Author Archives: Justin Young

2018 – September – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Frank E. Sandberg, Jr.


One of the founders of the Friends of the 261, Frank E. Sandberg Jr. passed away June 13 at age 77. Together with his wife Judy (who died in 2014), Frank founded the Friends of the 261 in the early 1990s as restoration of Milwaukee Road No. 261 got underway.

Frank was an early activist in rail preservation and father of Friends of the 261’s President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg. He and Judy were founding members of the Minnesota Transportation Museum in 1962, which preserved and operated Twin City Rapid Transit Co. streetcar No. 1300. He was also a founding member of the Tourist Railway Association, and went on to serve as museum president during the 1980s, where he spearheaded the rebuilding and return to operation of Northern Pacific 4-6-0 No. 328.

Born Sept. 2, 1941, Frank E. Sandberg Jr. was his given name, but for those who knew him well, it was “Sandy.” He was born into a railroad family: his father, Frank Sr., was an engineer for the Milwaukee Road for 53 years, running trains between Minneapolis and La Crosse, Wis. His father often took his son to work, and he got to ride several classes of Milwaukee Road steam. As he grew older his interest in railroading increased, and with his high school sweetheart Judy Casey they photographed steam locomotives around the country, with Judy driving the car while Frank made photographs. After their marriage daughter Cathie and son Steve were born, with Steve picking up his father’s interest in railroading.

In the early 1990s Steve and several private investors formed North Star Rail Inc. to restore No. 261, which was on display at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wis. The engine was moved to Minneapolis for rebuilding, and Frank served as a sounding board and mentor for his son as the rebuilding process went forward. The Friends was formed by Frank and Judy to serve as a support group for 261 operations, and in 1995 took over direct marketing and operation of the 4-8-4. The Friends purchased the locomotive from the museum in 2010.

The Friends was based out of the Sandberg’s home, where a special telephone line was installed so passengers could call in to ask questions and order tickets. A mechanical engineer by trade, Sandberg would hand draw passenger seating charts for excursion trains, and Frank and Judy would organize and mail out tickets for each excursion. He greeted passengers as they arrived at Minneapolis Jct. for steam trips, as the unofficial head of parking. He was aboard virtually every 261 trip, frequently riding in the cab.

Friends of the 261 trips were Sandberg family affairs that included Frank, Judy and Steve, daughter Cathie and various grandchildren and in-laws working in the concession car and providing first class service. Cathie caught the railroad bug as well: she works for railroad maintenance equipment and services provider Loram Maintenance of Way, Inc.

A successful businessman, Sandberg began his career as a draftsman and moved on to be a design engineer for Remmele Engineering in St. Paul, Minn. In 1983 he and fellow Remmele employee Darrel Johnson started engineering and manufacturing company Con-Tek Machine. Sandberg would work with his son on engineering and machinery issues that would come up with No. 261, and parts and even boiler tubes from No. 261 and other steam locomotives were sometimes stored at Con-Tek. Sandberg retired and sold the company in 2015.

Frank and Judy helped support restoration projects for railroad heritage organizations including Minnesota Transportation Museum; the Minnesota Streetcar Museum, a spin-off created in 2005 where he was member No. 3; the Lake Superior Railroad Museum; and, of course, Friends of the 261.

With the success of his business, Frank and Judy were able to travel the world, riding trains on several continents, often bringing their children and their families along. An avid wine collector, he maintained an extensive collection of wine at his home.
Sandberg’s railroad legacy is large, but if you asked what he was most proud of, he would say “family.”

No. 261 to pull Gourmet Express

The Friends of the 261 will operate excursions pulled by Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 on the Twin Cities & Western Railroad Sept. 8-9. The locomotive has traveled the route several times before, so the Friends have come up with a different strategy to attract passengers – gourmet food and dining.

The Friends hope to tap into the growing number of people that look for unusual food and wine events. For them, the attraction is being able to experience fine food, wine, and cocktails on board a moving train. As such, the train has been named the Gourmet Express. Any money earned from the trips will go toward equipping No. 261 with positive train control equipment.

The Friends will have chefs on board the train to prepare meals, and is contacting wine makers to conduct wine tastings. The train will be made up mostly of first class cars, along with coaches and the Friends two open door baggage/concession cars. The schedule reflects the dining theme. Rather than leaving early in the morning, the Sept. 8 train will depart at 1 p.m. and return at 8 p.m. so passengers can enjoy afternoon and evening meals. On Sept. 9 the train will depart Minneapolis at 10:30 a.m. returning at 5 p.m. offering a brunch during the trip. The trains will go as far west as time allows, probably to the Glencoe area.

The train will include Premium Class, Dome Class, Presidential Class, First Class, and coach seating. Premium Class includes seating in Milwaukee Road Skytop observation car Cedar Rapids. Dome Class features seating in Milwaukee Road Super Dome 53 or newly restored Western Pacific ex-California Zephyr Budd dome Silver Palace, making its first excursion trip. Premium Class also includes complimentary meals, hors d’oeuvres, beverages and reserved seating, while First Class includes complimentary meals, snacks and beverages in lounge cars. Presidential Class features seating in former railroad business cars Lamberts Point or Milwaukee.

The Twin Cities & Western main line was once the route of Milwaukee Road’s famed Olympian Hiawatha that traveled from Chicago and the Twin Cities to Seattle/Tacoma. No. 261 operated over this trackage when it was in regular service for the Milwaukee Road between 1944 and 1954. The trips will head west from Minneapolis through Hopkins, Norwood, and Glencoe with No. 261 leading, but since there is nowhere to turn the steam locomotive a TC&W diesel will pull the train east to Minneapolis.

Tickets for the trips can be purchased at The Friends previously scheduled a positive train control fund-raising trip from Minneapolis to Duluth over BNSF Railway on June 9-10, but was forced to cancel the trip when Amtrak changed its charter train policy earlier this year.

Positive Train Control and Milwaukee Road 261

by Erik Hoofnagle

If Milwaukee Road 261 is going to have a future pulling main line excursions, it must be equipped with Positive Train Control, or PTC. Why? After a series of deadly accidents, Congress mandated that US railroads equip their main lines with PTC, a computer controlled system designed to automatically stop a train before certain accidents occur. In particular, PTC is designed to prevent train-to-train collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, and train movements through misaligned track switches.

The Federal mandate for PTC is December 2018. Without funding to purchase, install and train for PTC’s use on 261, mainline excursions might never run again.

After months of planning and logistics, the Friends of the 261 are offering the Gourmet Express trips on Sept. 8-9 as a fund-raiser for PTC installation. A portion of the cost of each ticket along with additional donations can make the installation and operation of PTC possible.

Addressing this federally mandated technological adaptation is critical to the continued operation of the 261. With PTC installation cost estimates in the hundreds of thousands of dollars we have our work cut out for us.

The Friends of the 261 have always been the industry leader in overcoming obstacles associated with running mainline steam excursions. With your generous contribution you can assure 261’s continued mainline operation.

If you cannot travel with us in September, you can still donate to the 261 Positive Train Control installation fund by going to our Donation page.

Amtrak changes charter train, private car policy

In March, Amtrak abruptly changed its charter train and private car policies that had been in place for decades. The new policy virtually eliminated special charter trains and severely restricted movements of private railroad cars on Amtrak. Amtrak gave no prior warning about its announcement, even though the Friends of the 261 has worked with Amtrak for over a decade on special train movements. Amtrak had approved a Positive Train Control trip to Duluth in June, then withdrew its approval with the new policy.

According to Amtrak, the rationale to stop charter excursions was prompted by relatively slim profit margins on those operations for Amtrak and their impact on the schedules of Amtrak’s own trains. However, the Duluth trip was on a non-Amtrak route and could not have delayed any Amtrak trains.

Amtrak receives subsidies from U.S. taxpayers on a yearly basis. In 2016 it received over $1.3 billion in subsidies. In legislation approved by Congress in 2008, Amtrak was encouraged by statute to operate special trains to minimize the need for Federal subsidies.

“It is important to note that our non-profit alone has paid Amtrak over $2.5 million over the years, said Steve Sandberg, president and chief operating officer of the Friends of the 261. “Amtrak and the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners have told me that special trains and private cars generate $10 million in revenue each year and the net profit is about $6 million. This is $6 million that contributes to the reduction in Federal taxpayer subsidies each year paid to Amtrak,” Sandberg said.

Railroad heritage groups across the United States decried Amtrak’s decision. Cancellation of the special trains left many non-profit historical societies with passengers who have purchased tickets and made travel arrangements and then had no train to ride. In addition many groups have invested millions of dollars to update their passenger cars to Amtrak standards and can no longer operate them.

Over the last 15 years the Friends of the 261 has invested over $8 million in upgrading equipment to meet Amtrak mechanical standards. Car owners have employees, contractors, and vendors who will be left jobless and mechanical and storage facilities will be shuttered.

The decision is also a blow to cities and towns that have served as destinations for the trains. In Duluth, the Lake Superior Railroad Museum will be impacted. Ken Buehler, executive director of the Lake Superior Museum said the museum has lost both the 261 trip and the annual convention of the American Association of Private Railroad Car Owners (AAPRCO) in September. Between those two trains the railroad museum will lose somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000.

The public will be deprived of an opportunity to see vintage rail cars and locomotives in operation, a testimony to a vital part of American history, Sandberg said. The introduction of railroading and train travel to young people and a public that’s largely forgotten that railroads exist will be lost.

The Friends of the 261 is asking members to contact your Senators and members of Congress to press Amtrak to reverse its decision. To locate contact information for your representatives go to

Russia steam tour nearly sold out

The Friends of the 261 is sponsoring a steam-focused tour of Russia in autumn 2018. The trip was announced on the 261 website, and only a handful of tickets remain.

The tour will feature 21 different steam locomotives covering 3,500 miles on a journey from Moscow to the North Caucasus and the Black Sea coast. The trip will operate Sept. 28 to Oct. 12, 2018.

Steam locomotives on the tour will include double-headed 4-8-4s on several segments, a Kizlyar LV 2-10-2, double-headed 2-10-2s and 2-10-0s, single and double-headed 2-6-2s, double-headed 0-10-2s, a narrow gauge diesel, even a 0-6-0. In total, 21 locomotives are scheduled for the tour.

The trip will begin in Moscow, with the first excursion pulled by a P36 Class 4-8-4 steam locomotive, Russia’s final steam passenger design and Europe’s largest steam locomotive. The special train will head south to the Volga at Saratov and Astrakhan on the Caspian Sea. The tour then heads west along the Caucasus Mountains to Grozniyy, Chechnya’s capital and Vladikavkaz, capital of adjacent North Ossetia.

The tour also visits the areas of Pyatigorsk and Kislovodsk – favorite resorts for the leaders of the Soviet Union.

The private train includes Golden Eagle en-suite sleeping accommodations, Heritage accommodations, and lounge and restaurant cars. There is only one “Gold Class Suite” available on the trip. The price for this suite has been discounted $4000 from retail price.

For booking and more information call 651-688-7320 or e-mail

Mini-Hiawatha operates in Pacific Northwest

It’s been 56 years since the Milwaukee Road’s Olympian Hiawatha rolled its last miles through the Cascade Mountains of Washington State, but on Jan. 27, 2018, a “mini-Hiawatha” rolled through the same mountain range – but on a different route.

The Friends of the 261 provided four cars for a special charter Amtrak train that operated from Seattle to Whitefish, Mont., via BNSF Railway’s ex-Great Northern line through the Cascades, also used by Amtrak’s Empire Builder. A musician chartered the special train for a birthday celebration.

The train included an Amtrak unit and four cars, all painted in Milwaukee Road orange-and-maroon passenger colors. The Friends cars departed St. Paul on Amtrak’s Empire Builder on Jan. 22, with space sold on the cars during the ferry move. This was one of longest charter trips ever operated by the Friends, and is unusual since it was a charter in winter when the cars are normally stored.

Friends receives $30,000 PTC grant from Emery Trust

In April the Emery Rail Heritage Trust awarded the Friends of the 261 and the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society each $30,000 grants for the installation of Positive Train Control on their steam locomotives. The money will be used to kick-start the groups individual fundraising efforts to cover the estimated $120,000 for PTC implementation.

The trust was established by the late John H. Emery, a Chicago resident and avid railroad enthusiast who wanted to preserve rolling stock and infrastructure so that future generations could enjoy what he considered to be the Golden Age of Railroads from the 1920 to 1960.

“We are grateful to The Emery Rail Heritage Trust for this very kind contribution. We look forward to working with the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society and sharing information on how best to solve this challenge facing our non-profit groups,” said Steve Sandberg, President & Chief Operating Officer of Friends of the 261.

The Friends is currently working with Wabtec Railway Electronics to perform an assessment on how PTC will be installed on 261.
“We are hopeful that various suppliers of PTC equipment will see our non-profit organizations as worthy causes to help in this process,” Sandberg added.

2017 North Pole Express: another success

Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 pulled the 4th annual North Pole Express at the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul in November and December. The trips have become a holiday tradition for thousands. The 2017 version of the Express operated Nov. 30-Dec. 3 and Dec. 7-10 with multiple runs each day carrying over 10,000 passengers.

The North Pole Express offers a 60-minute train ride on the Union Depot grounds. After departing the depot platform, the trains travel to the east end of the depot property to Santa’s Workshop, a structure built by Friends volunteers. Santa boards the train and collects letters written to him by passengers. He visits with each child on the trip back to the depot, then volunteers offer children cookies and hot cocoa in the depot on their return.

Passengers now enjoy a slightly longer ride because depot owner Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority extended the tail track on the east end of the depot property by 251 feet in 2016.

Special trains also operated. On Dec. 1 and Dec. 7 trips for the Minnesota Wild/Ronald McDonald House were operated. On Dec. 8 a trip ran for North Pole Express sponsors, and Dec. 9 another special trip was made for sponsor Bell Bank. The same day, Metro Transit operated a Northstar commuter train to the depot from Big Lake, Minn. and intermediate points.

Sponsors for the 2017 North Pole Express included BNSF Railway, Bell Bank Mortgage, Broadway Pizza, Hilltop Carrier and RV, JJL, ReMax Advantage Plus, Trademark Title Services, Inc., and Union Depot.

Plans are already underway for the 2018 version of the North Pole Express during the upcoming holiday season.

Friends of the 261 traveling to Scotland in May 2019

2019The Friends of the 261 will be sponsoring a once a once in a lifetime holiday in Scotland in May 2019. This 10-day Holiday, which will take place May 8-17 includes truly spectacular Scottish Highland Scenery. We will travel by steam train in private luxury rail cars and stay in four and five-star hotels. The tour allows for plenty of private time to sightsee and will offer extra guided tours of some of Scotland’s most famous attractions.

Our steam power will be the world famous 4-6-2 “Flying Scotsman” and Class B1 “Mayflower.” This is the first time “Flying Scotsman” has been to Northern Scotland since its overhaul. In Fort William passengers will enjoy the Jacobite Railway and travel by steam locomotive over the Glenfinnan Viaduct made famous in the movie “Harry Potter” to the sea side village of Mallaig. Among the trip highlights are:
* Leaving from London we join the Flying Scotsman in York to travel on a beautiful stretch of railway including vistas such as Durham Cathedral, the Angel of the North, Holy Island and over the Royal Border Bridge into Edinburgh.
* Locomotive B Class 4-6-0 Mayflower will take us north across the beautiful scenery to the famous castle of Dunrobin. There will be time to explore the magnificent castle and grounds, home to the Earls of Caithness. The Mayflower will also haul the train on one of the great railway journeys of the world across the highlands with breathtaking scenery along the West Coast to the Kyle of Lochalsh.

Click here for more information.

2018 – Car Shop Report Summer

Category : Uncategorized

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 Algoma Central dome coach observation. The cars were last used on CN’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 former WP car was named Silver Palace and numbered 813 when the Budd Co. delivered it to Western Pacific in 1948. It remained in Zephyr service until the train was discontinued in 1970, then was sold to Auto-Train. It went through a succession of owners, and was leased to several operators before WC bought the car in 1998. Among the work being done on the car are all new dome windows, removing paint and a red painted band from the side of the car, replacing damaged side windows, head end power repairs, Amtrak certification updates, generator rebuilding, electrical clean ups and updates, servicing of the plumbing system, service and repair HVAC system, new window sills, new custom ordered carpet (like what is currently in Skytop Cedar Rapids but blue), and LED lighting upgrades. The car will make its debut on the Gourmet Express in September.

The Algoma Central car was one 15 of the 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

With the addition of the two cars, the Friends now own cars built by the three major dome car builders: American Car & Foundry, Budd Co., and Pullman Standard. The Friends has owned P-S built Milwaukee Road Super Dome No. 53 since 2005.


PTC Could End Mainline Steam Excursions

Category : Uncategorized

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!

2018 Dues Notice and Appeal

Category : Uncategorized

It’s dues time again for the Friends of the 261, but before I speak briefly about our activities and goals, I want to say thank you to all our members and friends for your generous support over the years. Thanks to your dues and donations, we’ve been able to keep 261 in operation, update our car fleet, and buy new cars such as the recently acquired buffet/diner Henry Hudson.

I also have exciting news for you: we have purchased two dome cars from Canadian National! The cars are former Western Pacific California Zephyr dome coach Spirit of Superior and Algoma Central dome coach observation 901. The cars were last used on CN’s Algoma Central Railway. The WP car was named Silver Palace and was delivered to Western Pacific by the Budd Co. in 1948. It is Amtrak compatible and will enter service in 2018. The ACR car is a blunt end dome observation built for Union Pacific by American Car & Foundry in 1955. It will need some work before entering service.

In addition to the dome car purchase, there were several other exciting developments for your organization in 2017. Among the highlights were:

  • Operating No. 261 on the Red River Valley & Western Railroad to celebrate their 30th Anniversary, the first time 261 has run on RRVW
  • Fall Colors excursions with No. 261 on Twin Cities & Western and Minnesota Prairie Line
  • Operated our annual North Pole Express trips at St. Paul Union Depot carrying over 10,000 passengers
  • Acquired buffet-diner Henry Hudson
  • Completed the rebuilding of dome car Silver Club for the Lake Superior Railroad Museum
  • Ran three “Windy City” charters on Amtrak from St. Paul to Chicago
  • Continued our successful international tours with a visit to Ireland. Two more tours, to Germany and the Czech Republicand to Russia are planned in 2018
  • Overhauled sleeper Minnesota River with new sheet metal, partial repainting, updated the air brake system and performed the mandatory Amtrak truck roll out inspection
  • Sent several passenger cars to West Virginia to operate on New River Train excursions
  • Completed roof repairs to Milwaukee Road business car “Milwaukee” with new metal topped with a rubber truck bend liner coating
  • Performed required Amtrak repairs including new wheels under privately owned dome car Northern Sky.
  • Installed firebox grates from Union Pacific Big Boy No. 4014 in No. 261 to replace older grates that had worn out or were damaged by heat.

These are just a few of the activities the Friends of the 261 undertook in 2017. As you can imagine, keeping 261 under steam and maintaining our expanding car fleet to meet Amtrak standards is very expensive. For example, the new rubber truck bend liner coating for business car Milwaukee cost $5000! In light of this we are increasing our yearly regular dues from $25 to $30. This is the first time since the Friends was founded in 1992 that we’ve increased our dues, but rising costs have forced us to do so.

Thanks to your support, we are able to keep moving ahead. In 2018 we are planning more trips with 261, more car charters, and international tours. For the first time, 261 equipment will be traveling west in winter, heading to a private event in Seattle on January 27, and we will be selling tickets to members and friends. By renewing your membership, and making an additional donation, we will continue our progress.

Remember, your dues and donations are fully deductible under both federal and state income tax law, so if you act before the end of the year you can deduct the amount on your 2017 income tax return. You can renew and donate by sending the notice back by mail, or simply going to

Thanks again for your continuing support. I hope to see you on a Friends of the 261 excursion or charter in 2018!

Steve Sandberg
Friends of the 261
Chief Operating Officer

2016 – Spring – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

261 heading to Duluth in June

On Saturday, June 4, Milwaukee Road 261 will kick off the 2016 excursion season when its steams north from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minn. over BNSF Railway. The Duluth trip has become a tradition for Friends of the 261 excursion riders, and one of the most popular trips pulled by No. 261. The train will layover in Duluth at the Lake Superior Railroad Museum.

No. 261 will pull the excursion train from Minneapolis to Duluth traveling via BNSF Railway’s Hinckley and Lakes Subdivisions to the Museum. This scenic ex-Great Northern Railway route includes several high trestles and the long Grassy Point Drawbridge between Superior, Wis. and Duluth.

HEADING NORTH – Milwaukee Road No. 261 is traveling to Duluth, Minn. this June. Photo by Steve Glischinski.

The Friends have negotiated special hotel prices for the overnight stay in the Zenith City. Ticket prices include admission to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. After overnighting at the museum, the excursion train will return to Minneapolis June 5 over the same route as the day before. For tickets and more information go to


25th Anniversary Banquet set for April 29

It was 25 years ago that the first agreements were signed that led to Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 returning to service. To mark the occasion, the Friends of the 261 are holding a 25th Anniversary Banquet April 29 at Christos Restaurant at the Union Depot in St. Paul, Minn. Former Trains Magazine Editor Kevin P. Keefe will headline the banquet.

The banquet will help raise funds for the continuing maintenance and restoration of 261 and the passenger car fleet. Attendees will be able to see 261 steamed up on the depot tracks and walk through the passenger cars prior to the dinner. No. 261 will be at the depot to participate in Union Depot Train Days April 30 – May 1. Trains Magazine is a cosponsor of the event.

During the pre-banquet cash bar hour the Friends will be holding a Silent Auction to help support the continued operation of the 261. Items for auction will include cab rides, Lionel and Broadway Limited scale models of the 261, and other 261 memorabilia.

Keefe retired in March from his position as vice president-editorial for Kalmbach Publishing Co. and general manager for Trains Magazine. Keefe was the editor of Trains from 1992 until 2000, when he took on corporate responsibilities for Kalmbach.

Keefe will speak about the close ties between Trains Magazine, which was founded in 1940, and the Milwaukee Road – in particular No. 261. Keefe will show rare photos of Milwaukee Road steam and No. 261 from Kalmbach Publishing’s extensive David P. Morgan Library photo archives – some never before seen by the public.
Tickets for the banquet are $50 per person. The pre-banquet cash bar begins at 6 p.m.; with the banquet starting at 7 p.m. To purchase tickets go to

261 to headline Union Depot Train Days St. Paul Union Depot to celebrate 90th Anniversary

It was 1926 when construction was completed on the new Union Depot in St. Paul. Now, 90 years later, the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority is marking the occasion with “Union Depot Train Days” April 30 and May 1. Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 will be the prime attraction at the event, offering cab tours and walk throughs of Friends of the 261 passenger equipment. The concession car will be open and selling souvenirs during the two-day event. On the evening of April 29, 261 and other equipment will be the subject of a night photo session at Union Depot. That same evening the Friends will hold a 25th Anniversary Banquet (see page 1).

Along with No. 261 will be two concession cars, Business Car Lamberts Point, and Skytop lounge observation Cedar Rapids. Along the depot boarding platforms, Amtrak will have its Exhibit Train open to tour. This multi-car train showcases Amtrak’s 45-year history and includes several interactive exhibits. It is the train’s first visit to Minnesota.

The Lake Superior Railroad Museum of Duluth is sending Soo Line FP7 No. 2500A to Train Days. Like No. 261, the 2500A once pulled passenger trains out of the depot. Nearby the Minnesota Transportation Museum will display ex-Great Northern SDP40 No. 325, which pulled the Empire Builder and Western Star out of the depot in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Along with No. 325 will be Northern Pacific Railway Post Office/Baggage/Coach No. 1102, available for visitors to walk through. The car represents the Railway Mail Service, which had a large presence at the depot. St. Paul Union Depot was once the third largest railway mail handling facility in the nation, second only to Chicago and New York.

Events inside the Waiting Room will include a special photography exhibit highlighting the depot’s history, a diesel locomotive simulator, model railroads and railroad vendors.

On April 30 a special multi-media railroad photography show, “Laker Rail” will feature photographs from rail photographers from across the country. Admission is $27 with funds going to help pay for 261’s visit to the Union Depot. A night photo session with 261 and Soo Line 2500A will also be held on the evening of April 29. For tickets to the photo session and Laker Rail go to

261 getting mechanical work

PISTON WORK – Milwaukee Road No. 261 is getting new piston rings this spring. Photo by Robert M. Ball.

Over the winter and spring the Friends of the 261 are readying No. 261 for the 2016 excursion season at the shop in Minneapolis. One of the larger jobs is installing new piston rings on the locomotive. The 4-8-4 has 12 rings, six on each side. The rings date from the 261’s days of regular service on the Milwaukee Road.

Employees and volunteers are also conducting a small amount of work on 261’s firebox. The firebox was extensively overhauled during 261’s last rebuild between 2008 and 2013.

261’s first move this year will be a trip to the Union Depot in St. Paul for Train Days April 30-May 1. On June 4-5 the engine will pull a round trip over BNSF Railway from Minneapolis to Duluth.

Friends of the 261 rebuilding dome car for Lake Superior Railroad Museum

In an example of railroad historical groups cooperating for the common good, the Friends of the 261 is assisting in the overhaul of a dome car for the Lake Superior Railroad Museum. The car, former California Zephyr dome buffet/lounge dormitory “Silver Club” arrived at the Friends Minneapolis Junction shop in mid-December 2015. Friends of the 261 Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg said work began immediately after BNSF Railway delivered the car to the shop.

The Museum has contracted with the Friends to install new mechanical systems, a heating/air conditioning system, mount new windows in the dome, and put new wheels beneath the car.

The Budd Co. built Burlington No. 250, the “Silver Club,” in 1948 for the famous California Zephyr as a dormitory-buffet-lounge. As built, No. 250 had two dormitory rooms, one for the food steward, and one for the “Zephyrette,” who functioned as social directors, tour guides, baby sitters, and nurses on the train.

No. 250 was sold to Amtrak in 1971 and renumbered 9810; it was retired in October 1981. After passing through several owners, it was purchased by Dirk Lenthe of Fargo, N.D., who donated it to the Museum in 2011.

IN THE DOME – Justin Young works inside LSRM dome car Silver Club at the Minneapolis shop. Photo by Robert M. Ball.

Lake Superior Railroad Museum Executive Director Ken Buehler says the Friends will be working on new wiring for heating, and a two-system air conditioning unit (one for the dome, the other for the rest of the car) with dehumidifiers to keep the air conditioning from fogging up the dome. The wheels will be replaced and all new dome windows have been cut and molded and will be installed by the Friends.

After the Friends complete electrical, wheel and other work, the car will be returned to Duluth for interior work. The car has essentially been gutted, so the Museum will have to design and install an all-new interior. When complete, the car will be used on the museum’s 26-mile North Shore Scenic Railroad between Duluth and Two Harbors.

Passenger cars heading east this spring

Two Friends of the 261 passenger cars headed east this spring to be used on excursion trains pulled by Norfolk & Western J Class 4-8-4 No. 611. The cars will be traveling with 611 on trips out of Spencer and Greensboro, N.C., and Manassas and Roanoke, Va. in April, May and June.

Parlor car “Wisconsin Valley” and Super Dome 53 made the trip. The Friends sold space on the cars during the moves via Amtrak’s Empire Builder and Carolinian. They traveled behind the Empire Builder from St. Paul to Chicago on April 1. On April 4 they moved from Washington, D.C. to Charlotte, N.C. on the Carolinian.

No. 611, built by N&W in 1950, was restored to service in 2015 after 21 years of inactivity. It is owned by the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke.

The trips will operate over Norfolk Southern Railway including several former Norfolk & Western lines.

Support our North Pole Express sponsors!

Each December the Friends of the 261 operate the North Pole Express at the Union Depot in St. Paul. These trips require a great deal of coordination and expense, and would not be possible without our sponsors: Bell Mortgage, Re/Max Advantage Plus, and Trademark Title Services, Inc.

Bell Mortgage is a division of Bell State Bank & Trust, and has helped its customers purchase homes for more than 130 years. Bell is the largest independently owned bank in the upper Midwest, and one of the largest in the nation, with assets of more than $3.5 billion and business in 50 states.

Re/Max Advantage Plus is one of the preeminent real estate brokerages in central Minnesota. Founded by Eric Malmberg over 10 years ago, it has grown and flourished from one office location in Lakeville to more than 13 offices across the Twin Cities area.

Trademark Title Services, Inc. helps its clients through the complexity of real estate title and closing processes. The company has an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau and has 13 offices in the Twin Cities metro area.If you are purchasing or selling a home or real estate, please consider using one of these fine companies that are supporting the continuing operation of No. 261!

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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2015 – Spring – Northern Lines

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Fall Color Excursion dates set, Windy City Express to roll

FALL COLOR TRAIN – Milwaukee Road No. 261 heads south at Brook Park, Minn., on BNSF with the 2014 Fall Colors Excursion. Photo by Photo by Steve Glischinski.

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

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

CAR MILWAUKEE LETTERING – Business car “Milwaukee” is the subject of restoration efforts by the Friends to make it road worthy again. Part of that effort includes repainting and lettering the car to “as built” condition. Don Crimmin and Gene Messing, who makes all the vinyl lettering for the Friends, are applying lettering to the car last fall. Photo by Steve Glischinski

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

Super Dome 53 overhauled

SUPER DOME HIGH – Super Dome 53 is up on jacks as Friends of the 261 volunteers adjust the cars suspension system on March 7, 2015. Photo by Steve Glischinski.

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

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.


2014 – December – Northern Lines

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261 pulls sold out fall color excursions on BNSF to Duluth

Perfect autumn weather was on tap as Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 pulled a successful round trip excursion from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minn. over BNSF Railway Sept. 27-28. The 12-car train, including two full-length dome cars, operated as an Amtrak special over BNSF Railway’s ex-Great Northern Hinckley Subdivision from Minneapolis to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth. Large crowds gathered in towns along the 150-mile route as the public watched the locomotive perform.

The sold-out train carried 375 passengers. On arrival in Duluth, Iowa Pacific full length dome car Prairie View and newly renovated Skytop lounge observation Cedar Rapids were switched out of No. 261’s train and onto a dinner train operated from Duluth to Palmers, Minn. on the Lake Superior Railroad Museum’s North Shore Scenic Railroad.

On Sept. 28, No. 261 departed downtown Duluth as a light engine move, turned in Duluth’s west end, and crossed the St. Louis Bay Grassy Point Drawbridge to Superior, Wis. The excursion train followed, departing Duluth at noon pulled by Amtrak P42 No. 174. With No. 261 again leading the train, the special departed 28th Street Yard in Superior for Minneapolis. Servicing stops to check and lubricate the engine and a meet with a northbound empty taconite train were conducted in Hinckley, with another meet at Cambridge, Minn. The train arrived at Minneapolis Junction at approximately 7:30 p.m.

Europe, Ireland tours to be offered by Friends of the 261 in 2015

Following the success of the Friends of the 261 tour to Eng­land last September (see story this issue), the Friends of the 261 will be sponsoring two overseas trips in 2015.

In May, the Friends is sponsoring the Golden Eagle Danube Express, which will operate between Budapest and Prague from May 29 to June 5. The tour itinerary will include Bu­dapest, Keszthely, Vienna, Bratislava, Krakow, and Prague. The train will be steam hauled on the first part of the journey from Budapest to Keszthely, Hungary.

Tours include a city tour of Budapest, the Festetics Palace in Keszthely or a boat cruise on the waters of Lake Balaton, the Vienna opera house, a visit to Krakow with a variety of tour options available, and a stay in Prague at the five-star Four Seasons for two nights. The Four Season is renowned for its unique architecture and its enviable location, just steps from the historic Charles Bridge.

The Friends of the 261 will also visit Ireland with the Emerald Isle Explorer tour running from June 17 to 25. This will be a nine-day holiday by steam, travelling around Ireland in a leisurely fashion.

The Emerald Isle Explorer is the first opportunity in modern times to enjoy a journey by steam for a whole week around Ireland. It will include stops for tours in Dublin, Killarney, and Waterford, plus an option to visit Belfast. You will be able to explore the countryside and visit some of the most beautiful parts of Ireland while staying in high quality hotels in wonderful locations.

The Friends of the 261 is partnering with a tour company from England to operate this private train, which includes special pricing for our group. The trip will depart the Twin Cities on June 16 and arrive in Dublin on the morning of the 17th. We will return via Dublin or London on June 26.

Details on flights and pricing for the trips will available in early January 2015 at

North Pole Express carries thousands of passengers

Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 pulled the first steam trips out of the St. Paul Union Depot in over 50 years this month. The “North Pole Express” trips ran Dec. 5-7 and 11-14, carrying thousands of happy holiday travelers to the North Pole. These were 261’s first winter runs since special trips at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pa. in 1996.

On Thursday Dec. 4 the locomotive pulled four specially decorated cars – a coach, two ex-Metra bi-level commuter coaches, and a parlor car – from Minneapolis Junction to the Union Depot in St. Paul. The cars and No. 261 were decked out in holiday lights for the occasion. Previously, Friends volunteers had constructed signage and a small building to create Santa’s North Pole home at the east end of the Union Depot.

Beginning Dec. 5, No. 261 pulled short trips to the “North Pole.” As passengers boarded they got a close up view of 261 at the head of the train. Once at the “North Pole” children were delighted to see Santa’s workshop and his “elves” at work, including a metal grinder which shot sparks in the cold air. Santa Claus emerged from his shop and boarded the train to visit with children for the short ride back to the depot. At the conclusion of each trip children were served hot chocolate and cookies in the depot waiting room. The Friends, BNSF Railway, and Jones Lang LaSalle sponsored the trips.

The locomotive wore a special “North Pole Express 2014” sign on the front. The steam crew relocated 261’s bell to the center top of the smoke box to give the engine a different and distinctive look for these trips.

These were the first steam trips to use the depot proper in more than 50 years, since Burlington 4-8-4 No. 5632 pulled excursions out of the depot in the early 1960s.

In 2004, No. 261 pulled trips for the “Grand Excursion 2004” that originated on the station grounds, but there were no platforms or tracks in the depot area.

An army of volunteers helped out during the operation of the train. Volunteers served as conduc­tors, handed out cocoa and cookies to children, sold merchandise, and answered questions.

The train garnered media coverage in both Twin Cities daily newspapers and was featured on television stations KSTP and KARE-11. With the success of the trips it is hoped that the “North Pole Express” will become a holiday tradition in the Twin Cities.

NIGHT TRAIN: Milwaukee Road 261 prepares to leave Minneapolis Junction for St. Paul to pull the North Pole Express at the Union Depot. ©Steve Glischinski.

Remembering Judy Sandberg

If you were ever a passenger on Friends of the 261 steam excursion or car charters, then you’ve had contact with Judy Sandberg, even if you never met her in person. It’s not often a single individual can touch many thousands of people, but Judy managed to do just that.

Judy, who passed away on Sept. 17, 2014, was a huge presence in the Friends of the 261 organi­zation since its founding. The ticket you used to board our trains was set up by Judy. If you made a phone call to the 261 phone number, it was Judy who answered the phone. If you mailed in a ticket order to the Friends address, that order went to Judy. It was Judy who maintained your member­ship file. These and dozens of other tasks were handled on a daily basis by Judy.

But it wasn’t just office tasks Judy handled. She was also the “face” of the Friends of the 261 organization for members, passengers and sup­porters. She never missed a 261 excursion, and never failed to walk through the train visiting with passengers, greeting people with her trademark line “How you doin?,” answering questions, and making people feel welcome.

For more than five decades, Judy and her husband Frank have been supporters of railway preservation, and in particular Milwaukee Road No. 261. They were founding members of the Minnesota Transportation Museum, which Frank headed as president for several years. Together they were active members of the Tourist Railway Association, Inc., with Judy serving as a board member and corresponding secretary.

Judy and Frank Sandberg on a 261 excursion in Willmar, Minn.

Married for over 50 years, Frank and Judy travelled the world together as a couple or with their family, riding trains and especially enjoying glasses of wine together at the end of a long day of sightseeing. They both enjoyed doting on their grandchildren and introducing them to travel.

When the non-profit Friends of the 261 took over operation of Milwaukee Road steam locomotive No. 261 in the mid-1990s, Frank and Judy took on active roles, serving as board members with Judy becoming administrator of the organization. They helped build the “Friends” into a viable organization with over 1,000 members supporting the continuing operation of No. 261 and a fleet of historic passenger cars.

Judy Sandberg will be missed, but always re­membered as the Number One “Friend of the 261.”

2015 dues are due January 1

Please remember that the Friends of the 261 dues year goes from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, so your membership will be up for renewal Jan. 1, 2015.

Dues rates are the same as in 2014: $25 for an individual membership, $100.00 for a corporate membership, $261 for lifetime individual membership and $500 for a lifetime corporate membership. You can renew your membership two ways: send a check for the dues amount you choose to the Friends of the 261, 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shor­eview, MN 55126. There is a dues notice enclosed with this newsletter you can mail in.

You may pay on line by going to and click on the Become A Member tab. Use the pull down menu to indicate it is a renewing, membership. Visa and MasterCard are accepted.

Donations and gifting assist Friends rail preservation efforts

The Friends of the 261’s mission is to preserve, restore, operate, and interpret historic locomotives and rail cars. We’ve said it before, but this is a very expensive undertaking that depends upon your donations and gifts. There are several benefits to making donations and long-term gifts to help the Friends.

Some of our members and friends have donated stocks to the Friends. This will not only help our cause, but also enable you to reap substantial tax savings.

There are very favorable tax rules for donors who want to donate long-term stock (stock they have owned for more than one year) that has ap­preciated in value. Basically, the donor never has to pay capital gains on the appreciated stock. This can be a tremendous tax benefit and great incentive to give stock to the Friends.

Here’s how it works: If you own stock for more than one year that has gone up in value, you can donate it to the nonprofit Friends, and get a tax de­duction equal to the fair market value of the stock at the time of the transfer (its increased value), and never pay capital gains tax on the appreciated value of the stock. The Friends of the 261 will never owe that capital gains tax either. We can take the stock and either sell it right away and not pay any tax, or hold on to it – but we will never owe capital gains tax on the appreciated value the donor realized.

You may also consider a “legacy” gift to the Friends through your will or living trust. This is a simple process – to name the Friends among your beneficiaries, you simply state in your will or trust the Friends full legal name (Railroading Heritage of Midwest America), location (Shoreview, Minne­sota) and the nature of the gift (for example, cash or property). Charitable gifts such as stocks or even property can also reduce (or even eliminate) the amount of estate tax your beneficiaries will owe.

By providing a legacy gift, your wish to see No. 261 remain in steam and our fleet of passenger cars available for excursions and charters can be fulfilled. You can even designate your bequest be used for a specific purpose, such as an endowment or a capital project. If you fail to plan your estate, state law will direct that your property be distributed under a one-size-fits-all statutory formula, which is unlikely to fully reflect your wishes, so advance estate planning is essential.

Another way to help is by gifting or donating collectables. Collector can donate some or all of their collection to the Friends, so we can sell off the items to other collectors and the funds can go to keeping 261 in operation. This provides two benefits at the same time: you can get a tax deduction for making the donation, and the Friends can obtain more funds through sales of the collectibles.

COCOA & COOKIES: Friends volunteers Erik Hoofnagle, Julie Walker, Lori Van Oosbree, and Joey Maidl hand out treats to North Pole Express passengers at the Union Depot in St. Paul. ©Steve Glischinski.

There is now a section on our web site for items we will be selling on eBay, in addition to making them available to members and on excursions. You don’t have to donate collectible rail items either. All donations are welcome: everything from noncollectable coins, guns, stamps, tools, model trains, or anything of value.

Consider including the Friends of the 261 in your estate planning, gifting, or any other type of donation. The more donations we receive, the better the chances that we can keep 261 and our car fleet rolling for decades to come.

Friend’s sponsors first overseas trip to visit heritage railways in United Kingdom

by Steve Sheldon

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Steve Sheldon and I am one of the fireman on the 261. Firing the 261 always gives one a sense of history and connection with our rail heritage. While we have a vibrant and active steam community in the United States, the United Kingdom is often seen as the as the standard for steam preservation the world over. In September 2014, the Friends of the 261 sponsored a week-long trip to the U.K. to experience their steam heritage first hand. I have the pleasure of recapping that exciting and event­ful trip for you.

On September 1st a group on thirteen people headed for London. Our group was led by Steve Sandberg and along with myself and my father, Lee Sheldon. We escorted a group of railfans for our first ever premium package tour to the U.K. Our itinerary included a steam day trip to Weymouth, a visit to the Blue Bell Heritage Museum and a steam double header weekend trip to St. Ives in Cornwall County.

We arrived in London on Tuesday morning and headed to our hotel near London’s famous Vic­toria Station. Since we arrived in London in the late morning we were able to spend the afternoon touring the city. Highlights included taking in the sights of Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and Harrods. Wednesday morning we headed to Victoria Sta­tion to ride the Dorset Coast Express on a round trip to Weymouth located on Britain’s south coast. Our train was headed by ‘Tangmere’ a 4-6-2 Pacific designed by famous locomotive designer Oliver Bulleid. Highlights included passing through Clapham Junction, one of the busiest rail junctions in the world, a brief stop at Salisbury with its beau­tiful cathedral, and several hours in Weymouth. Weymouth is noteworthy because it was one of the largest departure ports for the D-Day invasion. A memorial to the American soldiers that passed through is located along the beach boardwalk.

Thursday provided us with the opportunity to visit the Blue Bell Heritage rail museum located about 40 miles south of London. The Blue Bell is famous for being the filming location for all rail scenes in the PBS show “Downton Abbey.”

Britain is full of operating rail museums and the Blue Bell is one of its finest examples. After a relaxing 13-mile ride behind a beautifully restored 4-6-0 we arrived at the end of the line. Visiting the Blue Bell is like stepping back in time and riding the British rails at the height of steam. With its pulley and cable signal system, historic equipment and its original rail buildings (including the pub!) the Blue Bell by was a day well spent. The day was punctuated by the opportunity to walk through the maintenance shops and seeing firsthand how the Brits go about restoring their equipment.

The highlight of the trip was the weekend journey to St. Ives in Cornwall County. Cornwall is noted for its pleasant climate (by British standards), its quaint seaside villages and beautiful countryside. Again we departed Victoria station heading south. The first half of the trip from London to Exeter saw our train headed once again by ‘Tangmere.’ One of the great things about riding behind British steam is being able to observe the crew put their locomotive through its paces. These locomotives were built to go fast and that’s just what they did. Listening and watching a locomotive roar along at 80 mph is something I never get tired of!

Our mainline excursions also afforded us some of the finest dining on rails as well. Each morning out of London we were served a proper English breakfast on the finest linens, seated in our captain’s chairs. A toast was given to all with mimosa’s in anticipation of the day’s events.

In Exeter we changed motive power for the hilly run to Penzance and St. Ives. We left “Tangmere” to rest after a fine performance and were joined by 4-6-2 “Braunton” (a rebuilt version of Tangmere) and 4-6-0 “Nunney Castle” for a double header the rest of the way. “Tangmere” and “Braunton” were both in Southern Railway livery, while “Nunney Castle” wore Great Western Railway colors. The Nunney Castle felt right at home on former Great Western rails from Exeter to Penzance. The day had so many highlights that it will be impossible to mention them but here are two.

Just south of Exeter the railroad runs right along the seawall for about 20 miles. Racing along through towns and tunnels just feet from the ocean was definitely something to remember!

The second highlight was crossing the Royal Albert Bridge south of Plymouth. The bridge was completed in 1859 under the guidance of designer Isambard Kingdom Brunnel. It is 455 feet long and 100 feet above the water providing a spectacular view. After crossing the bridge it was time for re­laxation for the final couple of hours to Penzance. Watching the British countryside roll by as the sun set – what could be better?

Upon arrival in Penzance we were bused to our hotel in the seaside village of St. Ives for a couple of days of relaxation away from the railroad. During our visit to St. Ives several day trips were avail­able including a visit to the Bodmin & Wenford Railway for their annual Autumn Steam and Ale Festival. With a couple of free days members of the group were free to choose their activity. The weekend was capped off with a group dinner at the Seagrass restaurant in St. Ives.

Monday brought our return trip to London re­tracing the route our train took on the trip down.

A special side adventure was taken by Gerard, Steve Strasser, my father and I. The challenge was to hop off our steam excursion while on a water stop, and grab a local train in attempt to get to the town of Dawlish so we could get a photo run by of our train as it sped along the seawall. I can report that the mission was successful; we got our photos and made it back to Exeter in time to board our excursion for the final miles to London.

Steve Sandberg and I would like to extend a spe­cial thanks to Don and Gayle, John and Maryann, Gerard, and the Strasser family for their assistance with the trip.

We will be offering other rail trips to Europe in 2015 (see details on page one of this issue). More photo and video highlights can be seen on the 261 Facebook page.

Battle of Britain Class 4-6-2 No. 34067 Tangmere pauses while pulling the special charter train for the Friends of the 261 in September 2014 . ©Steve Sheldon.


261 cars head east for New River Train

By Don Crimmin

What happens to the Friends of the 261 passenger car fleet when they are not running behind No. 261 or operating on Amtrak charter trips? Often the cars are leased to other entities and operated in charter service or special trains.

The C. P. Huntington Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society operates their annual New River Train round trip between Huntington and Hinton, W. Va., over CSX on consecutive weekends in mid-October. Passengers can enjoy the changing fall colors through a part of the West Virginia mountains only accessible by train, rafting or hiking.

The excursion was inaugurated in the mid-1960s and for many years was pulled by various steam locomotives in­cluding former Reading T1 Class 4-8-4 No. 2101, Chesapeake & Ohio 4-8-4 No. 614, and Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765.

The final year of steam power saw Milwaukee Road 261 capably han­dling the train in 1994. The train has operated in excess of 30 cars on some years. What is the source for that many passenger cars in 2014?

For several years, the Friends fleet has pro­vided cars for this train. In 2014 coach Weno­nah, lounge Wisconsin Valley and Super Dome 53 made the journey to Huntington for inclusion in the train. Because of crew considerations and switching issues associated with a large number of cars moving to Huntington on Amtrak’s eastbound “Cardinal,” Amtrak requested the majority of the consist be gathered at Washington, D.C., for switching and movement as a special train to Huntington.

Steve Sandberg and Kevin Swanson accom­panied the cars from Midway Station in St. Paul to Chicago on the “Empire Builder” and then to Washington on the eastbound “Capi­tol Limited” the following day. Steve headed home after the train was made-up in Washington and Swanee rode the deadhead movement to Huntington.

Friends of the 261 Super Dome 53 pauses at the station in Hinton, W. Va, while operating as part of the New River Train on Oct. 19, 2014. ©Don Crimmin

I rode the Cardinal to Huntington from Chicago and acted as a car rider along with Kevin during the first weekend. Friends of the 261’s chef and stalwart car escort Joey Maidl and volunteer Erik Hoofnagle relieved Don and Kevin for the second weekend of excursions. Eric had to be home for work on the Monday after his escort work so volunteer and lettering and graphic guru Gene Messing traveled to Huntington via Amtrak to assist Joey on the three-car move back to Minneapolis via the westbound Cardinal and the Empire Builder. Movement on the east and westbound Empire Builder were charter trips for the Friends and handled revenue passengers.

Amtrak provided three P42 locomotives for the move, including specially painted engine 42 which honors this nation’s vet­erans, and eleven Am­fleet cars (nine coaches and two café cars).

The nineteen private cars included three full length domes, two “short” domes, various lounge cars, two full din­ing cars for meal preparation and open platform, heavyweight office car Dearing on the rear.

While Dearing sports Georgia Railroad markings, don’t be fooled. The car has a tie to the Twin Cities. Built in 1925 by Pullman as 12 section – 1 drawing room sleeper Thompson and assigned to the Great Northern’s Oriental Limited, the car was sold in 1948 to the Chicago Great Western where it was rebuilt in the early 1950’s to CGW office car 100.

After the CGW merged into Chicago & North Western in 1968, No. 100 became C&NW 403. The well-traveled Dearing was assigned to or owned by three different Minneapolis-St. Paul area railroads during her 89 years of operation.

NORTH POLE EXPRESS: Milwaukee Road 261 is decorated for the holidays as it leads the North Pole Express at the Union Depot in St. Paul. The locomotive pulled short trips over seven days in December 2014. ©Steve Glischinski.