Mar 1, 1996

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

Snow Train: truly spectacular!

261 heads up winter excursions at Steamtown

Its been along time since railroad fans and the general public have been able to see “big steam” operate in winter weather. Thanks to the “Friends of the 261” and Steamtown National Historic Site, Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 brought back the tradition of winter steam operations over President’s Day Weekend.
261’s test against the fury of winter came when it pulled a total of five round trips from Steamtown National Park in Scranton, Penn. to Tobyhanna, Penn. on February 16-20, 1996. The 4-8-4 pulled not only regular passenger excursions, but pushed a snowplow and powered a special freight train for

The weekend of trips began on a cold and cloudy Friday, Feb. 16 when 261 pushed a snowplow over the 26- mile route the excursions would travel the next few days. The plow, owned by the Delaware Lackawanna Railroad, which operates freight service on the line, is a former Canadian Pacific Russell wedge plow. Pushing the plow and trailing a six-car passenger consist, 261 cleared away drifts and compacted snow. After the January blizzards in the eastern part of the country, 261’s crew wasn’t sure what to expect, but the line had been kept open by freight trains and no insurmountable drifts were encountered.

During January and February 1996, 261 was equipped with special steam lines to allow it to supply steam heat to passenger cars, as it had during the days it operated for the  Milwaukee Road. North Star Rail’s two coaches and the concession car were also equipped with the piping; two Steamtown coaches used on the trips were already so equipped . When 261 backed onto the passenger consist and coupled to the train, it was the first time in at least 42 years it
had provided steam heat to a passenger train. And miraculously, everything worked! 

Leaving Scranton, 261 easily marched up the Pocono mountain grades, executing several photo run-bys for excited passengers. Upon arrival at Tobyhanna, passengers were treated to hot cocoa and coffee around the pot bellied stove at the restored depot. The refreshments were provided by the Pocono Mountain Railroad Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.

 After several photo run-bys at the station with 261 pushing the snowplow, the plow was uncoupled and 261 made more photo runs leading the passenger consist. By this time snow had begun to fall which soon developed into blizzard-like conditions, which was just what the passengers had hoped for. Seeing 261 come through the snow at speed was truly spectacular! 

On Saturday Feb. 17 and Sunday Feb. 18, 261 made round trips between Scranton and Tobyhanna each day with the steam-heated passenger consist carrying approximately 300 passengers each day enjoying steam, snow, and sunny weather. On Saturday evening a night photo session was held in Scranton, sponsored by Railfan & Railroad Magazine. 261 was lined up with the Russell plow and Steamtown’s ex-Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 #2317 (built in 1923) for the night photos. Special thanks go to R&R Associate Editor Mike Del Vecchio, KermitGeary,Jr.,John Tully and Fred Jones for three hours of hard work and expertise to set up and execute the night session.

On Sunday’s trip, another “first”
took place for the 261, when longtime 261 supporters Lori Schwarts and Rich Rushokwho were married in the cab of the locomotive in Scranton prior to departure. Congratulations Lori and Ron!

On both Monday, Feb.19 and Tuesday, Feb. 20, the 4-8-4 pulled special freight consists for photographers. The “photo freights” included passenger cars behind the freight cars for photographers to ride in, but were well back in the consist so they could not be seen in photos. Each day 14 to 15 run-bys were made for photographers. The photo freights, plus the passenger excursions, were videotaped
by Goodheart Productions, and the tapes are being offered to “Friends” members -see details in this issue of Northern Lines.

Steamtown is currently planning additional operations with the 261 before the locomotive returns to the Midwest. If you haven’t had a chance to visit this fine museum and ride behind the 261 out of Scranton, this spring may be your last opportunity.

261 to return to Midwest

Busy excursion schedule planned

After a triumphant 1995 headlining the opening season of the Steamtown National Historic Site, plans are being made for Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 to return to its home base in the Twin Cities. However, 261 will not simply 11 deadhead” back from Pennsylvania, but will pull several excursion trips.

261’s spring season will begin at Scranton, where it is tentatively scheduled to pull trips from Mt. Pocono to Scranton and return on April 21-22, 1996. This will be followed by trips over Memorial Day Weekend (May 25-27) from Scranton to Cresco, Penn. and rehim each day.

In early June, 261 will begin its long journey home after a year at Steamtown. While no definitive schedule has been set, it is planned that the locomotive will retrace the route it followed last year east of Chicago with a series of non-revenue ferry moves (no passengers will be carried). The 4-8-4 will follow a Canadian Pacific/Delaware & Hudson routing from Scranton to Binghamton, N.Y., then over CP’s trackage rights on Conrail’s “Southern Tier” line to Buffalo. From Buffalo to New Castle, Penn., 261 will travel the rails of regional railroad Buffalo & Pittsburgh, then will switch to CSX from New Castle to Chicago. A proposal has been made to operate a passenger trip on the B&P from  Orchard Park, N.Y. (near Buffalo) to Punxsutawney, Penn. and return on June 8.

Once back in Chicago, plans call for a reh1rn to Wisconsin Central rails for an excursion trip from Chicago to Fond du Lac, Wis. and reh1rn on June 15. 261 will then switch to Burlington Northern Santa Fe (ex-Burlington) rails to Galesburg, Ill. where it will be the featured attraction at Galesburg
Railroad Days” June 22-23. After the Galesburg festivities, 261 will travel the famous Burlington “River Line” to La Crosse and the Twin Cities on another non-revenue ferry move. This line is notable for following the scenic Mississippi River for 3(Xl miles from Savanna, Ill. to St. Paul. 261 will be displayed at La Crosse, Wis. on June 24, then head into Minneapolis the next day. This
will be the first steam operation over the “River Line” since the early 1960’s when the Burlington operated excursions with 4-8-4 #5632, now scrapped.

Once back in the Twin Cities, 261 will be busy over the long 4th of July Weekend, shuttling between Minneapolis and St. Paul during the Minnesota Heritage Festival, making 1996 one of the locomotive’s busiest seasons ever.

Here is a synopsis of 261’s spring trips:

April 21-22: Mount Pocono to Scranton and return each day for Steamtown.
May 25, 26, 27: Scranton, Penn to Cresco, Penn. round trip each day for Steamtown.
Early June: 261 begins trip home via CP/D&H/ CR to Buffalo; B&P to New Castle, Penn.; CSX New Castle to Chicago. No passengers carried.
June 8: Buffalo (Orchard Park) to Punxsutawney, Penn. via B&P.
June 15: Chicago to Fond du Lac, Wis. and return via Wisconsin Central Ltd.
After June 15: Chicago to Galesburg, Ill. via BNSF; no passengers carried.
June 22-23: Galesburg Railroad Days (display only).
June 24: Galesburg-La Crosse, Wis. via BNSF, no passengers carried; display at La Crosse.
June 25:La Crosse to Minneapolis via BNSF; no passengers carried.
July 4-7: Minneapolis-St. Paul twice daily round trips for Minnesota Heritage Festival via BNSF.

261 headlines Minnesota Heritage Festival in July

261 will be providing the “fireworks” this 4th of July Weekend for the Minnesota Heritage Festival, held in Minneapolis. 261 will be one of the star attractions at the festival, which will be taking place along the Mississippi River in the old mill district on the river’s east side. Last year, the city reopened the old Great Northern Stone Arch Bridge over the river for pedestrians and bicyclists, and created the Stone Arch Bridge Park at the east end of the bridge. 261 will depart from the tracks near the park on excursions over BNSF’s ex-Great Northern Midway Subdivision to St. Paul, where the train will be wyed just outside the old St. Paul Union Depot for the return to Minneapolis.

The 15-mile trips will operate twice daily, at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on July 4, 5, 6 and 7. Tickets are $30 coach, with a family value package of four tickets for $100. On July 3 a V.I.P. run will be made at 2 p.m.; tickets are $40 with seating limited. Tickets may be ordered using the order blank in this issue of Northern Lines. Don’t miss this opportunity to welcome 261 back home from Pennsylvania with a ride on The Heritage Express this July!




© 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.

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