Information about the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road “Northern” steam locomotive #261 from the”Friends of the 261″ Inc.
261 under steam for the first time since 1954.
261 under steam again
The long awaited return of a Milwaukee Road steam locomotive to service took a giant step forward when Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 was steamed up on July 30th. It was the first time the locomotive had been under steam since it was removed from service in 1954. Early in the week of July 25th, twenty five tons of coal was delivered to the General Electric facility in Minneapolis and 261’s tender was filled to its full capacity. At 12:30 P.M. on Friday July 30 the fire was lit and the boiler pressure was gradually increased until 6:45 P.M. when the pop valves finally lifted to signify that the full rated pressure of 250 P.S.I. was reached. 261 was kept at 250 P.S. I. for nearly three hours during which time a full walk around inspection was conducted by Steve Sandberg and Scott Lindsay. The purpose of the initial fire up was to test the various components which had been rebuilt as well as to verify to soundness of all of the boiler repairs. The fire up was a huge success in that all of 26l’s systems including; injectors, throttle, steam piping, superheaters, and all other boiler work performed flawlessly. Five or six staybolt sleeves which were not among the 200 previously replaced showed a small amount of leakage. These sleeves will be replaced during the week of August 2nd. Initial test runs are expected in mid to late August, according to North Star Rail Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg. While the rebuilding crew had hoped to steam up the engine earlier in the summer, they did not want to rush the job. ”We want to do things right,” Sandberg says. ”We continue to meet our rebuilding goals, and we are still planning for running the engine on public trips beginning in September.”
On June 4, the locomotive had passed one of its critical first tests when a hydrostatic test was performed on the boiler to check for leaks. The boiler passed an inspection by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which completed work on that part of the locomotive. With the boiler complete, the crew focused on machinery and running gear, such as the rods on the sides of the 261. Remaining jobs to be done before rebuilding is complete include:
- Body work and paint on the tender. New Milwaukee Road signs for the tender have already been completed.
- Lagging and jacketing will be reinstalled on the outside of the boiler.
- The 261’s brake system has been upgraded to a new “26NL” system, which is used on today’s diesel locomotives.
- Another inspection must be performed by the FRA to certify the locomotive for service.
- The locomotive will be painted and the job will be complete.
Following rebuilding, 261 will go on a series of “break-in” runs, probably in August, to test all the rebuilt parts and make adjustments as necessary.
Already, personnel from several railroads, including CP Rail, Twin Cities & Western, Wisconsin & Southern, and Wisconsin Central have visited the GE
facility to check on the rebuilding. “They were all very impressed by the progress we are making,” Sandberg says.
Plans Firming Up For First 261 Trips
North Star Rail is working with several railroads and groups to put together excursion trips with 261 this fall. Members of the “Friends of the 261” will receive a special mailing when the details of 26 l’s first trips are final. North Star Rail is still in the process of negotiating these trips, so plans are tentative, but this is the schedule so far:
- September 18-19: Fond du Lac to Stevens Point, Wis. round trip each day, sponsored by the National Railroad Museum, Green Bay, WI, and the Soo Line Historical and Technical Society on Wisconsin Central. Short trips will be run from Steven Point to Junction City to allow the locomotive and train to be turned.
- Sept. 25-26: St. Paul to Winona round trip over CP Rail. Short trips Winona to River Jct. (La Crosse) to turn the engine and train.
- 2nd week of October : Chicago- Savanna, Ill. round trips on CP Rail.
Plans are to put together a large train with both first class and coach accommodations. Approximately 1100 coach seats and 175-200 first class seats will be available. Look for ticket ordering information in your special mailing.
An Overview of North Star Rail, Inc.
Many members of the “Friends of the 261” are curious about how North Star Rail, Inc., the company rebuilding Milwaukee Road steam locomotive 261
for service is set up. North Star Rail had its beginnings when Bloomington attorney Mike Adams was introduced to Steve Sandberg by a mutual friend and rail enthusiast Doug Bailey on steam train excursion in 1990. Adams, a Minneapolis native, remembers fondly his experiences riding trains. “I took a trip to Birmingham, Alabama from Minneapolis when I was 12 years old, changing trains in Chicago. I also ride trains whenever I’m in Europe, and always enjoy them.”
Sandberg had been interested in railroads since childhood: his grandfather (now in his 90’s) was a locomotive engineer who ran Milwaukee Road’s famous “Hiawatha” passenger trains as well as the 261. His father is a well known rail enthusiast who passed on that enthusiasm to his son. Sandberg, despite his young age, has experience working on several large steam locomotives. He put in a number of years working with Diversified Rail Services restoring engines around the country.
Adams was amazed at how many people enjoyed themselves riding steam excursions. “Even if the train was late or uncomfortable, no one complained. Everyone just seems to have a good time,” he says.
Wanting to tap into the good will and sense of history evoked by steam locomotives, a business relationship evolved with the incorporation of North Star Rail, Inc. in 1990. Adams became CEO, with Sandberg serving
as Chief Operating Officer. The company is for-profit, backed by a group of 12 investors – among them a professional athlete, a realtor, a dentist, bankers and attorneys.
Many are Adams personal friends. They all share a commitment to doing things right, according to Adams. ”We are going to do things the right way on this project or we won’t do them at all,” he says. “That means treating our passengers right, providing family entertainment, and delivering a sense of the history behind locomotives like 261.”
Right now the company is making the transition from rebuilding 261 to beginning operations. To assist in that effort, Sandberg brought in Charles A. Wiesner as Director of Operations and Development. Wiesner has many years of railroad experience: he is a former railroad executive, was involved in the Mid-Continent Railroad Museum at North Freedom, Wis., and has been a private car owner for many years. Wiesner’s duties include dealing with railroads to line up excursions, leasing or purchasing passenger cars, hiring personnel, and working out the myriad of details to keep the 261 on the move.
Even as operations begin, North Star Rail is looking to the future. When asked about where they see the company in a few years, they are quick to point out that they want people to enjoy the steam experience. “I hope someday we can generate enough revenue to have our own train, a facility to work on our equipment, possibly even more engines,” Adams says. “But we really want people to have fun and be educated at the same time.”
From Left to right: Chief Operating Officer, Steve Sandberg and Chief Executive Officer, Mike Adams.
Membership Reaches 170
Membership in the “friends of the 261 Inc.” had reached 170 by late July according to Judy Sandberg, “Friends” secretary. Renewals have been coming in at a steady pace. “Response has been excellent,” Sandberg says.
If you have not renewed your dues, consider this your official notice to do so. “Friends” wants to save on mailing costs, so you will not receive a separate notice. Send your renewal to “Friends of the 261, 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, MN 55126. Dues are $25 individual, $100 for corporations.
Meet 261 ‘s Rebuilding Crew
A frequently asked question of North Star Rail personnel is ”Who are the people rebuilding the 261 ?” You would think that the rebuild crew would be composed ofretired railroaders who were veterans of the steam era, but in fact the opposite is true. North Star Rail Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg has put together a crew that is hard working, enthusiastic, and young. The cFew works six to seven days a week at the GE facility and includes both full and part time employees. Members of the 261 rebuild team include:
- Mike Alfveby, 18, St. Paul. The youngest member of the 261 team, Mike is a model railroader and also was active in MTM. He says he is “learning by watching and doing.”
- Paul Dalleska, 21, St. Paul. Paul also previously worked with the Minnesota Transportation Museum in the Twin Cities. He has been working on the 261 project for the last six months.
- Jim French, 42, Mason, Wis. Jim came to the 261 project in an unusual way: he saw a publication about the work on the 261, found North Star Rail’s phone number, volunteered to work on the engine and then was hired. He had previous experience working on a steam engine in Hinckley, Minn. and
is an experienced machinist. He also works on pipe fitting, welding and cutting.
- Eric Gjerve, 32, Rosholt, S.D. Eric is the newest member of the 261 team, coming aboard in July. He read. about the rebuild project and called North Star Rail Director of Operations and Development Chuck Wiesner. His father was a train dispatcher and his uncle wrote a book on the Soo Line. Eric says working on the 261 “seems like a dream.”
- Jeff Miller, 35, originally of Tarentum, Penn. Jeff always liked trains, was a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, and had experience working on former Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643 Southern Pacific #786 in Texas. He also worked on the Grand Canyon Railroad and for Diversified Rail Services before coming to North Star Rail. Jeff now lives in Bloomington.
- Dave Redding, 20, Prior Lake, Minn. Dave is a student at the University of Minnesota in history and business, but he finds time to work on the 261. He got the railroad bug when his father took him to ride a tourist railroad. He also worked on MTM’s Northern Pacific 4-6-0 328.
- Mike Schaefer, 24, St. Paul. Mike has been a railroad fan since birth. He was previously active in the Minnesota Transportation Museum (MTM) and worked on their steam locomotive, former Northern Pacific 328. He has been with North Star Rail since the beginning of the 261 project.
- Ed Selinsky, 44, Green Bay, Wis. The “old man” of the project at age 44, Ed became involved with 261 when the engine was still in Green Bay. He is a member of Green Bay’s National Railroad Museum where 261 was displayed, and worked five summers for the Chicago & North Western Railway. A musician and music director in “real life” Ed puts in time every other week on 261 working on piping, running gear and other parts of the engine.
- Also a part of the North Star Team, although not on a daily basis, are boiler expert Gary Bensman and running gear expert Scott Lindsay.
After completing rebuild work on the 261, the crew will turn its efforts to maintenance of the engine and upkeep of the fleet of passenger cars North Star Rail will lease and acquire for use on trips. North Star Rail has also been approached by other groups for help in maintaining .or rebuilding steam locomotives. ”There will always be a need for experienced steam people,” Steve Sandberg says.
Eric Gjerve, Mike Alfveby, Dave Redding, Jeff Miller, Jim French, Ed.Selinsky, Mike Schaefer, Steve Sandberg.
FRIENDS OF THE 261 INC. 4322 LAKE POINT COURT SHOREVIEW, MN 55126
STEVE GLISCHINSKI, EDITOR
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