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Grand Excursion 2004 and a Double-Headed Steam Excursion -- July 3rd, 2004

by Elizabeth Guenzler

The Grand Excursion was a two-week celebration of the sesquicentennial of the June 1854 promotional voyage by train and steamboat into the Upper Mississippi River valley. It marked the first railway connection between the East Coast and the Mississippi River. The original excursion was organized to promote the opening of a new rail line between Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois and thus a more than symbolic moment in westward expansion, allowing for commerce and westward immigration, and ultimately a complete rail line to the Pacific Coast.

The route took travellers overland from Chicago to Rock Island, then upriver to Saint Paul, Minnesota Territory on several steamships. Approximately 1,200 people took part in the Excursion, many of whom were noted reporters and distinguished residents from the Eastern United States. Among these were then-popular novelist Catherine Sedgwick and former president President Millard Fillmore, who was widely rumored to be considering another campaign for the Presidency. Along with The Song of Hiawatha, which was published around the same time, accounts of this journey have been widely credited with influencing people to visit and often settle in the region in the late 19th century.

The 150th anniversary ran from June 25nd to July 5th, 2004. Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261 would be the steam engine that re-created the route and on July 3rd, it would double-head with Canadian Pacific 4-6-4 2816 from St. Paul to La Crescent on Canadian Pacific's River Subdivision. This event was something that neither Bob nor I could miss so we made plans to attend. Bob spent the previous weekend chasing the train on its trips between Davenport and Savanna then we both flew to Minneapolis for my first trip behind 261 and my second (Bob's first) behind CPR 2816.

July 3rd

The newly-opened Blue Line of Metro Light Rail which we did not have an opportunity to ride this time around; it would be several years until I rode it. Since Bob and I were on this trip together, we decided that he would take the photographs, so unless otherwise noted, the photographs are his.

Our ticket for this special excursion which we would spend in the Cedar Rapids Skytop observation car. The consist was Canadian Pacific 4-6-4 2816, Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261, auxiliary tender 250002, Amtrak P42DC 125 and P42DC 135, NSR 1615 "Grand Canyon", NSR 31 "Minnesota River", PPCX 800861 "Arizona", UP "Echo Canyon", SP "Golden Sands", Santa Fe "Tolani", CB&Q "Silver Larch", Amtrak Horizon coaches 54153 and 54578, Pennsylvania Railroad "Henry Hudson", Santa Fe "Mohave", NSR 3103 "Wisconsin Valley", PPCX 800797 Lancaster & Chester "Golden Tower", MKT 1202R "J. Pinckney Henderson", PPCX 800197 "Montana", PPCX 800702 "Lambert's Point", PPCX 800275 "Sierra Hotel" and PPCX 800040 "Cedar Rapids".

Interior of the Cedar Rapids.

Our train at Mounds Park on Dayton Bluff as captured by Chris Guenzler. He had ridden some of the other trips of this Grand Excursion and chased this trip, so I am able to include both onboard and chasing pictures of this special day.

The Mississippi Queen under the Hastings Bridge.

Our double-headed steam excursion passing through Hastings.

The view at Red Wing, where we had a servicing stop.

Departing Red Wing with plenty of smoke.

The Cedar Rapids bringing up the markers.

The view looking out of the back of this fantastic and unique private car.

Lots of railfans were chasing this excursion today. View from the Sierra Hotel dome car.

From the hustle and bustle of the outside, here is an interior view of the Sierra Hotel.

The train going through Kellogg on the way to Winona.

The train stopped at Winona where we and many of the NRHS conventioneers (this was a convention event) detrained and the train continued to La Crescent to turn and be serviced.

Chris caught the steam excursion at La Crescent. I do not recall for certain, but I do not think that either of us realized that we could stay on the train. Anyway, a few dozen people descended on Shorty's Bar and Lounge and they run out of food! The service was very slow but we managed to get lunch and return to the photo line for the train to return to Winona.

Canadian Pacific 4-6-4 2816 leading the train back into Winona.

Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261.

Approaching the boarding area.

The Cedar Rapids bringing up the rear of the train as it returns to Winona for the trip back to Minneapolis.

The former 1888 Milwaukee Road station at Winona, now the Amtrak station. Winona is known as a 'river town' because of the many steamboats which once called at its port. The city once had five railways going through it.

The former Milwaukee Road freight house.

SOO Line caboose 30 at Winona on the Canadian Pacific line between the Twin Cities and Chicago, which was formerly the Milwaukee Road mainline.

The steam train running beside the Mississippi River at Dakota and Weaver. On board, Bob and I did what we always do during an excursion - walk through the train and take interior pictures.

Views of "Lamberts Point".

Grand salon and dining area of "Montana".

Lounge at the vestibule end of "Golden Tower".

Interior of "J. Pinckney Henderson".

Pennsylvania Railroad's "Henry Hudson".

Interior of coach "Arizona".

Horizon coach 58004.

It did not take long for me to be enthralled with the Cedar Rapids and this quickly became my favourite PV. What a way to travel!

Returning to St. Paul in the rain about 17:30. We returned to the car and drove back to the hotel for our evening Minnesota Zephyr Dinner Train trip but that is another travelogue.

It had been a fantastic steam excursion behind Milwaukee Road 261 and Canadian Pacific 2816. I just wish I had been able to take part in the other trips that made up the Grand Excursion, as well as the four-day trip behind 2816 afterwards.