May 4, 2013

Milwaukee Road No. 261 makes test runs, preparations continue for Duluth excursion

By Steve Glischinski
Published: April 22, 2013

No. 261 crossing the Mississippi River at Minneapolis. Photo by Steve Glischinski

MINNEAPOLIS – On April 20, Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 successfully pulled a five-car test train from Minneapolis to Glencoe on the Twin Cities & Western Railroad. The locomotive’s owner, the non-profit Friends of the 261 group, has completed a five-year rebuild effort on the 4-8-4. It last operated in September 2008.

The test runs were intended to break in the locomotive and test all appliances and systems before No. 261 takes to the main line again on May 11-12, when it will pull an inaugural excursion from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minn. on BNSF Railway. The locomotive made frequent stops for inspection and lubrication during the tests. Friends of the 261 Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg tells Trains News Wire the tests were “extremely successful.” The steam locomotive made a 120-mile round trip over TC&W’s former Milwaukee road main line, where No. 261 once operated during its 10 years of regular service from 1944 to 1954. The locomotive led westbound, then ran around the train in Glencoe and headed tender-first back to Minneapolis.

Alco built the 4-8-4 in 1944, part of an order for 10 locomotives that were the last steam power purchased by the Milwaukee Road. The railroad would have preferred to order diesels, but World War II production restrictions prohibited that. Retired in 1954, it was donated to the National Railroad Museum of Green Bay, Wis. in 1956 as its first exhibit locomotive. In 1992 No. 261 was leased to North Star Rail, Inc., then a for-profit group that rebuilt the engine for excursion service. No. 261 made its first excursion trips in September 1993, running over Wisconsin Central from North Fond du Lac to Stevens Point and Junction City, Wis. In 1995 the non-profit Friends of the 261 took over management of the locomotive, which it operated on at least one excursion per year until No. 261 came due for its federally mandated inspection in September 2008.

A dispute over a lease renewal between the museum and the Friends nearly sidelined the engine permanently, but in May 2010 the museum agreed to sell the locomotive to the Friends. The rebuild effort then kicked into high gear, and the engine was steamed up for the first time in four years on Sept. 29, 2012.

Milwaukee Road No. 261 will pull its inaugural excursion on May 11-12, when it will operate a 300-mile round trip over BNSF Railway’s ex-Great Northern Railway main line from Minneapolis to Duluth.

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