Dec 1, 1994

Information about the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road “Northern” steam locomotive #261 from the”Friends of the 261″ Inc.

Pullin’ that New River Train!

261 heads up excursions through West Virginia

Milwaukee Road.4-84 261 made its longest trips to date when it traveled to West Virginia in October to pull trips through the scenic New River Gorge. The annual excursions over CSX, which are sponsored by the Collis P . Huntington Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, have become a West Virginia tradition and a huge tourist draw in the area. In the past a variety of steam locomotives have pulled the trips, but the
locomotive most often used has been ex-Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 765. This year 765 was undergoing a major overhaul, so the . Chapter
sought out a different locomotive to pull the
excursions and 261 was selected.

261 began its ferry move east on October 10, heading from Chippewa Falls to North Fond du Lac on Wisconsin Central. The engine was masquerading as “Lackawanna 1661” for a
movie being filmed by the National Park Service in the New Richmond area. NSR crews elected to leave the Lackawanna lettering on the locomotive until it arrived in West Virginia.
The engine left N. Fond du Lac in the wee hours of October 11 to avoid track work north of Chicago, and arrived in CSX’s Barr Yard in
Chicago that afternoon. The next day saw “1661” moving from Chicago to Fostoria, Ohio, with the final leg from Fostoria to Huntington, W. Va. completed on October 13.

The New River trips operate over a 147-mile stretch of former Chesapeake & Ohio trackage from Huntington to Hinton, through the heart of the scenic New River Gorge. 261
was assigned to pull 31 cars carrying a total of over 5,000 passengers on two weekends, Oct. 15-16 and 22-23. A big draw for the trips are fall colors, and they were at their peak in
the Gorge both weekends.

Coal country

Each day the 261 made a Huntington-Hinton round trip, which included a photo run-by at the classic “coal country” town of Thurmond.
In the steam era, C&O 2-8-4s, 4-8-4s and huge articulateds pulled coal trains through this country, which despite running along the New River 

virtually the entire distance, still has many grades. 261 really got a workout, particularly early and late in the day when wet rail and leaves combined to make for slippery rails.

North Star Rail operated the locomotive
in cooperation with the Fort Wayne Railway Historical Society, owners of 765. FWRHS and NSR crews took turns running the locomotive,
with FWRHS members doing much of the running, since they knew the route from past

The only problem encountered on the trips
was on the evening of Oct. 15, when a diaphragm in 261’s air brake stand began to
leak. After the return to Huntington that
evening, NSR crews worked until 4 a.m. to
make 261 ready for the trip the following day.
261 began its ferry move back to the Twin Cities from Huntington on Oct. 24, and arrived in Minneapolis on the evening of the 27th. 261 came back with an addition: 765’s auxiliary water car, which NSR will be using for ferry moves since it allows longer runs between water stops.  Upon arrival in Minneapolis, 261 was immediately prepared for two excursions on the Twin Cities & Western on October 29 and 30, operating
from Chanhassen to Bird Island, Minn. 

Back on Milwaukee Road rails

261 pulls excursion, campaign trains on Twin Cities & Western

Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 261 finally made its long awaited return to Milwaukee Road rails in September and October, when it pulled several excursions on the Twin Cities & Western. TC&W operates 218 miles of former Milwaukee Road trackage from Hopkins to Appleton, Minn. including trackage rights over BN from Appleton to Milbank, S.D., and over Soo Line from Hopkins to St. Paul. TC&Ws route was once part of the Milwaukee Road’s line to the Pacific coast, where S-3 class 4-8-4s like 261 often operated. 261 operated a series of trips: out of Montevideo on the weekend of September 24-25, a campaign train for Governor Arne Carlson on September 27, and trips from Chanhassen (a Minneapolis suburb) to Bird Island and return Oct. 29-30.

261 had been stored in Green Bay since June, when excursions out of that city were completed. The locomotive began a ferry move back to the Twin Cities on September 19 and arrived at Bass Lake Yard in Minneapolis on Sept. 20. The next day, the engine traveled former Milwaukee Road rails again for the first time since its rebuilding when it rolled west 125 miles to the old division point of Montevideo, Minn.

Montevideo celebrated its railroad heritage over the weekend of September 24-25, when 261 operated a series of shuttle trips for the Chamber of Commerce. Each day, four round trips were operated: two from Montevideo west 15 miles to Milan, and two 13 miles east to Granite Falls. Since there were no turning facilities at either city, a TC&W diesel pulled the train eastward, with 261 leading westbound. Trips originated out of the restored Montevideo Milwaukee Road depot, now home of the Chamber, with several trips sold out.

On Monday, September 26, 261 headed west out of Montevideo once again, this time running 24 miles to Appleton, where the engine was turned on the wye at the BN crossing. Once turned, the engine headed back to Montevideo, with its ultimate destination being Olivia, where it would head up a campaign train the next day. At the behest of Goodheart Video Productions, the 261 picked up a loaded unit coal train at Montevideo and pulled it to Granite Falls – the first time the locomotive has been in revenue freight service in 40 years! 261 arrived in Olivia later that evening.


On Sept. 27 the locomotive headed up the “whistle stop” campaign train for the Governor and other Republican candidates, beginning at noon in Olivia and finishing at 7 p .m. in Chanhassen, with stops at nine towns along the way. At each stop, the Governor and other candidates spoke from a podium rigged up in NSR’s tool car “Earling.” At least one TV station carried the event, and photos of 261 made it into both Twin Cities daily newspapers.

After arriving back in Minneapolis, NSR crews worked to cosmetically alter 261 into a Delaware, Lackawanna & Western 4-8-4 for a movie being filmed for the National Park Service. This involved moving the headlight and bell, removing the Mars light, and relettering the engine “1661” on the cab and steam dome and applying the name “Lackawanna” on the tender. The engine was used for movie filming in western Wisoonsin on October 6- 7, then headed east to West Virginia on October 10,still lettered 1661. At Huntington, WV, NSR crews restored 261 to Milwaukee Road appearance, but applied the newer Milwaukee Road emblem to the tender, rather than the older CMStP&P herald used on earlier trips.

261 again returned to TC& W rails after it arrived back from the east in late October. On Oct. 29-30, the locomotive pulled a 10-car train from Chanhassen to Bird Island and return, a 141-mile round trip. Once again a TC&W diesel pulled the train east since there are no turning facilities at Bird Island. Trips both days operated without a hitch, and included a photo run-by at Buffalo Lake. On Oct. 30, 261 got a ”birthday present” when it broke through a special banner at Bird lsland which read: “NSR Celebrates the 50th Birthday of 261 1944-1994.” After the completion of the trips, on Halloween day 261 retUTiled to the shop facility in Minneapolis for winter storage.

To date, 261 has pulled 14 excursion trains since it was rebuilt. These trains have carried 12,000 passengers quite a record for a 50-year-old that was “retired” for 39 years!

261 Pins still availible

Members of the “Friends of the 261,” may still obtain the special “Hiawatha” lapel pin available only to members. The pin features the  Milwaukee Road’s “Hiawatha” Indian in red surrounded by the words, “Friends of the 261.” It makes an attractive holiday gift and is available for a donation of $10, postage included. Any funds raised by the purchaseofthepin will go to the “Friends” treasury and helps to support the continued operation of 261. Send your orders to “Friends of the 261” at 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, Minn. 55126.

New video of 261 available

Goodheart Productions, the official video company of North Star Rail, Inc., is announcing the availability of a new video production covering the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road. The tape, “Milwaukee Road 261 – Rebuilding A 4-8-4” is the most complete record of 261’s renaissance, beginning at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay in 1992 and ending with a completely rebuilt 261. Goodheart Productions was there during every step of the rebuilding process to bring viewers the complete story of 261s rebirth. One of the top rail video producers in the nation, Goodheart Productions is well known for producing high quality video tape. which feature unusual photography.

Sales help 261

The tape will eventually be found in hobby stores, but is being offered first to “Friends” members. The tape runs 1 hour, 55 minutes and is available at a cost of $39.95, plus$3.00 shipping and handling. The real benefit of buying your tape now through the “Friends” is the fact that .half of the proceeds from sales through the “Friends” goes toward keeping 261 in operation -tapes sold in stores do not. To get your copy of the video, send your order to “Friends of the 261,” 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, Minn. 55126. You can also use Visa or Mastercard, just include your card number and expiration date when you mail in your order.

1995 Photo Pass to include contest

Earlier this year “Friends of the 261” offered a photo pass to those members who wished to photograph the locomotive in action, but still support 261 operations. However, production problems caused the “Friends” to hold off on making the pass available this year and instead will issue them in 1995. The idea of the pass is to give holders information in advance on such things as the location of service and station stops, mileposts of photo run-bys, radio channels to be used, timetables, and free entry into planned night photo sessions. For 1995 a new program will be added: a 261 photo contest.

Any photo can win

The contest will be open only to members who have purchased a photo pass. Of course, photos will have to be oflocomotive 261. Any type of photo can be submitted for judging: action, portrait, night photography, or creative “artistic” photos. The First Place winner will be a warded a first class ticket for any 261 excursion; second place will receive a regular coach ticket. To order your photo pass (which will be good for the entire 1995 season), send $20, plus $1 for postage and handling to “Friends of the 261,” 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, Minn. 55126. You will receive more details on the photo contest with your pass. If you ordered and paid for a pass for this year, you will receive the 1995 pass when it is available.

261 calendar published

New levels of membership available

Included with this issue of “Northern Lines” is a complimentary 1995 calendar featuring Milwaukee Road 261. The calendar is the brainchild oflongtime 261 supporter Patrick Leary of Brookings, S.D., who owns Harold Printing in Brookings. The calendars will be sold on excursion trains in 1995, in addition to being supplied as a benefit of membership in the “Friends of the 261.”

If you would like additional calendars, they are available at a cost of $5, plus $1 postage and handling from the “Friends of the 261.”

“Friends of the 261” has established three new levels of membership to help in the effort to keep Milwaukee Road 261 in steam. All memberships will continue to offer several benefits, such as this newsletter and trip discounts.

The first level of support is “lifetime individual.” At a cost of $250, you can become a lifetime member of the “Friends of the 261.” Next, for companies who wish to support the locomotive, a new ”Lifetime Corporate” membership is available at a cost of $500. Finally, for those companies that wish to go above and beyond their normal level of support, a ”Deluxe Corporate” membership can be obtained at a cost of $1,000.

If you or your company wish to increase your level of support, just indicate the level you have chosen and send your check to “Friends of the 261,” 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, Minn. 55126. All contributions are, of course, tax-deductible.


FRIENDS OF THE 261 INC. 11686 Azure Lane, Inver Grove Hgts, MN 55077


© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

Recent Posts

2023 Northern Lines

Things may have seemed quiet over the summer for the Friends of the 261, but they have been quite far from that. Many things have been progressing in the shop of the 261.Friends contracted by MTM for A18Back in 2021, MTM (Minnesota Transportation Museum) contracted...

2023 Train Day

RRHMA participates in Midwest events Equipment makes appearances at Union Depot Train Days, Franklin Park Railroad DazeRailroading Heritage of Midwest America participated in two Midwest railroad events in June, part of fulfilling our mission to promote public...

RRHMA awarded $31,000 by the Emery Rail Heritage Trust

Railroading Heritage of Midwest America would like to announce the award of $31,000 by the Emery Rail Heritage Trust to go towards the return to service of the Sleeping Car/Lounge Caritas. We would like to thank the Emery Rail Heritage Trust for its continued support...

RRHMA to Expand operations to Silvis, IL

Railroading Heritage of Midwest America to expand operations to Silvis Illinois shop & rail complexThe rail complex will be developed as a multiuse commercial development, historic preservation, restoration and future transportation museum. SILVIS, Ill. (Jan 10,...