Author Archives: Justin Young

UP 9001

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In December 2017 the Friends of the 261 purchased two dome cars from Canadian National. The cars are former Western Pacific California Zephyr dome coach Silver Palace and former Union Pacific dome coach observation No. 9001. The cars were last used on Canadian National’s Algoma Central Railway Agawa Canyon Tour Train. CN gained ownership of the cars when it acquired Wisconsin Central and subsidiary Algoma Central in 2001.

The Algoma Central car was one of 15 dome blunt-end observation cars ordered by Union Pacific from American Car & Foundry. UP received the car in February 1955 and assigned it to the City of Los Angeles. It was sold to Auto-Train in 1972 and renumbered 901. In late 1981, it was sold to a dealer, then in 1982 was sold to the Green Bay & Western Railroad for use as a business car. WC acquired the GB&W in 1993, and in 1997 the car was moved to Algoma Central.

UP 9001 underwent an extensive overhaul, from new electrical panels to new walls. New laminate floors were installed, as were new dome windows and booth seating for 32 passengers in the dome. Many items were found throughout the car during the renovation, including long hidden railing lights for the steps that lead up to the dome. The old diesel boiler was removed and replace with electric heating, and many electrical outlets were installed throughout the car. Lighting was carefully and meticulously cleaned and the majority of the lights were changed to LED.

The UP 9001 was purchased by the Adirondack Scenic Railroad and is now listed as ADIX #9001.









PTC Could End Mainline Steam Excursions

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Now that we have your attention we want you to know how critical PTC is to the future operations of the 261. Without it operating a steam powered passenger excursion train on any mainline will not happen.

Positive Train Control, PTC, federal mandate becomes effective December 31, 2018.

For a technology that matures daily and while the FRA has not made the final ruling regarding steam locomotive operations relying on waivers is not a long term solution.

PTC is designed to monitor speed and location of a train and can override the controls, reduce the throttle and apply the brakes in an emergency situation such as an immanent collision, incapacitated crew, missed signal or misaligned switch. The adaptation for steam is challenging with the requirement of a programmable on board computer, server for information access, dedicated power source with redundant backup power, monitors,and wayside monitoring system all being installed in the dirty unclimate controlled environment of the steam locomotive cab. Additionally being capable of interoperability between the different host railroads PTC technology and software systems. Then adding an element of electronic mechanical throttle and braking control over a manually operated system of a steam locomotive.

The cost of implementing PTC nationwide is in the billions.

The Friends of the 261 assessment of the scope and cost to retrofit the locomotive with PTC means we are tasked with approximately $150,000 for the parts, equipment and technical know-how to install and operate the associated components.

With this in mind the Friends have been working with the FRA, other mainline steam operators, potential host railroads, and suppliers on how to adapt PTC to steam operations.

The Friends have identified and applied for several grants to help with this new cost burden but now our fund raising must start in earnest as it is our responsibility to raise and allocate this major sum for the implementation of PTC in addition to our existing operational and ongoing mechanical, maintenance costs associated with operating the 261 annually.

Sales of Steam passenger excursions, Windy City trips, private car rentals, North Pole Express events and donations are essential to help with this funding effort.
The Friends of the 261 will absolutely need the support of every member if the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive is to continue to operate mainline excursions beyond 2018.

We are counting on everyone to help! Click here to help keep mainline steam operating today by donating!

Northern (On)Lines! – July 2015

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Northern (On)Lines!

Welcome to the first edition of Northern (On)Lines! We’re planning this short email newsletter to keep members and friends informed about what’s happening with the Friends of the 261 on a timelier basis. We’ll try to get it out monthly, but you know how Minnesota summers can be – busy – so bear with us if we don’t make it every month while it’s warm.May and June have been exciting months running special charter trips to Chicago in May (twice!) and our trip to Ireland. If you want to check out updates from our Ireland steam tour, check out our Facebook Page

We are still awaiting the go ahead on where our 261 steam specials will be going on Oct. 10-11. Please keep those dates open – you will have a train to ride, we just don’t know where yet!Have a great summer, and see you soon!


Steve Sandberg
Friends of the 261

Restoration of Lamberts Point Under Way

We have begun restoration work on Norfolk & Western business car Lamberts Point at our Minneapolis Junction shop. We intend to restore the car to its original appearance as an N&W business car. We’ve started this effort by removing the newer modern roof, which has exposed the original clerestory roof underneath. We intended to repair and restore the roof to its original appearance, plus do a lot of updates and other repairs before repainting and lettering the car for N&W. As always donations are needed for this effort, so feel free to make a donation at

Windy City Express trains a hit with passengers

We had two sellout weekends in May for the Windy City Express charters from St. Paul to Chicago. Three cars were used on the trips behind Amtrak’s Empire Builder: baggage car No. 2450, Milwaukee Road Super Dome No. 53, and Milwaukee Road Skytop parlor lounge observation Cedar Rapids. We recently completed a lot of exterior sheet metal work on Super Dome 53 and then repainted the car. It really looked sharp rolling down the old Milwaukee Road main line! We had many nice comments from passengers, such as this one:

“My two daughters and I recently rode and REALLY enjoyed your Windy City excursion from St. Paul to Chicago.” – David Bier
Keeping our passengers happy is what it’s all about!

“London Calling II” this fall, South America this winter

Our next international tour kicks off this September with a tour to the United Kingdom beginning Sept. 13. The tour will include several heritage steam railways, as well as main line steam excursions pulled by Duchess, Royal Scot or Coronation Class passenger locomotives. We have arranged a trip 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. After over a week of steam action, we return to the United States on Sept. 20. There is still space available for this tour so if you’d like to come along check out or call 651-688-7320.
This winter the 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. We are still working out the details of this tour but it will include a steam train trip and museum tour in Colombia. In Ecuador we will ride the luxurious Tren Crucero down to Guayaquil, dropping 10,000 feet on our journey including a steep drop descending Devil’s Nose. We are working on a tour of the locomotive shops and a charter over a portion of the FerroCentral (FCCA) Railway in Peru. Keep an eye on our web site and futures issues of Northern Lines for information on this tour as we work out the details.

Windy City Weekends May 2015

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The Friends of the 261 operated the “Windy City Express” round trips from St. Paul to Chicago on two weekends in May 2015 behind Amtrak’s Empire Builder. Three cars were used: 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 were painted in Milwaukee Road’s original orange and maroon passenger car colors. This was a homecoming for two of the cars, since the Skytop and Super Dome were part of the consist of the Milwaukee Road’s Twin Cities Hiawathas, which operated between Chicago and Minneapolis on this route.

This was 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 bring the car back to its original appearance. The car was built in 1948 by the Milwaukee Road at its Milwaukee Shops.

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2015 National Train Day

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The Friends of the 261 and BNSF Railway teamed up to participate in the annual Amtrak Train Day at the Union Depot in St. Paul on May 9, 2015. BNSF ES44C4 No. 8143 pulled the Friends business car Lamberts Point, baggage car 2450, Super Dome 53 and Skytop Cedar Rapids from Minneapolis Junction to the Union Depot on the morning of May 9. Nearly 5,000 visitors came to the depot that day, and had a chance to walk through the four cars, as well as buy souvenirs in the 2450. The BNSF locomotive was on display at the head of the train, and took the cars back to Minneapolis at the end of the festivities.

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Old locomotive’s trip to Duluth pays tribute to longtime volunteer.

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Judy Sandberg was the backbone of the Friends of the 261, a nonprofit group that owns and operates a rebuilt steam locomotive and its fleet of historic cars.

Sandberg volunteered daily for nearly 25 years for the Minneapolis-based group. As administrator, she handled most ticketing, marketing, and other advance work for excursions in the United States and Canada. She sold T-shirts and souvenirs and ran the concession car, too.

She was, for many, the face of the Friends of the 261, which educates the public about Midwest railroading in its golden era. The restored train has been used not only by leisurely riders, but for weddings, presidential campaigns and movies, too.

Sandberg, of Shore­view, died at home Sept. 17 after a yearlong fight with pancreatic cancer. She was 72.

“She was a well-known, colorful figure in our little clique,” said her husband of 52 years, Frank Sandberg. “You can’t believe the e-mails, cards and stuff we’re getting from all over the world. She’s known internationally.”

Friday, volunteers finished readying No. 261 for a ride that Judy dearly wanted to join, and had helped arrange — a weekend excursion to Duluth to see autumn colors.

The coal-fired locomotive was pulled up outside a shop off Harrison Street in northeast Minneapolis, with cars hooked up to carry 375 passengers plus 70 volunteer crew members. Several spoke of how much they’d miss Judy Sandberg. One was volunteer Don Crimmins, a retired Amtrak trainmaster from Chicago.

“In our hearts — ” he started to say, with Sandberg’s daughter, Cathie Walker, finishing the sentence: “she’s on board.”

Pioneers in rail preservation, Frank and Judy Sandberg became founding members in 1963 of the Minnesota Transportation Museum. In the 1970s, they were instrumental in creating the Tourist Railway Association, which united recreational railroads for mutual support.

The couple also helped establish and build the Como-Harriet Streetcar line in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They were crew members on its debut run in August 1971.

As for the world-famous No. 261, Judy Sandberg and eight members of her family have volunteered as it has chugged more than 60,000 miles in 22 states since 1993.

“She thought it was the most wonderful thing in the world, very satisfying and that all of us would have the same interest,” Frank Sandberg said of the family’s shared passion.

His father, Frank Sandberg Sr., was a locomotive engineer for the Milwaukee Road for 52 years, until 1970, and often ran the 261. Judy and Frank’s son, Steven Sandberg, was the primary consultant for a team that rebuilt the locomotive after it was moved from a railroad museum in Green Bay in 1991.

Known for taking no guff, Judy Sandberg reigned over the concession car, a converted 1950s art-deco baggage car. With public safety at stake, she mastered “a very fine balance” between being social and no-nonsense, Walker said.

“She was the heart and soul of what really made it work; Steve just runs the engine,” Walker said with a laugh.

Judy met Frank as they sang in the Roosevelt High School choir. They married in 1962, had a daughter and son, and traveled the world. Frank Sandberg’s love of railroading became one for Judy.

Friday, in the tiny train bedroom where Frank Sandberg slept, he carefully placed atop a bureau a small mahogany box engraved with an Irish blessing their granddaughter used to sing. The box holds his wife’s ashes.

It was Judy’s last ride.

Article by: JOY POWELL , Star Tribune Updated: September 27, 2014 - 9:38 PM

Cedar Rapids Restoration

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Steve Glischinski
Shoreview, MN
MINNEAPOLIS – Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 was steamed up Sept. 13 for the first time since October 2013. Friends of the 261 Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg told Trains News Wire the engine was being steamed to do required federal checks, and to prepare it for an excursion from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minn., Sept. 27-28.

The nonprofit group owns the 4-8-4, built by Alco in 1944. On Saturday the engine moved back and forth along the tracks at the group’s shop in northeast Minneapolis. New brake equipment was installed, and several checks were made to be sure the engine would be ready for the upcoming trips.

The Friends of the 261 is also working on its fleet of passenger cars. Former Milwaukee Road business car Milwaukee has been repainted by the Northern Plains Railroad at its shop in Fordville, N.D. The short line had been using the car on several trips and agreed to repaint it in Milwaukee Road orange and maroon passenger colors. On Saturday Friends volunteers applied Milwaukee Road lettering and striping to the car. While the Milwaukee is fully operational, it is not yet Amtrak compatible and will not be making the trip to Duluth.

However, Skytop lounge observation Cedar Rapids will be bringing up the rear of the excursion train to Duluth following an extensive rebuilding to its “as built” condition. Under the supervision of the Friends Justin Young, all carpeting was replaced with new material using the original design used by the Milwaukee Road when the car was built in at the Milwaukee Shops in 1948.

All parlor car seats in the car were disassembled, repaired and reupholstered to match their original color. Metal parts of the seats were also repainted their original colors. The entire ceiling in the car was replaced along with the curved side panels above the luggage racks that had water stains and badly damaged wood. Any damaged wood was replaced and restored to its original colors.

The rear Mars light was repaired, including overhauling the machinery that allows the light to completely rotate. In one position the light blinks red, then when it is rotated around it shines white. The area around the light was re-chromed, and near both entry doors new chrome raised “Running Indian” Hiawatha logos were placed on the car sides. The exterior of the car then received a fresh coat of orange and maroon.

Restoration work progressing on Milwaukee Road Skytop ‘Cedar Rapids’

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By Steve Glischinski
Published: January 31, 2014

MINNEAPOLIS – The Friends of the 261 are progressing on the restoration of former Milwaukee Road Skytop parlor lounge observation car Cedar Rapids. The car, built by the Milwaukee Road at its Milwaukee Shops in 1948, is undergoing a complete overhaul. The lounge area at the rear of the car is unique since it is 90 percent glass, with multiple rows of windows reaching up to form the ceiling. This solarium contains 12 seats, with an additional 24 seats in the interior of the car. The interior also features wood paneling, characteristic of Milwaukee Road designs

Designed by famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens, the Cedar Rapids was one of four parlor observations cars that entered service in 1948 on the Twin Cities Hiawathas between Chicago and the Twin Cities. Stevens also designed six sleeper Skytop observations for the Chicago-Seattle/Tacoma Olympian Hiawatha. One of those cars, the Coffee Creek, was recently was moved to Alamosa, Colo., for restoration, and is the only intact sleeper Skytop. Three of the parlor observations survive, but the Cedar Rapids is the only car that is operable.

The Skytop is a favorite of the passengers on Milwaukee Road No. 261 steam excursions, and also makes several charter moves on Amtrak each year. It traveled coast-to-coast in September 2013 as part of the Station-to-Station artists’ train.

This winter, the car was pulled into the group’s shop in Minneapolis for restoration. The trucks were removed for an Amtrak-mandated 10-year inspection. The wheels were also removed and sent to Chicago for turning and inspection.

Most of the windows in the rear of the car are being removed and 14 new custom-made, FRA type 1 windows will be installed. Four new oval-shaped side windows will also be installed. These are that last windows in the car that had not been upgraded to the newest standards. The windows were custom made from original Milwaukee Road blueprints that were fed into a computer CAD program to get the proper size and shape. This also required the group to custom make new gaskets to hold the windows in place. This required manufacture of the proper die to extrude the new rubber gasket, and was accomplished by working closely with a rubber company in Ohio that made the new gaskets. Once all the new windows are installed, the entire car will be sanded and repainted in Milwaukee Road orange and maroon colors with new lettering and pin striping.

The interior of the car will also see major work. All carpeting will be replaced, and the parlor seats reupholstered. The group was able to find the company that originally manufactured the carpet for the

Milwaukee Road. The company still had the original design in its archives, so the group placed a $12,000 order to get the replacement carpet manufactured. This order will also give the organization enough carpet to redo other cars in its fleet.

The parlor car chairs are being returned to their as-manufactured appearance. Looking at historical documentation, it was determined that the original chairs were a rust color, not the teal or greenish blue color that the chairs currently have. More research determined that the teal seats were used in the Milwaukee Road’s Valley series of mid-train parlor cars.

More research revealed that when the car was retired from regular service in 1970, the original seats had been removed, possibly in preparation for scrapping. Instead the car was sold, and apparently the railroad installed a set of Valley series parlor chair seats and cushions from its stores. Further evidence of this was uncovered when the parlor chairs were removed during restoration. On the bottom of each seat base could be seen the original brown paint; the seat bases had been painted to match the seat cushions.

After removing all of the parlor chairs, the group decided to paint the ceiling of the car, and repair some water stains that popped up several years ago. Workers and volunteers discovered the ceiling was covered with about 10 coats of paint. Rather than sanding and stripping it, it was determined that it would look much better to remove and replace the entire ceiling. In addition, the curved side panels above the luggage racks had water stains and the wood was badly damaged from years of service, so those are being replaced as well.

The Friends of the 261 have raised about $30,000 for the work needed on the Cedar Rapids, but the group estimates the total cost of the project will be $62,000. It is seeking donations to finish the work. Donations can be made at or by mail to the Friends of the 261, 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, MN 55126.

Photos of restoration progress



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Friend’s car fleet travels cross-country on “Station to Station” artist train

“Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening” an Avant-garde traveling music, film, and art extravaganza hired the Friends of the 261 to assemble an assortment of cars that traveled cross-country in September. The nine-car train carried artists and their work from New York to Oakland, Calif., with stops in New York City, Pittsburgh; Chicago; St. Paul; Kansas City, Mo.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Winslow Ariz.; Barstow, Calif.; and Oakland.

Friends of the 261 cars used on the trips were parlors St. Croix Valley and Wisconsin Valley, sleeper Minnesota River, Super Dome 53, Skytop Cedar Rapids and business car Lamberts Point. Three more cars were leased from other companies including baggage car Taos, parlor car Mojave, and sleeper Silver Quail.

Multimedia artist Doug Aitkin conceived the project as not only showcasing artists’ existing talent, but also having them create new work and share it with the public using social media as the train made its way between cities. Sponsors invested millions to underwrite the nomadic art and music exhibit; money that included special equipment installed several of Friends cars.

The cars did not host displays, and were not accessible to most attendees. Instead, the train attempted to provide a creative environment during the daytime trips between venues while transporting the art in the baggage car. For the event, parlor chairs in Skytop observation lounge Cedar Rapids were decked out in eye-popping upholstery, which was kept in place for 261’s excursions in October. In parlor car Wisconsin Valley, chairs were removed to outfit a complete sound studio used by musicians and noted pioneering electronic music producer Georgio Moroder to capture sounds from the passing landscape to be played at the shows.

Also on board was a complete editing suite to process video from the performances and transmission gear to feed social media throughout the trip, including a 1901 Underwood 5 typewriter outfitted with electronics to send Twitter messages from the train. The temporary transformations of the cars will help fund the maintenance of Milwaukee Road No. 261 and the car fleet.

One of the most interesting additions were six rows of miniature LED lights which streamed in colored patterns above and below the window line across most of the train on the engineer’s side. Created by Aitkin, the array was described as “a moving light sculpture” that “reacts in real-time to the train’s velocity, creating an undulating visual map that moves in concert with the train itself.” The effect was dazzling, but because the train traveled mostly in daytime, people were able to observe it only when the cars were parked for the evening at a publically accessible location. The lighting was removed from the Friends cars when they returned to Minneapolis.

Once the Station to Station journey was completed, the Friends cars returned to the Twin Cities on Amtrak trains, with space on the moves being sold to generate more revenue. The Cedar Rapids, St. Croix Valley, and leased cars Mohave and Silver Quail departed Emeryville, Calif., on the California Zephyr Oct. 1, arriving in Chicago on Oct. 3. The two Friends cars moved to St. Paul the next day on the Empire Builder. The Wisconsin Valley, Super Dome 53, Minnesota River and Lamberts Point left Oakland for Portland, Ore., on the Coast Starlight Sept. 30, arriving in Portland Oct. 1. The cars departed Portland the next day on the Empire Builder, arriving in St. Paul on Oct. 4.

Bonton Model Shoot

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September 2013, the Friends of the 261 opened the Cedar Rapids up to Bonton to use as a background for their fall catalog. Their theme for the fall catalog was Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Among the Cedar Rapids where many vintage aircraft and cars.