride in the Cedar Rapids. With this car tonight and the ex Missouri Pacific car last night I wondered how many more types of cars I have yet to ride. We also had the museums Great Northern Lake of the Isle dining car and the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range W-24 in our train.

We left backing out of the depot with the glass observation end giving a great view. We headed forward on the ex Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range tracks behind an ex DM&IR locomotive on the North Shore and Scenic Railway. We headed northeast first through the London Road Tunnel {a freeway underpass} and ran below the Edgewater Best Western where I would be staying later tonight when this trip was all over. We crossed Tischer Creek before passing through the eastern suburbs of Lakeside, Lester Park and Rivers. Along the first part of the trip Lake Superior was clearly seen before being mostly obscured by trees for the reminder of the trip. With the late start to our trip, darkness came quickly so the rest of this trip was in the dark. The Cedar Rapids rear red mars light was interesting to watch as it light up the track side signs for a brief moment. I was sure glad to have gotten my chance to ride in the Cedar Rapids. We trestled the Talmadge River, followed by French River along with Big and Little Sucker Creeks. It was pitch black as we crossed the Knife River before we ran the remaining miles to Marbles which due to our trains condition became our outbound destination. The engine ran around the train on the siding here before coupling onto the Cedar Rapids. The 193 would pull the train long hood forward back to Duluth. I took this opportunity to explore the train and to gain passage through one car they made me sing a song each way. Since I had a Jethro Tull shirt on, I sang "Trains" from Ian Anderson's solo album "Walk into the Light" going and the Jethro Tull classic "Locomotive Breath" on my return. There was "No way to slow down!" I enjoyed walking through all of the cars especially the Caritas as I have several Mexico railroad videos which the car is featured in. The two museum cars were quite interesting as well. I returned to the Cedar Rapids and watched the engine perform "Sparks will fly!" It was unique experience to have the engine putting on a show right outside the Cedar Rapids rear window. We arrived back in Duluth with the Milwaukee Road 261 waiting for us on the stations led. We all clapped to give the steam team a thank you for the great job of returning the Milwaukee Road 261 to service that night. As we pulled by the Milwaukee Road 261, it blew down steam cleaning the Cedar Rapids windows. We backed into the depot with the 261 now on the stub end of our track. As I walked to the bus, I thanked three members of the Milwaukee Road 261 steam crew for all of their hard work they did tonight to get the engine back here. While I slept, the DM&IR 193 would take the train around the wye before the Milwaukee Road 261 would back onto the train once they returned. I returned up the hill to the Best Western Motel for the night. I slept like a rock after learning the Lakers had won game one of the Western Finals of the 2002 NBA Playoffs against Sacramento.

Milwaukee Road 261 to Minneapolis 5/19/2002

Up early and after my usual morning perpetrations, I checked out and had toast with orange juice for breakfast. I went out to the curb and wrote last night's adventures while waiting for the bus back to the depot. Once there I went and shot the Milwaukee Road 261 taking on coal before shooting the museum's engines used on the North Shore Scenic Railway excursion trains. This included the ex Great Northern NW-5 192 and RDC ex Chicago Northwestern 9933. I boarded early and did word fill in puzzles as well as listen to music until departure.

We left Duluth right on time and with me being hungry I went to the concession car for a hot dog. As we passed the BNSF yard several members of the Milwaukee Road 261 crew showed me where the incident took place last night. The yardmaster would not let them use the wye that they had used six previous trips and made them use a wye with a crossing in the end of one of the wye legs. After looking at the track, the Milwaukee Road 261 crew told the yardmaster if they went that way the engine would derail. Well it did not derail but caused a major problem for the Milwaukee Road 261 crew. A big thanks from all of the passengers to the Milwaukee Road 261 steam crew for all of their hard work last might that is allowing this trip today to take place.

We went back around the harbor and at the Grassy Point drawbridge I spotted more Teddy Bears on the pilings on the other side of the bridge. The Teddy Bears remain a mystery maybe never to be solved. We slowly walked around the curve at LST&T Jct before running over a pair of torpedoes in Superior. Since these are still in the rule book, our speed was restricted for a couple of miles. At Foxboro we went into the siding to let the BNSF 9876 with a 115 car coal train go by on the mainline. During our twenty eight minute delay, the Milwaukee Road 261 crew used the time to grease the rods of the engine. As we closed in on Bruno, the cars on the highway became more amusing with many laws being broken and unique ways to video tape the Milwaukee Road 261 observed. Later, short of Mora Jct, they stopped to grease the rods again. We had a nice relaxing slow trip to Coon Creek and once back on the BNSF mainline, the Milwaukee Road 261 opened it up and we clocked him doing 62 mph. We slowed for Northtown Yard before we headed to Milwaukee Road 261's home at Minneapolis Jct. We pulled in late but nobody cared after such a great trip behind the Milwaukee Road 261. I shot front and rear pictures before biding the Milwaukee Road 261 adieu until June 19th when I would be riding the two day trip to Chicago. I gassed up the rental car, stopped at Arbys to get dinner before checking back into the Best Western for my last night on this trip.

Flying home 5/20/2002

Up early one more time, I had a waterfall shower before I checked out and followed excellent directions out to the airport. I returned the rental car and took the airport's tram to Lindbergh Terminal where I got my boarding pass before passing through security. I enjoyed McDonald's Hot Cakes and Sausage prior to waiting for Northwest Flight 111 to Orange County. I watched the random search of passengers before I boarded the flight. We came into the clouds near Banning and on final approach had to pull up and circle before landing. My mother met me taking me home where I started typing this story before going to see Star Wars Attack of the Clones. All of this made for a great long weekend trip with the Milwaukee Road 261.