As we inch closer to the end of 2020 the 261 is looking forward to seeing you all in 2021. I think it is safe to say that all of us cannot wait for virus of 2020 to firmly behind us and we can get back to doing the things we love. Things like eating in restaurants, visiting family & friends and RIDING TRAINS!

2021 Memberships & Donations

Once again we need your help and support to keep our trains running and in top condition. Please click on the link below, your contributions are needed more than ever this year. Your contribution will get you priority advance availability on tickets, our quarterly news updates and support a great cause.

2020 North Pole Express

This year North Pole Express will be a virtual event for you and your family. The Friends of the 261 with the support of St Paul Union Depot has filmed a short series of videos that you and your family can watch from the safety of your home. The show will include some of your favorite friends for the North Pole Express, with kids activities from Persilly the snow fairy, music from Engineer Paul and a story book reading from the big man, Santa, himself. You will get a sneak peak into Santa’s North Pole locomotive shop and see what Santa’s elves have been working on during the past year. Additional shows include the tree lighting at Union Depot, the Bake sale and European market. Additionally, the 261 will be hosting some live Zoom events with Santa and all his friends from the North Pole locomotive shop in December. Don’t miss it!

Minnesota Explorer

Friends of the 261 is looking forward to returning to normal operation in 2021 and welcoming you all back onboard our trains. Over the past few months, we have been examining our historic railcar and installing new high-tech air filtration equipment, this includes adding additional filtration, Ultraviolet light and more hand sanitizer stations. The safety of our passengers and our volunteers has always been our highest priority. When the virus is over, we want you to return to the safest environments as possible. We are thrilled that the 261 has been asked to help with celebrating the Twin Cities & Western Railroads 30th anniversary in 2021.

Over the next few month, we plan to put the finishing touches on several tours we will be running next summer. At this time, the dates will remain flexible until we can get a clear picture on when it is safe. 2021 tours include a multi day tour of the entire TCW railroad, featuring our newly rebuilt 1955, EMD E-9 # 32a, this tour will be more of a luxury rail cruise with activities planned along the route.

The train will be departing from the Twin Cities Western suburbs, traveling west towards the New Elm / Redwood Falls area on the first day, accommodation will be available onboard in Sleeping cars and also at Hotels along the route, we will provide motor coach transportation each day to hotels and utilize the motor coaches to shuttle passengers to and from sightseeing & off train activities. Appropriate meals will be provided for those staying on the train and in hotels. For guests staying hotels, you will not need to worry about luggage, as we will provide luggage transfer to you next hotel location.

Day 2 we plan to traverse the route back towards Minneapolis, tours & activities will be during the day, that evening we will make a late afternoon diner cruise as we end up at our next destination in the Glencoe/ Hutchinson area for the night.

Day 3 we continue west to Montevideo, along the route we will provide photo opportunities and more planned activities. We settle into to Montevideo for two nights, you will have some time to explore Montevideo on your own, enjoy planned activities, visit Milwaukee Road Heritage Center or visit the Casino.

Late in the afternoon on Day 3 we jump back onboard for a run out the Minnesota & South Dakota state line to turn the locomotive on the wye at Appleton, MN. Now headed East we return to Montevideo for the night.

Day 4 finds us departing East along the route of the famous Olympian Hiawatha, with photo opportunities in route and arriving back in the Twin Cities mid afternoon with plenty of time to get to catch a flight or arrive get home safely. Throughout the tour enjoy gourmet cuisine and special wine tastings severed in the grand tradition of the Railroad Dining car atmosphere.

Windy City Express

In 2021 we will be offering a couple opportunities to enjoy Chicago on our Windy City Express. Jump aboard our private rails including the Super Dome & world-famous Sky-Top observation car as we join Amtrak’s Empire Builder departing from Union Depot in St. Paul.

Departing on Friday morning we roll along the banks of the Mississippi River to Lacrosse, we then head across Wisconsin to the Wisconsin Dells and then on to Milwaukee before our mid afternoon arrival in Chicago. Friday evening and Saturday, you will have time to explore on you own, take in the theater or enjoy one of Chicago famous restaurants. Relax & sleep in on Sunday morning before we make our early afternoon departure from Chicago, enjoy a casual dinner from your seat in our full length dome as we ride home along the Mississippi River before arriving back in St. Paul.

Friends of the 261 luxurious passenger cars behind Amtrak’s Empire Builder passing St Paul Park on their way to Chicago

Friends of the 261 luxurious passenger cars behind Amtrak’s Empire Builder passing St Paul Park on their way to Chicago

Friends of the 261 luxurious passenger cars behind Amtrak’s Empire Builder passing St Paul Park on their way to Chicago

261 Gourmet Express

2021 will also see the return of the steam locomotive #261 & our Gourmet Express, currently planned for the fall of 2021 we will again be out to the Twin Cities & Western Track west of Downtown Minneapolis. In the past, we have offered three classes of service: Family class in one of our restored coach cars, First Class & our luxurious Premium Class. These day tours are legendary for great food, good wine, entertainment, friends and fun. And do not forget the beautiful fall colors and the photo runbys with the 261.

North Pole Express

This annual family tradition is schedule for the first two weekends in December 2021 at Union Depot in St. Paul. We are looking forward to welcoming Santa and all his elves back for this popular event which is sure to be a sellout. To make sure you get ticket for this or any other excursion sign-up for our email notifications and we will then send you an email when ticket go on sale.

Russian Steam & White Nights tour to the Arctic Circle

Join the Friends of the 261 as we take a trip behind the iron curtain on this epic luxury steam tour aboard our private train in Russia. This 15-day tour departs out Moscow on June 16 and travel to the furthest northern point in Russia, Arriving at the very top of Norway on the longest day of the year. This epic tour is aboard one of the world’s most luxurious trains the Golden Eagle. You will stay abroad in Luxury accommodation, this tour includes many extra amenities, sightseeing tours, off train activities and will be hauled by over 20 different steam locomotives including the famous P-36 4-8-4 locomotives, which are very similar in design to the 261. The tour will be guided by the 261’s own Steve Sandberg and will have multiple opportunities for riding in the locomotive cab. Follow this link for more info or email

Engine Shop News

The virus has taken its toll on all of us and we want to provide you with light at the end of this long tunnel. That light is the 261 charging down the tracks on an excursion in 2021. During the last year the 261 organization has continued to make improvements to our historic fleet of passenger cars & locomotives. Most notably we have been working hard on our newly acquired vintage diesel locomotive, the acquisition of this locomotive gives the 261-organization additional flexibility for future excursions. Over the past 6 months we have completely renewed all the exterior steel, repainted the locomotive and preformed upgrades to the electrical system and prime movers. The new paint has been applied to the exterior, currently the locomotive is covered for the winter to protect the new paint. We are currently planning to finish all of the pin striping and apply all the lettering in the Spring of 2021. Over the winter months we will continue to make upgrades to safety systems with new event recorders, alterter system and eventual PTC. Our crews have been making new sandboxes, upgrading the Head End Power equipment and increasing the reliability to the prime movers. The result will that the condition of the locomotive will be great improved. We hope to have a formal unveiling of the locomotive in early summer of 2021.

Over in the Steam shop work continues the 261, during the virus we have been doing some required periodic maintenance. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires that we preform an inspection of all the firebox staybolts on a specific interval. The staybolts are a series of bolts that hold the firebox metal together under the pressure of the boiler. The staybolts are critical safety devise that allow the boiler to expand and contract as the boiler is heated & cooled. The staybolts allow the fire box metal to flex without the metal cracking. The 261 is equipped with approximately 3000 of the staybolts and each bolt needs to be checked to make sure they are not broken or damaged. These staybolts are located under the boiler insulation & sheet metal jacketing that you see on the 261’s exterior. Work also continues various other projects including having the boiler safety valve’s overhauled at the Strasburg Railroad in Pennsylvania and manufacturing new valve piston rings for the steam chest. Positive Train Control or PTC continues to be an obstacle for operation on the mainline, the 261 is not required to have it if we operate short distances or on the Twin Cities and Western. PTC will become the norm going forward and we continue to raise funds for its eventual installation on the 261 and our E-9 # 32a. Wabtec, the primary provider of PTC equipment has been to the 261 shop and looked at how PTC would be installed on the locomotive, it was determined that it can be done.

Car Shop News