Fall Color Excursion dates set, Windy City Express to roll
Mark your calendars! The Friends of the 261 are planning to operate two days of Fall Color excursions trips this October pulled by Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261.
The Friends are currently negotiating with Class 1 railroads and Amtrak to determine routes the trips will travel. We expect to be able to announce routes and pricing by early summer. In the past the Friends have operated fall color tours from Minneapolis to the Twin Ports, to Willmar, Minn., and to Winona and La Crescent, Minn., along the Mississippi River. This year’s trips will operate October 10 and 11. The Fall Color excursions are among the most popular trips operated by the Friends and are sure to be sellouts. Watch your e-mail and/or “snail” mail box for more information as it becomes available.
Windy City Express
The Friends of the 261 will operate two weekends of private car charters this spring. The “Windy City Express” will operate from St. Paul to Chicago behind Amtrak’s Empire Builder. The first weekend of trips leaving St. Paul on May 21 and returning May 24 was quickly sold out, so the Friends added a second weekend, with the cars departing St. Paul May 15 and returning May 17.
The trips will feature three cars, former Milwaukee Road Skytop parlor lounge observation Cedar Rapids, Milwaukee Road Super Dome No. 53, and ex-Union Pacific baggage car No. 2450. All three cars are painted in Milwaukee Road’s original orange and maroon passenger car colors. Passengers will have the opportunity to ride the Milwaukee Road cars on their original route. Both the Skytop and Super Dome were part of the consist of the Twin Cities Hiawathas, which operated between Chicago and Minneapolis over what is today the Canadian Pacific main line used by the Empire Builder. This will be the first trip to Chicago for the Cedar Rapids since a complete restoration to its as built appearance was completed in 2014. Restoration included new wood, carpeting, reupholstered seats, and new linoleum to being the car back to its original appearance. The car was built in 1948 by the Milwaukee Road at its Milwaukee Shops. Round trip tickets are $359, while one-way fares are $189. There are also combined ticket/hotel options available. Fares include food and drinks on the train. For more information or to buy tickets to ride the Windy City Express go to www.261.com
Jim Redeske 1939-2015
Jim Redeske, the smiling, friendly, but always in charge volunteer who was expertly handled getting the Friends of the 261’s passenger car fleet ready for trips, passed away on Feb. 16, 2015. Jim had been battling pancreatic cancer for over a year, and despite the rigors of chemotherapy he retained the positive attitude and good humor so familiar to Friends of the 261 volunteers and passengers. He even continued his volunteer duties, helping to schedule volunteers and riding the North Pole Express in December. Jim was born in Wisconsin but moved to Minnesota at a young age. He grew up pheasant hunting where Southdale Mall now stands in Edina. He served 5 1/2 years in the Marine Corps and was an infantry squad leader and a top marksman. Jim was a freshmen in high school when he took his future wife Betty Ann on their first date – a hockey game, since as Jim recalled in 2013: “I played a lot of hockey in my day.” They were married on Sept. 28, 1962. Betty Ann enjoyed a career as a registered nurse, and the couple had two daughters and a son.
Long before Jim became a volunteer with the Friends, he had a long and distinguished career with Northwest Airlines. He was an employee at Northwest for 24 years, rising to the Vice Presidential level and working in In-Flight Services, Human Resources, and Labor Relations. He was well known as a respected and trustworthy employee of the company.Jim tackled his volunteer effort with the Friends as he did with his career with Northwest: he gave it his all. He not only kept up with the maintenance of the cars, he often traveled with them to various parts of the country where they were used in charter and excursion train service. He was always quick with a greeting and a smile.Ever since he was a boy, Jim had a love for trains, in particular steam trains. Growing up, he would help out at his uncle’s farm, supplying wood and water to keep the steam-powered thresher operating. When he was in college he got a job with the U.S. Post Office during the Christmas rush. He worked primarily at the downtown Minneapolis Post Office, and traveled to the Great Northern and Milwaukee Road stations and helped load and unload mail, where he could see the trains up close.
Fishing was another of Jim’s passions. Muskies were his favorite. He spent many hours on lakes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada pursuing his next big catch. Jim was also active in Salem Covenant Church in New Brighton, where his funeral service was held on Feb. 23.
Everyone who came in contact with Jim will recall his positive “can do” attitude, a trait we all can strive to live by as we fondly remember him.
Fund-raising effort underway to restore business car Milwaukee
The Friends of the 261 have begun a major fund-raising effort to restore Milwaukee Road business car Milwaukee. Spearheaded by member Erik Hoofnagle, the effort includes appeals to our members, friends and corporations.The Milwaukee Road built the car at its West Milwaukee Shops in December 1948. It contains an open platform, lounge area, several bedrooms, a dining room and a kitchen. The car remained in service for the Milwaukee Road until 1977.
Passing through a succession of owners, the car eventually became the property of the Museum of Transportation in St. Louis. In early 2009, the museum offered the car for sale, and the car was purchased by the Friends of the 261 and sent to Minneapolis for future restoration and service. In September 2014 the exterior was repainted into Milwaukee Road orange and maroon colors and its original name was restored. Rare Nystrom trucks, which were removed by a previous owner, were refitted to the car.
The Friends are planning a complete restoration including updates to the heat and electrical systems so the Milwaukee can operate on Amtrak trains, charter trains, and special excursions.
Won’t you help preserve the Milwaukee for future generations to see, ride, and admire? To make a donation go to www.261.com.
Super Dome 53 overhauled
In preparation for the Windy City Express trips, excursion trains and private car charters, the Friend of the 261 have been busy maintaining the passenger car fleet. The focus this winter and spring has been an overhaul of Super Dome 53. Several pieces of steel in the car’s sides had deteriorated, so the pieces were cut out and new steel welded in. The air conditioning system also received a tune up, which is especially important since the car has a huge glass area. In early March the car was jacked up and the trucks removed so it could undergo a mandatory 10-year inspection by Amtrak. The bolster springs were also shimmed up to level the truck frame. After all the repairs are completed the car will be repainted in Milwaukee Road orange and maroon passenger car colors.
North Pole Express returns this December
After the huge success of the North Pole Express in 2014, the train will return this year, operating the first two weekends of December. This year’s trains will feature more entertainment for children – unlike our mainline steam excursions, we run these trains for the kids! Our hope is to generate interest in trains – especially steam trains –in the next generation.
We are also planning to have two “Santa’s” on the train to reduce the waiting time for kids to see St. Nick. To make the North Pole Express a success, we need your support more than ever. While we have been successful in lining up some corporate sponsors, more are needed. Many members know or are employed by companies that might be appropriate sponsors, and often it is through you, our members, that we make contacts that result in sponsors. If you have any ideas, please let us know!
We also need in-kind donations of many items for the trips. Items such as flowers, candy, even electrical contractors who can help us wire the train and Santa’s Workshop are needed. As always, dozens of volunteers will be needed as we plan to run more trips than last year. So plan to be at the Union Depot in St. Paul this December for the 2nd Annual North Pole Express!
Friends visits Cuba!
With the recent thaw in United States – Cuba relations, travel to the Caribbean island nation is easing. For several year US citizens have been able to travel to Cuba on educational missions, and now the Friends of the 261 is joining one of those excursions. Friends of the 261 Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg and volunteer Erik Hoofnagle headed to Cuba this month. They visited rail operations throughout the island, including the famed 57-mile Hershey Electric Railway, the only surviving electric railway in Cuba. This trip may be the first of many. With the Friends recently sponsoring trips to Europe, Ireland and the United Kingdom, it is hoped that as travel restrictions to Cuba ease, in the future the organization can sponsor trips to see railroad sites throughout the island.
Friends of the 261 expanding international tour offerings
The Friends of the 261 will expand its International Tour offerings this year and next. Plans are in the works for a return trip to the United Kingdom, a trip to South America, and possibly a trip to Japan. A trip to Ireland this June has already sold out. Already confirmed is a trip to the UK in September. The British Steam Railway & London City Tour “London Calling,” Take II will take place from Sept. 11 to 20, 2015. The railway portion of the tour will begin with the Great Western Society & Didcot Heritage Railway on Sept. 13. This day the Didcot Heritage Railway will be hosting one of its gala steam events and many activities are planned during the tour.
On Sept. 14 we begin featured mainline steam excursions departing from London’s Euston Station aboard the “Lakes Express” celebrating the 50th anniversary of the last London to Windermere Lakes Express. This unique four day tour will travel to England’s beautiful Lakes District. Our train will be powered by one of the LMS Express locomotives from the Duchess, Royal Scot or Coronation Class, it is planned to be headed by former LMS Locomotive “Duchess of Sutherland” No. 6233. Traveling up the former West Coast Main Line with photo stops at Milton Keynes and Northampton our train will make the challenging climb of Shap bank before arriving in Penrith.
On Sept. 15 you can relax and enjoy the English country side on your own or join one of our optional excursions. Tours in the Lakes District include the Lakeside & Haverwaite Railway and the narrow gauge Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway. Sept. 16 will see a Cumbrian Coast and Settle & Carlisle excursion with the Royal Scots Class 46110 “Scots Guardsman” for a journey along two of England’s most beautiful railway lines in one day. We start at the famous Carnforth Station, as we head out on the scenic seaside route along the Cumbrian Coast where for mile after mile the railway stays close to the shoreline. After a two-hour break in Carlisle we will travel on one of the great train journeys of Britain, the Settle & Carlisle Railway. This route is extremely rare and considered to be on the “Bucket List” for many rail enthusiasts. On Sept. 17 we travel the Lake District to London with Coronation Class No. 6201 “Princess Elizabeth.” Passengers can board at either Penrith or Oxenholme.
After exploring London on your own Sept. 18, it’s back to mainline steam Sept. 19 on the West Somerset Express featuring two steam locomotives in one day. The train will head west of London through picturesque rural English countryside. Just after Taunton we transfer the West Somerset Railway, the longest Heritage Railway in England. After a steam locomotive change we will take our train the remainder of the journey to Minehead, where there will be more than two hours to explore this delightful seaside resort where the railway station is a short walk to the beach. We are expecting either No. 34067 “Tangmere,” No. 60017 A-4 class “Bittern” or the No. 70000 “Britannia” 4-6-2 to pull our train. Return to the United States is on Sept. 20.
This winter Friends of the 261 will be offering an exciting tour to the South American countries of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. This trip will allow visitors to see the railroads of these countries while also seeing their museums and scenery. The tour begins in Bogotá, Colombia where we will visit the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) and take a scenic ride behind a small drivered 2-8-2 to the Salta Cathedral at Zipaquira. In Ecuador we will tour magnificent Quito and ride the luxurious Tren Crucero down to Guayaquil, dropping 10,000 feet on our journey including a steep drop descending Devil’s Nose. We will our journey in Lima, Peru. Lima, offers some of the best restaurants in the world. We are working on a tour of the locomotive shops and a charter over a portion of the FerroCentral (FCCA) Railway. Our tour will be guided by Friends Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg and 261 member Adam Auxier from Altiplano Tours. Adam has led groups all over South America and has visited the continent 15 times in the last six years.
The Friends are also negotiating a possible trip to Japan in May or June 2016. The tour would include a ride on the famous Bullet trains, tours of railway museums, and a visit to the historic cities of Kyoto, Hiroshima, and of course, Tokyo.
If you are interested in any of the International Tours and want more information or want to secure space please send an e-mail to Steve Sandberg at [email protected]
Friends to participate at Union Depot Train Day in St. Paul
The Friends of the 261 is planning to participate in the Train Day activities at the Union Depot in St. Paul on May 9. While the event used to be known as National Train Day, Amtrak has renamed the event “Amtrak Train Day.” The Friends will have a table at the event where we will be publicizing the 2015 North Pole Express and other charter and excursion trips. Outside the depot along the boarding platforms BNSF Railway will display a locomotive, and the Minnesota Transportation Museum will display a Great Northern “Empire Builder” coach and GN SD45 No. 400, the “Hustle Muscle” built in 1966.
Amtrak will also have displays, and may bring one of its new baggage cars now entering service on long distance trains.
Events inside the Waiting Room will include a special railroad photography exhibit, a diesel locomotive simulator, and educational programming from local organizations.
Plan to join the Friends of the 261 at the Union Depot as we celebrate the fun and excitement of train travel in the United States.
THANKS VOLUNTEERS! With the hard work of volunteers such as the late Judy Sandberg and Jim Redeske, the Friends of the 261 has become a leader in operating excursion and charter trains. Without the efforts of the Friends and its volunteers, it would not have been possible to see and ride a matching Milwaukee Road passenger train in the 21st Century, such as this Friends of the 261 excursion gliding through Lake City, Minn., on Canadian Pacific in October 2011. Photo by Steve Glischinski.