Category Archives: Uncategorized

2020-Summer-Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Restoration, upgrades to Milwaukee Road E9 32A near completion

Volunteers and employees of the Friends of the 261 are making great progress with the restoration and upgrading of Milwaukee Road E9 32A. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, crews have been practicing social distancing while working at the 261 shop in Minneapolis.

Even though 32A was in good condition when received from Wisconsin & Southern, the unit still needed some work. The outer steel skin was removed, which revealed much rust, so new steel panels were purchased and cut to fit. The car body structures and frame were heavily needle scaled and anti-rust treatment was applied.

Mechanical work has been ongoing since the locomotive arrived. Jim DeRocher of the 32A Diesel Team provides us with the updates on work that has been performed, and what future plans are. His recap gives an insider look at the work that goes into maintaining a 65 year-old diesel, as follows:

“The No. 2 (rear) prime mover was not making transition, which is a crucial function for increasing speed during operation. After extensive diagnostics, we found and repaired failed internal components on the BARCO transition module. The front and rear axle generators were also overhauled. Following repairs, the system is now functioning correctly.

Main and Auxiliary generator maintenance was performed. This includes rebrushing the main and auxiliary generators. We discovered many brush holders were sticking open, creating the opportunity for electrical failure. The engine load regulators were serviced similarly after discovering issues. All generators are functioning correctly now. Additionally, all traction motors received similar maintenance and lubrication. 

Upon receiving the locomotive, a full crankcase and airbox inspection was carried out on both engines, the valve lash adjusted and set, and fuel injector racks adjusted. This is a maintenance measure that allows us to look inside the engine while it slowly rotates, providing the ability to ensure the engine is sound mechanically internally, and running efficiently. It was observed that the rear prime was running warm during the first excursion in 2019. The source was a defective (stuck open) oil bypass valve, which causes a 70% reduction in engine cooling when defective, that was found and repaired.

An inspection of the air brake system was performed. Two defective unions were replaced and piping that was deemed worn or leaking was repaired. Due to long term storage, the air compressor unloaders were sticking, causing delay in building full air pressure. The compressor unloaders were overhauled, and compressors received standard maintenance. A number of frozen brake heads, which hold the brake shoes against the wheels, were freed up and the linkages were adjusted.

The hot start system (one system per engine) needed work. This system keeps the engines warm while not running during cold weather operation. Justin Young replaced one defective electric drive motor. The drives were leaking fluids due to dry rotted seals. New seal kits for the drives/pumps were ordered, and they will be rebuilt once parts arrive.

Still to come are FRA periodic maintenance (this process includes changing filters, required full locomotive inspection, and confirmation of compliance), and acquisition and installation of an Event Recorder/Alerter system. The system being installed is fully compatible with Positive Train Control. It can be installed now, and PTC can be added later. Final maintenance items include a load test, a shakedown run, and making any final repairs.”

No. 32A will be painted in orange and maroon to fit with the majority of the Friends passenger fleet. Since Milwaukee Road E9s were painted Union Pacific yellow, the scheme will hark back to original Milwaukee Road diesel schemes. The paint scheme will be a combination of the Milwaukee Road’s 1947 E7 scheme with orange substituted for gray, and the 1950s E7 scheme which featured orange and maroon.

Several members of the 32A crew pause for photos while working on the E-unit. They are AJ Murphy, Steve Kinghorn, Henry Overzet, Charlie Elo, and Justin Young. – Steve Sandberg photo.

EMD E9s – A History

The E9 is the last in the series of E-units developed by General Motors’ Electro-Motive Division (EMD) of La Grange, Ill. for passenger service. The series can be traced back to the EA of 1937, built for the Baltimore & Ohio and Santa Fe; the AT&SF units were classified as E1s. Other units in the series were E3, E5, E6, E7 (the most popular E unit) and E8. Successor to the E8, the 2,400-horsepower E9 was produced between April 1954 and January 1964. 100 cab-equipped A units and 44 cabless booster B units were constructed, all for service in the United States. The E9 was the tenth and last model of EMD E-unit design and differed from the earlier E8 as built only by newer engines and a different, flusher-fitting mounting for the headlight glass, the latter being the only visible difference.

E9s have two 1,200 horsepower V12 model 567C engines, with each engine driving one generator to power two traction motors. The Milwaukee Road purchased 12 A units and six B units built to Union Pacific specifications for use on UP’s “City” streamliners when they switched from the Chicago & North Western to the Milwaukee Road between Chicago and Omaha in 1955. They were also used on other Milwaukee Road trains, notably the Olympian Hiawatha between Chicago, the Twin Cities and Seattle/Tacoma (discontinued in 1961) and the Twin Cities Hiawathas between Chicago and the Twin Cities. In April 1961 the Milwaukee purchased six more E9s for Chicago commuter service, among the last E units built. These all came with head power electrical power generators for use with bi-level commuter cars.

The last Hiawatha was discontinued in 1971 and the non-commuter units were sold to Amtrak. Amtrak used E9s until 1979, and converted some E9B units to steam generator and head end power cars. Milwaukee 32A, by then Amtrak 434, was officially retired in October 1982 and sold to the Alaska Railroad, which renumbered it 2402.

E9s led some of America’s most famous trains. In addition to the City and Hiawatha streamliners, E9s pulled Baltimore & Ohio’s Capitol Limited, Burlington’s Zephyrs, including the famed California Zephyr, Illinois Central’s Panama Limited, and Southern Pacific’s Daylights and Sunset Limited.

Of Milwaukee’s total of 18 E9A units, four are known to survive. The numbers and locations of the survivors are:
     32A – Friends of the 261, Minneapolis
     33C – Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois
     36A – Display, Deer Lodge, Montana
     37A – Illinois Railway Museum, Union, Illinois.

In addition to the Milwaukee Road units, a surprising number of E9s survive, thanks largely to the model being the last in its class. The most notable of these is an A-B-A set owned by Union Pacific, including an A and B that the railroad repurchased years after they had been sold. Another well known unit is Southern Pacific No. 6051, painted in Daylight colors and maintained in operating condition by the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

Milwaukee Road’s other E units

The Milwaukee Road’s fleet of E9s weren’t the only E units on its motive power roster. In addition to the E9s, the Milwaukee Road owned two E6s and ten E7s.

The first E units to arrive were E6As 15A and 15B in September 1941. They were dubbed “Fabulous 15” thanks to their outstanding performance. According to Jim Scribbins The Hiawatha Story, at the time the Milwaukee Road was well pleased with its 4-4-2 Atlantics and F-7 Class Hudsons, and the E6s were purchased mainly because they could quickly be serviced at terminals and could make a round trip daily between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

They did just that. Each evening at 9 p.m. they would leave Chicago with train 57, the Fast Mail for Minneapolis arriving at 6:15 a.m. The train usually included 20 to 25 mail cars. A little over 90 minutes later, No. 15 would lock couplers with train 6, the Morning Hiawatha for Chicago. This train routinely included 100 mph running. No. 15 A and B held this assignment until summer 1949 with infrequent relief. Their performance sold the Milwaukee on diesels. In 1946 the Milwaukee purchased ten E7s, and in 1947 five E7s bumped the 4-6-4s from the Twin City Hiawathas for good. The last Milwaukee E7 was retired in 1969.

Surprisingly, six E9s the Milwaukee Road received in 1961 for commuter service weren’t the last new passenger power purchased by the railroad. That honor went to five EMD FP45s delivered in December 1968. They only lasted in passenger service until 1971, when they were transferred to freight service.

Milwaukee Road 32A: A Family Affair

Like Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261, E9 No. 32A is a family affair for Friends of the 261 President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg. The Sandberg family has a long history with both 261 and 32A.

That association began with Steve’s grandfather, Frank E. Sandberg, Sr. He hired out on the Milwaukee Road in 1920 at the age of 18 as a fireman on steam locomotives. He qualified as a engineer in the 1930s but remained on the extra board into the 1940s before he had enough seniority to run with regularity. His regular run was handling passenger trains between the Milwaukee Road Depot in Minneapolis and La Crosse, Wis. on the Milwaukee’s River Division. In that capacity he ran Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 on several occasions when it was in regular service between 1944 and 1954.

After the Milwaukee Road dieselized in 1955, the elder Sandberg continued to operate the newer motive power, including the E9s that arrived that year. At first assigned to the Cities trains between Chicago and Omaha, the E9s drifted into other assignments as the Cities trains were consolidated. Eventually they came to be used on several trains in the Chicago-Twin Cities corridor, including the Morning and Afternoon Hiawathas, locals 55 and 58, the overnight Pioneer Limited, and the Fast Mail.

Frank Senior passed on the “railroad gene” to his son, Frank E. Sandberg, Jr. born in 1941. His father often took his son to work, and he got to ride several classes of Milwaukee Road steam, including S3 class 4-8-4s such as No. 261. In the diesel era, the “two Franks” frequently rode in the cab of Milwaukee E9s together. As Frank Junior grew older his interest in railroading increased. He loved steam locomotives in particular, and with his high school sweetheart Judy Casey they photographed steam locomotives around the country.

After their marriage daughter Cathie and son Steve were born, with Steve picking up his father’s interest in railroading. Steve’s grandfather often brought his grandson on cab rides between Minneapolis and La Crosse, including in the 32A. “It is odd to think that I ran the same locomotive 50 years apart,” Steve Sandberg says. “I ran the locomotive as a five-year-old with my grandfather in 1970 and again in 2020.”
On Jan. 30, 1971, Frank Sandberg, Sr. retired from the Milwaukee Road after 51 years of service. On his last trip he brought westbound Train No. 5, the Morning Hiawatha into the Milwaukee Road Minneapolis Depot. What was the motive power for his last run? The 32A, of course. As he brought the streamliner into the station, he was surprised to find his family – including Frank Jr. and Steve – waiting along with newspaper and television reporters. Who could have foreseen that his grandson would one day run 32A again?

Three months after Frank Senior’s retirement, Amtrak was born, and 32A went to work for the new railroad, beginning a journey that would eventually bring it back to Minneapolis. After it’s Amtrak service it went to the Alaska Railroad, Scenic Rail Dining, and Wisconsin & Southern. Thanks to the support of long time Friends members Robert Schroeder and Mary Walters, No. 32A was purchased in 2019 and is now back in Minneapolis, only a few blocks from where Frank E. Sandberg, Sr. made his last run 50 years ago.

Fundraising continues for 32A repairs, paint

While the upgrade and repair of Milwaukee Road E9 32A continues in Minneapolis, so too does fund-raising to pay for the project. The cost of maintaining this classic diesel locomotive, much like Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261, is very high. In addition, plans for a colorful, classic paint scheme for the locomotive will entail considerable expense.

Members and friends can join in the effort to keep 32A running and looking good for years to come by making contributions for the project. We make it easy for you too: simply log onto the Friends of the 261 web site at and go to “Support the 261” where you will find a list of projects. Select “Milwaukee 32A” choose your amount, enter your payment information and you are all set!

Of course the Friends always welcomes your support for other projects as well, including No. 261, Fleet Upgrades, or donations to the General Fund to be used on any project.

With no excursions currently planned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your financial support is more important than ever. Please consider making a donation to the 32A or other projects so we can roll again soon!

Northern Lines is produced by Friends of the 261 for distribution to members and supporters. Assistance with this issue provided by Don Crimmin, Jim DeRocher, Fred Hyde, Dale Sanders, and Mike Sossalla.

Editor: Steve Glischinski

© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

Friends to upgrade fleet with medical grade air filtration systems

With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, many heritage rail groups are seeking safe solutions to once again carry passengers. In the coming weeks the Friends of the 261 will be announcing that we have been working with Swiss manufacturers to design and implement a medical-grade air filtration system for our rail cars. This system will be the first of its kind in the United States and will provide “real time” data on air quality for our customers. We have also been working with leading HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) manufacturers to implement the new filtration system in our passenger car HVAC systems. These systems will measure the Air Quality Index (AQI), Particulate Matter (PM2.5), C02 level and filter air to .003 micros to remove coronavirus molecules. The first system was delivered in June. The Friends will be working to modify our cars and install the first systems in Super Dome 53 and Skytop parlor-lounge-observation Cedar Rapids.
If this cutting edge technology is a success, the Friends hope to offer these services as part of the equipment fleet that are chartered by other organizations, and offer it for installation on privately-owned rail cars.

IN THE SHOP – Alaska Railroad 2402, formerly Milwaukee Road 32A, is being serviced inside the shop in Anchorage in June 1983. On the right is Alaska FP7 1510, which survives today pulling excursion trains on the Verde Canyon Railroad out of Clarkdale, Ariz. – ©Dale Sanders

NEW STEEL – New steel side panels with proper sized porthole windows adorn Milwaukee Road 32A after installation by the diesel team in late June. The panels replace steel that was found to be rusted in several places. © Steve Sandberg

1994 – August – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Information about the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road “Northern” steam locomotive #261 from the”Friends of the 261″ Inc.

1994 operating season off to impressive start

Frank Sandberg, Sr. kicks off 1994 261 operations

North Star Rail’s first full season of operating Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 began in Minneapolis on May 8, 1994. On that day 92- year-old Frank Sandberg, Sr., a former Milwaukee Road engineer who ran the locomotive in regular service (and the grandfather of North Star Rail Chief Operating
Officer Steve Sandberg) once again took the throttle of261 for the first time in 40 years. Mr. Sandberg kicked off 261’s 1994 operating season when he ran the locomotive out of 261 ‘s winter storage facility at the Harrison Street engine house in Minneapolis.  Sandberg moved the engine back and forth several times on about 400 feet of track. According to  his son, Frank Jr., his father’s main comment was ‘it’s much bigger than I remembered it being.”

The next day, 261 departed Minneapolis on Wisconsin Central to begin a ferry move to Chicago, where a pair of trips on WC from Chicago to Burlington and Fond du Lac, Wis. would be operated on May 14-15. The ferry move involved only the locomotive and tool car from Minneapolis to Fond du Lac,
where the engine arrived late in the day on May 1 O after an overnight layover in Stevens Point. 261 remained in Fond du Lac the next day while, picking up a six car passenger consist. On Thursday. May 11, 261 and it’s train stormed south toward Chicago, tackling WC’s steep grade over Byron Hill (just south of Fond du Lac) with ease, a preview of the excursions to come. The purpose of the May 14-15 excursions were to help celebrate “Chocolate City Festival” in Burlington, home of Nestle’s Chocolate. On the ferry move to Chicago, a stop was made in Waukesha to pick up members of the press, who rode the train to

261 passes Deval Tower in Des Plaines, Ill. en route to Green Bay on Wisconsin Central, May 16, 1994. Photo by Gordon Primdahl

Burlington. The locomotive arrived in Des Plaines, base of Chicago operations, that evening, where a 19-car excursion consist was assembled. That evening the locomotive continued toward downtown Chicago, where it was to be turned at interlocking 

tower B-12. Those plans had to be shelved, however, when 261 nearly turned over a rail on the wye track at B-12. Instead, the locomotive ran over CSX trackage to the Global One Intermodal facility where it was turned late Thursday night, as well as on subsequent nights. Much of the track age 261 traversed was along the busy Eisenhower Expressway. “It was really fun to see the reaction of motorists as we steamed by the freeway,” Steve Sandberg said.

The excursion trips from Des Plaines to Burlington and Fond du Lac that weekend ran very well, and 261 performed superbly. The only glitch was that watering the engine took longer than expected in Fond du Lac Saturday, but this was corrected the next day. 261 easily handled the 19-car train at track speeds, carrying a total of 2,400 passengers over the weekend.

On Monday, May 16, 261 headed north on WC trackage once again, this time on a ferry move to Green Bay, Wis. where the engine and excursion consist tied up early on May 17. The purpose of this move was to position the locomotive for two excursions to be operated June 11-12 on WC from Green Bay to Neenah and return, in conjunction with the National Railroad Museum. The trips out of Green Bay, which operated over former Fox River Valley Railroad trackage recently acquired by WC subsidiary Fox Valley & Western, were well received by the public and included a spectacular photo run-by at Wrightstown, Wis. on June 11. Unfortunately, following heavy rains that evening, the engine suffered a minor derailment on soft track while departing on the morning of June 12, and diesel power had to be substituted. The trip still was a hit for most passengers, and even included a run-by with the WC SD45 diesel!

Special thanks are due to Tom Michener, Wisconsin Central’s Manager of Security, who was aboard the Chicago and Green Bay excursions. Tom assisted us every step of the way, helping advise us on safety issues and crowd control. “Friends” and North Star Rail also wishes to thank all the WC employees who gave of their time to help us have a ~ operation. At the conclusion of the trips out of Green Bay, 261 was stored at WC’s North Green Bay roundhouse. North Star Rail is working closely with CP Rail System and Amtrak to operate trips this fall out of Milwaukee and Minneapolis/St. Paul on original Milwaukee Road trackage; see this newsletter for more details on these exciting trips.

“Friends” and NSR to participate In Operation Lifesaver

“Friends of the 261” and North Star Rail will once again be supporting Operation Lifesaver and the Minnesota Safety Council by assisting in staffing a booth at the 1994 Minnesota State Fair. Operation Lifesaver is a safety program sponsored by the railroads and the Council to promote grade crossing safety. This year, the Fair runs from August 25 to Labor Day, September 5.

Safety, both before and during 261 excursions, is an issue that we all must deal with. “Friends” volunteers all play a key role in helping to keep operations accident free. It is up to us to remind our passengers and observers not to trespass or climb on railroad property.

The Operation Lifesaver booth will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Members are encouraged to stop in at the booth and learn more about the Operation Lifesaver program. Remember, when approaching grade crossings, “Any Time Is Train Time.”

New 261 audio tape available

A new tape recording of locomotive 261 in action is now available. The new tape, titled “261 – The Last of the Milwaukeeans” features sounds of the 261 · on trips out of Fond du Lac in 1993 and Chicago and Green Bay in 1994, including the spectacular climb up Byron Hill and in-thecab recording.

The tape, produced by Whistlin’ Dixie Productions, runs 60 minutes and is available at a cost of $10, plus $2 postage and handling, from ”Friends of the 261,” 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, MN 55126. Also still available is Goodheart Productions video tape”261: The Power of the Milwaukee Road,” at a cost of $29.95 plus $3 shipping and handling. Please allow four to six weeks for delivery. Remember, proceeds from the sale of both tapes go to help keep 261 in operation.

New cars added to excursion consist

North Star Rail (NSR) recently acquired two coaches from the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society for use on Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 # 261 excursions. The two coaches, numbered 711 and 713, are both lightweight coaches which once worked for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, serving on trains such as the “Pan American” and “Gulf Wind. “Plans call for the two cars to eventually be painted in Milwaukee Road colors to match NSR’s baggage tool car “Earling.”

Another addition to 261’s excursion consist is baggage theatrical car 710. Thiscarwasbuiltby Pullman for the New York Central, and was designed to carry scenery for the Metropolitan Opera. It regularly ran between New York and Chicago on the famous “20th Century Limited.” The car has been outfitted for use in selling souvenirs and beverages and was used in that service on the Burlington and Green Bay trips. It will also eventually be painted in Milwaukee Road colors.

North Star Rail hopes to acquire more cars in the near future so that the company can one day field an entire consist of cars for use with 261, or for lease to other groups for excursion trips.




© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

1994 – March – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Information about the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road “Northern” steam locomotive #261 from the”Friends of the 261″ Inc.

First 1994 steam trips announced

Plans shaping up for busy season

North Star Rail, operators of Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261, has tentatively announced the following trips as part of its 1994 operating season. More details will be announced in future issues of “Northern Lines” and via a special mailing to “Friend of the 261” members.

On either April 30 or May 7, 261 will pull the first main line steam excursion with a large locomotive out of the Twin Cities in 30 years when it heads west out of Hopkins, Minn. (a Minneapolis suburb )on the Twin Cities & Western to Montevideo, Minn. for a 240-mile round trip. During the layover in Montevideo, a short excursion will be offered to Appleton, Minn., 24 miles to the west, where the locomotive will to be turned. This excursion will fearture 261 ‘s return to home rails, as the trackage TC&W operates was once part of Milwaukee Road’s route to the Pacific Coast.

261 will then head t.o Chicago for trips to “Chocolate City Days” in Burlington, Wisconsin, the home of Nestle’s Chocolate. On May 14 and 15, 261 will highball up WC’s well maintained main out 

In September 1993 Ivar Natins applies stenciling in preparation for painting the number on 261’s cab.

of Chicago to Burlington, a distance of 70 miles. The train will unload passengers who wish to attend the festivities, load up with Burlington passengers, and sprint north 85 miles to North Fond du Lac, Wis. After the locomotive is turned and serviced, the train will head south once again for Burlington and Chicago.

After the Burlington excursions, 261 will return to Green Bay for trips on June 11-12 from Green Bay to Neenah, Wis., 70 miles round trip. These short trips are being operated in conjunction with the National Railroad Museum. These runs should be a photographers dream, with numerous
photo run-bys planned.

261 has also been invited by Burlington Northern to be present at “Galesburg Railroad Days” in Galesburg, Iill., site of a large BN yard and shop on June 25 and 26. Frisco 4-8-2 1522 has been a regular visitor to this gathering, but will be in Atlanta at the National Railway Historical
Society convention this year.

Still in the planning stages are excursions from Chicago to Milwaukee round trip on CP Rail in mid-July and a Twin Cities to Winona round trip October 8 and 9 over CP Rail. These trips are contingent upon meeting CP Rail’s insurance requirements.

North Star Rail has many other exciting operations in the planning stages. “Friends of the 261” members will be receiving a special mailing with ticket ordering information and times when details on these trips are finalized. Information can also be obtained by writing North Star Rail at Suite 800, 150 East 79th Street, Bloomington, Minn. 55425 or calling 1-800-261-RAIL.

North Star Rall exhibits at railroad shows

This winter, North Star Rail and “Friends of the 261” members teamed up to exhibit at seven different model railroad and railroadiana shows in the upper Midwest. The purpose of exhibiting was to familiarize the public with the locomotive, as well as selling 261 s:Juvenirs to raise funds for the engine. Shows where the “261 booth” was set up included exhibits in Madison, Wis., La Crosse, Woodbury, Minn. and several others in the Twin Cities area.

North Star Rail and the “Friends” wish to thank all the hard-working volunteers who gave freely of their weekend time to man the booth. Thanks to their efforts, several hundred dollars of merchandise was sold which will be used to help keep 261 in operating condition.

Friends of the 261:
What have we accomplished?

Membership in the “Friends of the 261” is open to everyone who wants to support the operation of Milwaukee :Road 4-8-4 261. But what has been the result of the around the clock to get the locomtive finished in time for the Fond du Lao trips. It also paid for two full-page ads in the February issue
of Trains Magazine. The first thanked the companies which had contributed to the 261 project. The second ad advertised 261 souvenirs for sale to the general public, which raised funds for continued 261 operations. Both these actions help generate goodwill and should help ensure 261 keeps running.

Membership stands at 250

Membership in the “Friends” (which currently stands at 250) also entitles members to advance notice of trips, discounts on excursions, and gives you the opportunity to volunteer in a position you choose (such as oar host). The “Friends of the 261” Hiawatha lapel pin is another exclusive offered only to members. Memberships are $25 for individuals, $100 for companies and are available from “Friends of the 261,” 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, 55126.

261 lapel pins and “steam goodies” still available

Members of the “Friends of the 261,” may still obtain the special “Hiawatha”lapel pin available only to members. The pin features the Milwaukee Road’s “Hiawatha” Indian in red surrounded by the words, “Friends of the 261.” It make an attractive gift and is available for a donation of $10, postage included. Any funds raised by the purchase of the pin will go to the “Friends” treasury and helps to support the continued operation of 261.

“Friends” also still has a supply of T-shirts, hats, and videotapes available for purchase by members. See the February, 1994 issue of Trains magazine, page 81, which has a complete listing and prices of the souvenirs that are available Send your orders to ”Friends of the 261″ at 4322 Lakepoint Court,
Shoreview, Minn. 55126.

A new 261 T-shirt and a coffee mug will soon be available. The coffee mug shows a side view of 261, while the T-shirt shows the nose of 261. Both are now in the printing process and will be available by the time the open house inspection is h eld in April.

261 Open House planned

The second annual 261 Open House for members of the “Friends of the 261” is being planned for April. Members will able to inspect the locomotive, which will be steamed up for the occasion. Watch your mail for an announcement on the date, time and location of the event.




© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

1993 – August – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Information about the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road “Northern” steam locomotive #261 from the”Friends of the 261″ Inc.

261 under steam for the first time since 1954.

261 under steam again

The long awaited return of a Milwaukee Road steam locomotive to service took a giant step forward when Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 was steamed up on July 30th. It was the first time the locomotive had been under steam since it was removed from service in 1954. Early in the week of July 25th, twenty five tons of coal was delivered to the General Electric facility in Minneapolis and 261’s tender was filled to its full capacity. At 12:30 P.M. on Friday July 30 the fire was lit and the boiler pressure was gradually increased until 6:45 P.M. when the pop valves finally lifted to signify that the full rated pressure of 250 P.S.I. was reached. 261 was kept at 250 P.S. I. for nearly three hours during which time a full walk around inspection was conducted by Steve Sandberg and Scott Lindsay. The purpose of the initial fire up was to test the various components which had been rebuilt as well as to verify to soundness of all of the boiler repairs. The fire up was a huge success in that all of 26l’s systems including; injectors, throttle, steam piping, superheaters, and all other boiler work performed flawlessly. Five or six staybolt sleeves which were not among the 200 previously replaced showed a small amount of leakage. These sleeves will be replaced during the week of August 2nd. Initial test runs are expected in mid to late August, according to North Star Rail Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg. While the rebuilding crew had hoped to steam up the engine earlier in the summer,  they did not want to rush the job. ”We want to do things right,” Sandberg says. ”We continue to meet our rebuilding goals, and we are still planning for running the engine on public trips beginning in September.”

On June 4, the locomotive had passed one of its critical first tests when a hydrostatic test was performed on the boiler to check for leaks. The boiler passed an inspection by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which completed work on that part of the locomotive. With the boiler complete, the crew focused on machinery and running gear, such as the rods on the sides of the 261. Remaining jobs to be done before rebuilding is complete include:

  • Body work and paint on the tender. New Milwaukee Road signs for the tender have already been completed.
  • Lagging and jacketing will be reinstalled on the outside of the boiler.
  • The 261’s brake system has been upgraded to a new “26NL” system, which is used on today’s diesel locomotives.
  • Another inspection must be performed by the FRA to certify the locomotive for service.
  • The locomotive will be painted and the job will be complete.

Following rebuilding, 261 will go on a series of “break-in” runs, probably in August, to test all the rebuilt parts and make adjustments as necessary.
Already, personnel from several railroads, including CP Rail, Twin Cities & Western, Wisconsin & Southern, and Wisconsin Central have visited the GE
facility to check on the rebuilding. “They were all very impressed by the progress we are making,” Sandberg says.

Plans Firming Up For First 261 Trips

North Star Rail is working with several railroads and groups to put together excursion trips with 261 this fall. Members of the “Friends of the 261” will receive a special mailing when the details of 26 l’s first trips are final. North Star Rail is still in the process of negotiating these trips, so plans are tentative, but this is the schedule so far:

  • September 18-19: Fond du Lac to Stevens Point, Wis. round trip each day, sponsored by the National Railroad Museum, Green Bay,  WI, and the Soo Line Historical and Technical Society on Wisconsin Central. Short trips will be run from Steven Point to Junction City to allow the locomotive and train to be turned.
  • Sept. 25-26: St. Paul to Winona round trip over CP Rail. Short trips Winona to River Jct. (La Crosse) to turn the engine and train.
  • 2nd week of October : Chicago- Savanna, Ill. round trips on CP Rail.

Plans are to put together a large train with both first class and coach accommodations. Approximately 1100 coach seats and 175-200 first class seats will be available. Look for ticket ordering information in your special mailing.

An Overview of North Star Rail, Inc.

Many members of the “Friends of the 261” are curious about how North Star Rail, Inc., the company rebuilding Milwaukee Road steam locomotive 261
for service is set up. North Star Rail had its beginnings when Bloomington attorney Mike Adams was introduced to Steve Sandberg by a mutual friend and rail enthusiast Doug Bailey on steam train excursion in 1990. Adams, a Minneapolis native, remembers fondly his experiences riding trains. “I took a trip to Birmingham, Alabama from Minneapolis when I was 12 years old, changing trains in Chicago. I also ride trains whenever I’m in Europe, and always enjoy them.”

Sandberg had been interested in railroads since childhood: his grandfather (now in his 90’s) was a locomotive engineer who ran Milwaukee Road’s famous “Hiawatha” passenger trains as well as the 261. His father is a well known rail enthusiast who passed on that enthusiasm to his son. Sandberg, despite his young age, has experience working on several large steam locomotives. He put in a number of years working with Diversified Rail Services restoring engines around the country.

Adams was amazed at how many people enjoyed themselves riding steam excursions. “Even if the train was late or uncomfortable, no one complained. Everyone just seems to have a good time,” he says.

Wanting to tap into the good will and sense of history evoked by steam locomotives, a business relationship evolved with the incorporation of North Star Rail, Inc. in 1990. Adams became CEO, with Sandberg serving

as Chief Operating Officer. The company is for-profit, backed by a group of 12 investors – among them a professional athlete, a realtor, a dentist, bankers and attorneys.

Many are Adams personal friends. They all share a commitment to doing things right, according to Adams. ”We are going to do things the right way on this project or we won’t do them at all,” he says. “That means treating our passengers right, providing family entertainment, and delivering a sense of the history behind locomotives like 261.”

Right now the company is making the transition from rebuilding 261 to beginning operations. To assist in that effort, Sandberg brought in Charles A. Wiesner as Director of Operations and Development. Wiesner has many years of railroad experience: he is a former railroad executive, was involved in the Mid-Continent Railroad Museum at North Freedom, Wis., and has been a private car owner for many years. Wiesner’s duties include dealing with railroads to line up excursions, leasing or purchasing passenger cars, hiring personnel, and working out the myriad of details to keep the 261 on the move.

Even as operations begin, North Star Rail is looking to the future. When asked about where they see the company in a few years, they are quick to point  out that they want people to enjoy the steam experience. “I hope someday we can generate enough revenue to have our own train, a facility to work on our equipment, possibly even more engines,” Adams says. “But we really want people to have fun and be educated at the same time.”

From Left to right: Chief Operating Officer, Steve Sandberg and Chief Executive Officer, Mike Adams.

Membership Reaches 170

Membership in the “friends of the 261 Inc.” had reached 170 by late July according to Judy Sandberg, “Friends” secretary. Renewals have been coming in at a steady pace. “Response has been excellent,” Sandberg says.

If you have not renewed your dues, consider this your official notice to do so. “Friends” wants to save on mailing costs, so you will not receive a separate notice. Send your renewal to “Friends of the 261, 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, MN 55126. Dues are $25 individual, $100 for corporations.

Meet 261 ‘s Rebuilding Crew

A frequently asked question of North Star Rail personnel is ”Who are the people rebuilding the 261 ?” You would think that the rebuild crew would be composed ofretired railroaders who were veterans of the steam era, but in fact the opposite is true. North Star Rail Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg has put together a crew that is hard working, enthusiastic, and young. The cFew works six to seven days a week at the GE facility and includes both full and part time employees. Members of the 261 rebuild team include:

  • Mike Alfveby, 18, St. Paul. The youngest member of the 261 team, Mike is a model railroader and also was active in MTM. He says he is “learning by watching and doing.”
  • Paul Dalleska, 21, St. Paul. Paul also previously worked with the Minnesota Transportation Museum in the Twin Cities. He has been working on the 261 project for the last six months.
  • Jim French, 42, Mason, Wis. Jim came to the 261 project in an unusual way: he saw a publication about the work on the 261, found North Star Rail’s phone number, volunteered to work on the engine and then was hired. He had previous experience working on a steam engine in Hinckley, Minn. and
    is an experienced machinist. He also works on pipe fitting, welding and cutting.
  • Eric Gjerve, 32, Rosholt, S.D. Eric is the newest member of the 261 team, coming aboard in July. He read. about the rebuild project and called North Star Rail Director of Operations and Development Chuck Wiesner. His father was a train dispatcher and his uncle wrote a book on the Soo Line. Eric says working on the 261 “seems like a dream.”
  • Jeff Miller, 35, originally of Tarentum, Penn. Jeff always liked trains, was a member of the Pittsburgh Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, and had experience working on former Bessemer & Lake Erie 2-10-4 #643 Southern Pacific #786 in Texas. He also worked on the Grand Canyon Railroad and for Diversified Rail Services before coming to North Star Rail. Jeff now lives in Bloomington.
  • Dave Redding, 20, Prior Lake, Minn. Dave is a student at the University of Minnesota in history and business, but he finds time to work on the 261. He got the railroad bug when his father took him to ride a tourist railroad. He also worked on MTM’s Northern Pacific 4-6-0 328.
  • Mike Schaefer, 24, St. Paul. Mike has been a railroad fan since birth. He was previously active in the Minnesota Transportation Museum (MTM) and worked on their steam locomotive, former Northern Pacific 328. He has been with North Star Rail since the beginning of the 261 project.
  • Ed Selinsky, 44, Green Bay, Wis. The “old man” of the project at age 44, Ed became involved with 261 when the engine was still in Green Bay. He is a member of Green Bay’s National Railroad Museum where 261 was displayed, and worked five summers for the Chicago & North Western Railway. A musician and music director in “real life” Ed puts in time every other week on 261 working on piping, running gear and other parts of the engine.
  • Also a part of the North Star Team, although not on a daily basis, are boiler expert Gary Bensman and running gear expert Scott Lindsay.

After completing rebuild work on the 261, the crew will turn its efforts to maintenance of the engine and upkeep of the fleet of passenger cars North Star Rail will lease and acquire for use on trips. North Star Rail has also been approached by other groups for help in maintaining .or rebuilding steam locomotives. ”There will always be a need for experienced steam people,” Steve Sandberg says.

Eric Gjerve, Mike Alfveby, Dave Redding, Jeff Miller, Jim French, Ed.Selinsky, Mike Schaefer, Steve Sandberg.




© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

1993 – April – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Information about the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road “Northern” steam locomotive #261 from the”Friends of the 261″ Inc.

(Above) 261 rests in the General Electric Service Center in Minneapolis. This fully equipped facility includes overhead cranes which can be used to lift
heavy parts off the locomotive. (Right) The rebuilt cab of the 261 rests near the locomotive at GE. The cab has now been placed back on the locomotive.

Rebuilding pace picks up

The program to rebuild Milwaukee Road steam locomotive 261 is continuing at a rapid pace at the General Electric Service Center in Minneapolis. At the present rate, it is expected the locomotive will be ready for its first test runs in June.

According to North Star Rail Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg, the approximately $500,000 project is right on schedule. “We are meeting our rebuilding goals,” Sandberg says. “While rebuilding 261 is a huge undertaking, so far things have come together very well.”

Since January 1993, boiler work has been substantially completed, including reinstallation of more than 250 boiler tubes. Preparations are under way to put water in to the boiler and perform a hydrostatic test to test for leakage. All steam valves have been dismantled, sandblasted, repacked, and reinstalled counting operating controls in the cab, there are 200 of these valves. A new sand dome has been fabricated and installed on the top of the boiler.

261’s trailing truck (located below the cab) has been trued and rebuilt, and the locomotive’s 

side rods have been retrammed at GE to match original specifications. Roller bearings on the main wheels have also been rebuilt. 261’s crossheads have also been rebuilt, using new metal ”babbitt.”

All steel and wood in the 261’s cab has been replaced and the cab has been reattached to the locomotive.

Half of the 261 ‘s superheater elements have been replaced, with 1100 feet of tubing installed.

“We are happy with the work to date,” Sandberg says. “One of the most difficult aspects of the project is coordinating reassembly, and making sure we are getting the best bids from contractors. This uses valuable time, but in the end will be worth it,” he added.

Many companies have contributed to the rebuilding effort according to Sandberg. Among them are Con-Tek Machine, Diversified Rail Services, General Electric, Moorehead Boiler, Northern Rail Car, Soo Line Railroad, and Wisconsin Central Ltd.

When will 261 run?

As the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road steam locomotive 261 progresses, excitement is building among “Friends” members and North Star Rail personnel. The most frequently asked question is: “When will the 261 begin running again?”

The answer to this question depends on several factors. First, the rebuilding must be completed, with a successful test firing. Approvals must be received from the Federal Railroad Administration, which will inspect and certify the locomotive for service. After receiving the proper approvals and successfully steaming the engine up, a ”break-in” run will be made, with several stops to make sure different parts are “working in” properly. With the break-in run completed, 261 will be ready to run trips that are open to the general public.

Currently, North Star Rail’s timetable anticipates that the first steam up will be in early summer, probably June. Break-in runs will follow, with the first public excursions operating in September. “No dates have been set,” says Chuck Wiesner, Director of Operations and Development for North Star Rail. “We are still negotiating with several railroads, so it would be premature to talk about dates when operating plans have yet to be oonfirmed.”

When actual trips have been lined up, “Friends” members will receive special advance mailings with ticket ordering information before release of this information to the general public.

Vintage Milwaukee Road films wanted

A video production company, Goodheart Productions, has been filming the 261 as its rebuilding progresses. Plans call for the video to be released approximately two weeks after the 261’s first break-in runs are completed, so that the video can be sold by the “gift shop” to be set up during 261 trips. Funds raised from video sales would be used to maintain the locomotive.

In conjunction with the 261 production, Goodheart Productions is attempting to put together a video program on the history of the Milwaukee Road, illustrating the railroad from the days of s team to the final years of its existence.

The company is seeking films (16mm, 8mm, or Super 8) of the Milwaukee Road that would include steam locomotives, electrics, streamlined passenger and freight units (such as El\ID “E” and “F” units) and modern diesels. Films showing either freight or passenger train operations are welcome.

All films would be handled with extreme care and will be returned after transfer to video tape, along with compensation if the films are used. If you have films of the Milwaukee Road or know someone who does, please contact Goodheart Productions, P .O. Box 47131 , Chicago, IL 60647, or call (312) 384-3804.

Reward offered for locomotive parts

During the years 261 was stored and displayed, some items such as gauges, builders and trust plates, and other equipment disappeared from the locomotive. In particular, some of the gauges from the locomotive cab are missing which are essential to operate the engine. A reward is being offered for their return, no questions asked. If you know of the whereabouts of any of these gauges, or any other items used on steam locomotives which might be of value to the project, please call 612-490-1985 .

Membership in the “Friends of the 261” continues to grow.

There are now more than 150 members from all across the United States, including states as far distant as Maine and California, plus one member from Australia.

Members who joined in 1992 are reminded that 1993 dues are due in April. Dues are $25 for individuals, $100 for corporations, and are tax deductible. Send your renewal to Friends of the 261, Inc., 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, MN 55126.

150 attend open house in February

Nearly 150 people attended an “open house February 27 at the General Electric Service Center in Minneapolis to inspect firsthand the progress being made on the rebuilding of steam locomotive 261.

Representatives of General Electric and North Star Rail greeted the guests and conducted an introductory session in the GE conference room. In addition to “Friends” members, representatives of Twin Cities area railroads, members of historical and rail interest groups were among those attending.

Firebox tour

Following the introduction, the tour moved into the GE erecting hall to view the locomotive. During the tour guests were able to step into the huge firebox of the 261 and check the progress being made on installation of new flue piping in the boiler. North Star Rail’s mechanical staff was on hand to answer questions and describe the rebuilding process underway. 

“I think everyone had a great time. It was a wonderful opportunity to visit with other “Friends” says Judy Sandberg, “Friends of the 261” secretary.

261 to model different “looks”

Once 261 is running again, the locomotive will be able to sport two different “looks” thanks to clever engineering by North Star Rail, which is rebuilding
261. Two types of rectangular Milwaukee Road emblems have been fabricated for the tender: the older emblem, which reads “Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific” that 261 wore when it was built, and the newer sign which simply reads “The Milwaukee Road” that the engine wore when it was placed in the National Railroad Museum.

The two sets of emblems will be changed out periodically to give the engine a different “look”.

On the front of the boiler, 261 wears a large red “Mars” warning light. These warning lights were added to Milwaukee Road’s 4-8-4’s a few years after they were built. The light will be placed on a removable bracket so it can easily be taken on and off. Depending on the “period” crews wish to duplicate, the engine may or may not have the Mars light in place.

261 work program unveiled

Members who would like an opportunity to assist in the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road steam locomotive 261 will have an opportunity one Saturday each month. North Star Rail will designate one Saturday a “workday” for “Friends of the 261” members to come to the GE facility to work on projects – everything from cleaning and painting to general maintenance. In order to participate, you must call North Star Rail and make a reservation since access to the GE site is limited. To find out the date of the next work session and make your reservation, call North Star Rail at (612) 858-8859.

Wiesner joins North Star team

On April 6, North Star Rail announced the appointment of Chuck Wiesner as Director of Operations and Development. He will be responsible for day-to-day operations, and will assist with implementation of safety and educational programs, marketing and trip planning, and administration.

Wiesner also will be involved in acquiring rolling stock to be used with the 261. Wiesner comes to North Star Rail with many years of railroad operating experience, having worked with several railroads.


FRIENDS OF THE 261 INC. 11686 Azure Lane, Inver Grove Hgts, MN 55077


© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. Format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, rewards and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

1993 – January – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Information about the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road “Northern” steam locomotive #261 from the”Friends of the 261″ Inc.

261 rebuilding progresses
Work shifts to Minneapolis General Electric shop

After months of work performed at the Wisconsin Central Ltd. engine house in Green Bay, Wis., work on Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 has now shifted to Minneapolis, Minn. where rebuilding will be completed. The locomotive was moved to Minneapolis by Wisconsin Central Ltd. on September 20-22, 1992, and it is now safely tucked away in the heated, fully equipped General Electric apparatus shop adjacent to the Soo Line’s Humboldt Yard in north Minneapolis. The G.E. Shop, which specializes in rebuilding traction motors for diesel locomotives, is an ideal location to complete the work on 261. It is equipped with indoor railroad tracks and has large overhead
cranes for moving heavy parts. G.E. has been most gracious in allowing the repair of 261 to take place at their facility. The company has undertaken the task of rebuilding the trailing wheel truck of the locomotive, and has allowed North Star Rail crews to use its tools and other equipment.

Since the locomotive arrived at the G.E. facility, much work has been accomplished. All of the boiler and firebox surfaces have been ultrasound tested and inspections of the stripped-down boiler have been conducted by North Star Rail, Moorhead Boiler of Minneapolis, Diversified Rail Services and the Federal Railroad Administration. The inspections revealed that the boiler and firebox are metallurgically and mechanically in excellent condition, with all shell thicknesses conforming to proper specifications. In November, an 18″ x 60″ patch was installed on the knuckle portion of the rear flue sheet, in an area where cracks commonly occur (such cracks had developed on 261 ). The patch was fabricated by Moorehead Boiler. Of the 261 ‘s 3800 “staybolts,” only 150 have required replacement.

The superheater tubes and flues have all been pulled out of the front of the locomotive, and new ones already on hand are being reinstalled. Most major appliances have been shipped out to various shops for repair work, and will be reapplied as they are returned. So far, rebuilding is on schedule, with the first steam-up of the locomotive planned for later this year.

“Tool” car acquired, rebuilt

The first authentic piece of ex-Milwaukee Road rolling stock has been acquired for the consist to be pulled by 261. Former Milwaukee Road storage car 1959 trailed the 261 on the move from Green Bay to Minneapolis.

Painted in Milwaukee Road streamliner colors from the 1930s, the car was originally constructed in 1938 as an observation car for the “Twin Cities Hiawatha” and carried the name “Earling.” North Star Rail acquired the car from Wisconsin Central, ~built and repainted the car in time for the move to Minneapolis. The “Earling” will be used to carry tools and equipment necessary to service 261.

New books of interest

Two new railroad books may be of interest to members. “Friends” newsletter editor Steve Glischinski authored “Burlington Northern and Its Heritage” an all-color photo book that traces the history of BN, as well as CB&Q, Frisco, GN, NP, and SP&S. The book retails for S59.95 and is available from Andover junction Publications, P.O. Box 1160, Andover, N. J. 07821 or by calling 1-800-998-9839.

Another new book is scheduled for publication early in 1993. Titled “Milwaukee Road Steam Locomotives,” the book covers the history of CMSt&P’s steam fleet, including the 261. It is expected to be available early this year. Watch this newsletter for more details .-Frank Sandberg

Lost and found

During 261 ‘s years of storage and display, many items such as gauges, builders and trust plates, and other tools and equipment have gradually disappeared from the locomotive. North Star Rail, which is rebuilding the engine for operation, would like to have as much original equipment, or equipment typical of that found on the 261 as possible. Any items such as tools, trust plates, and locomotive parts or gauges, large and small, will be helpful in rebuilding the locomotive. If you have any of these items and wish to donate them to the “Friends of the 261” (your donation is tax deductible) please contact us. A reward is being offered for the return of original items.

Open house planned

Members of the “Friends of the 261” are invited to attend an open house at the General Electric Apparatus Shop in Minneapolis on February 27, 1993 to inspect the 261 firsthand. The open house is being held in conjunction with the North Star Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Members will meet at the facility, located at 2025 49th Ave. North, at 1 p.m. February 27. To assist in estimating attendance, you must send in the attached registration form by February 15, 1993. Please remember that the G.E. Shop is a working facility, so appropriate clothing should be worn. If you have a pair of safety glasses, please bring them with you. General Electric has asked that interested individuals do not stop by or call their facility for information regarding the 261 or the tour. Please call North Star Rail at (612) 858-8859 if you have any questions.


FRIENDS OF THE 261 INC. 11686 Azure Lane, Inver Grove Hgts, MN 55077


© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. Format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, rewards and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

1992 – October – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Information about the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road “Northern” steam locomotive #261 from the”Friends of the 261″ Inc.


Under the Guiding hand of the Wisconsin Central Ltd. and the expertise of the North Star Rail crew, the 261 began its journey from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Minneapolis, Minnesota on September 20, 1992.

Yes! Mark your calendar again to mark yet another milestone in the 261 rebuilding project!

Early morning, the sun was not yet up, and the crew of the 261 was getting ready for the departure from Green Bay. Sunday September 20th dawned bright and cool, this was a good omen. Everyone was ready to bring 261 to Minneapolis for the final round of the rebuilding process. At precisely 7:00 a.m. Wisconsin Central GP-40 #3004 backed onto the coupler of 261, and the consist including the locomotive, tender, and newly refurbished tool car began to roll cautiously westward.

After an hour or so of 10-20 MPH running it became apparent that operating at the track speed of 40-45 MPH was in order. 261 Moved easily without any hesitation as if she was restless to see Minneapolis again. The ride through Neenah to Stevens Point was uneventful with several stops being to check running gear and to make sure nothing was running hot.

Stevens Point was the mid afternoon stopping point on September 20th. Curiosity was high and the North Star Rail crew spent most of rest of the day answering questions from the crowd of onlookers. 261 Remained at Stevens Point on Monday, September 21st and was readied for the last leg of its 300+ mile journey to Minneapolis.

The departure from Stevens Point on Tuesday September 22 was again precisely at 7:00 a.m. with GP-40 #3004 in the lead. The balance of the trip to Minneapolis was again flawless. A service stop was at Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin right on schedule at 1:00 p.m. with a late afternoon arrival at the Soo Lines Humboldt Yard facility in North Minneapolis.

A veteran Milwaukee Road Engineer, Frank Sandberg Sr. who retired in 1971 after 51 years of service, was heard to remark upon seeing the locomotive, “She looks just like she used to when I ran her last.”

On Thursday, September 24th the locomotive was moved by the Soo Line from Humboldt yard and into the General Electric rebuild facility in North Minneapolis where the balance of the work will be conducted by North Star Rail, Inc. At this point we are expecting a “Steam Up” in the Spring of 1993.

General Electric has asked that interested individuals do not stop by their facility on an unannounced basis. If you are planning a visit to Minneapolis, please coordinate your plans to see the locomotive with North Star Rail, Inc. at (612)858-8859.


Thanks to Ed Burkhardt and the Wisconsin Central Ltd., North Star Rail now has an appropriate tool car to carry equipment for the 261. The car was originally built in 1938 as the Beavertail Observation Car, “Earling” named after an early 20th Century Milwaukee road President. After many years of service on the “Twin Cities” and “Midwest Hiawathas” the “Earling” was converted to storage-baggage car #1959 and survived in maintenance of way service in Green Bay until being acquired and refurbished by north Star Rail, Inc. in 1992. The refurbishment of the car included, the replacement of damaged coupler pockets, new draft gear, brake system renewal and update, much body panel repair or replacement, and the complete repainting and authentic 1938 lettering. the car has been appropriately renumbered as #1938 and has been fittingly given its original name, “Earling”.


We have enclosed a photograph showing 261 and tool car nearing Chippewa Falls during the move with white flags fluttering, at track speed of 40 M.P.H. The white banner on the side of the locomotive was donated by the Friends of the 261. It says “Moving from Green Bay WI. to Minneapolis/St. Paul for a complete rebuild by North Star Rail Inc. Watch for us in 1993.


FRIENDS OF THE 261 INC. 11686 Azure Lane, Inver Grove Hgts, MN 55077


© Friends of the 261. Archived Northern Lines Newsletters are copied from original wordings of letters sent out on the date in header. Format maybe different from original letter but the articles remain the same. All addresses, contact info, promotions, discounts, rewards and pricing in archived letters are no longer valid.

UP 9001

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 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.









2019 – Spring – Northern Lines

Category : Uncategorized

Friends of the 261 now proud owner of Milwaukee Road E9A No. 32A

By Don Crimmin

Milw E9 32AThrough the hard work of long-time members and volunteers Dr. Robert Schoeder and Mary Walters and the generosity of the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad and WATCO, the Friends of the 261 is now the proud owner of a fully operational EMD E9A locomotive, former Milwaukee Road 32A.

No. 32A was built in 1956 and initially carried the number 202A but was soon renumbered 32A. It was one of six sets of A-B-A E9s that the CMStP&P ordered to handle the Omaha – Chicago leg of the UP City trains when the service was switched from the C&NW to Milwaukee Road in 1955.

After Amtrak assumed operation of intercity rail passenger service in 1971, 32A continued to power Amtrak passenger trains and was rebuilt and renumbered Amtrak 434. In the early 1980s the Alaska Railroad acquired the locomotive and numbered it 2402. A few years later it returned to the “lower 48” to become Scenic Rail Dining No. 10C. This was a dinner train that operated out of North Milwaukee on the fledging Wisconsin & Southern to Horicon, Wis. After the dinner train was discontinued, 10C and other E units hauled rail enthusiast specials and business trains on WSOR and occasionally were pressed into freight service.

When Wisconsin & Southern was sold to WATCO, a short line holding company, the role of the E9s was diminished. Robert and Mary were aware of the locomotive’s availability and historical significance, particularly its Milwaukee Road heritage. They spearheaded the donation of the locomotive for continued service and enjoyment of fans of classic EMD cab units.

No. 32A will be painted in orange and maroon to fit with the majority of Friends fleet. Equipped with head end power, supplying 480-volt power to passenger cars for heat, lighting and air conditioning, No. 32A also opens the door to diesel charters and photo specials.

2018 North Pole Express Recap

The 2018 North Pole Express carried a record 12,500 passengers on 48 trips over nine days at Union Depot in St. Paul in December. The trips, now in their fifth year, are pulled by Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 and operate on short runs on Union Depot property with a mix of bi-level and single-level equipment. It’s one of our biggest fundraisers of the year.

Preparations for the North Pole Express begin months in advance. Dates of operations and schedules are laid out, sponsors (which include BNSF Railway) are contacted, and Justin Young sets up the on-line ticketing program.

Before the train can turn a wheel, volunteers work on the passenger cars to clean and decorate them with holiday lights and wreaths. #261 is equipped with decorations and lights and a North Pole Express nameplate ahead of the smoke box. Other volunteers move a special North Pole stage from the Friends shop in Minneapolis and assemble it at Union Depot. Each trip the train pulls up alongside the structure and children can watch as elves work and Santa emerges to board the train. This year a table was added in the depot where children could make their own Christmas decorations.

Using revenue from the North Pole Express trips, this year the Friends made donations to several charities:

The train has become a tradition with families: many of the passengers are repeat customers (the trains sell out every year) who return year after year, some traveling from adjoining states to take the one-hour rides. They also allow children to get an up close and personal view of a large steam locomotive, a special holiday gift in the 21st Century.

The Friends look forward to the 2019 North Pole Express this November and December.

Positive Train Control Fundraiser Update

By Erik Hoofnagle

Positive Train Control, PTC, is the most significant and complex infrastructure investment America’s railroads have ever undertaken. As the Federally mandated statutory deadline passed on December 31, 2018, all required Railroads have met or exceeded implementation of operational PTC systems.

PTC is designed to monitor the speed and location of a train via data acquisition, data transmission, and data processing systems and is intended to override the controls, reduce the throttle and apply the brakes in an emergency situation where a collision could occur, a misaligned switch or the crew becoming incapacitated.

Though the mandate was originally intended to cover newer diesel-electric locomotives, the now compliant freight railroads are unlikely to permit a non-compliant locomotive to operate excursions over their networks without functioning PTC.

For that reason, in order for the Friends of the 261 to continue to be a mainline excursion operator, we now face the daunting task of getting 21st century computer technology to interface with a 75 year old steam locomotive and our ‘new’ 63 year old E9 Diesel.

Ultimately for a technology that is still maturing and with no final FRA/PTC laws regarding steam locomotives or excursion operations, relying on waivers and extensions is not a reasonable long term solution.

Friends of the 261 have been working directly with WABTEC, the biggest supplier of FRA approved PTC technology. WABTEC representatives have been to our facility to view the #261 and help coordinate how to retrofit the locomotive to be compliant once the FRA finalizes its rules for steam/diesel excursion operators. As a group, we now have designed the required diagram of the brake airline piping, adding the electronic components needed and have compiled a list of the additional hardware required.

While some hardware components can be shared between the two locomotives, many of the software components cannot. For instance, the PTC system has a LOCO ID programmable chip built into the cable bundles. The LOCO ID stores critical locomotive date such as: Owning and reporting Railroad, SCAC (Standard Carrier Alpha Code), engine number, GPS antenna offsets, locomotive weight, length, number of axels, horse power, default wheel size, pulse’s per revolution and locomotive control system. The adaptation requires an on board computer, wayside monitor and host server for information access. Additional software programming of a ‘Slot 10’ communication processor unique to each locomotive from METEORCOMM. Ultimately the Head End Power from the recently acquired E9 Diesel will help with the necessary dedicated power supply.

In the meantime, WABTEC and our Class 1 railroad associates have asked us to refrain from purchasing most of the hardware and none of the software for our Steam and or Diesel locomotives. While hardware is available for purchase the software requires a license to operate and cannot be purchased without agreements with host operators and the supplier.

We all feel as the demand for PTC components subsides to meet the Federally mandated deadline the cost for the hardware and software components will continue to decline.

The cost to implement PTC on our locomotives is estimated to be in excess of $150,000. Friends of the 261 were fortunate to receive a PTC grant from the John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust last year in the amount of $30,000 and have been diligent in applying for more grants. We are also continuing to fund raise via social media, our membership and a portion of all our excursions, including the successful North Pole Express. Although our biggest fundraiser trip to Duluth was cancelled by Amtrak and their new policies early last year, we are confident we can continue to fund raise. We are also confident that our dedicated crew can and will adapt our locomotives to the new technology and continue to be a leader in the excursion industry with your help.

Please consider a donation to help fund this necessary application of PTC enabling us to continue to operate our historic locomotives and associated equipment for the benefit and education of the general public and the next generation. Donate today!


As this issue of Northern Lines went to press, we have been informed we will receive another $30,000 grant for the John H. Emery Rail Heritage trust. Our thanks to the Trust for this generous grant!

Negotiations underway for Windy City Express in May

The Friends of the 261 is working to return to the Windy City of Chicago with special private car operations on Amtrak’s Empire Builder this spring.

If negotiations with Amtrak and other parties are successful, the Windy City Express would depart St. Paul on Thursday, May 16, with premier rolling stock: baggage/bar car #2450 and dome car Silver Palace. Passengers can ride from St. Paul to Milwaukee or all the way to Chicago. Passengers may also board at Milwaukee for the short hop to Chicago.

The trip would return from Chicago on Sunday, May 19. The return trip will include #2450, Silver Palace, and Super Dome #53, giving passengers the chance to ride in two different dome cars on one trip.

Passengers will be able to watch nature’s spring beauty unfold along the Mississippi River which the train will parallel from Hastings to La Crosse. Eagle-eyed passengers may be able to spot bald eagles from the dome of the Silver Palace. Any money raised for the trips goes to maintain Milwaukee Road #261, E9 32A, and our fleet of historic passenger cars.

Fares for the Windy City Express would be as follows:

Round Trip
MSP to Milwaukee or Chicago – $279.00

Check for updates on these possible trips.

One way
MSP to Milwaukee or Chicago – $199.00
Chicago or Milwaukee to MSP – $199.00
Milwaukee to Chicago – $75.00
Chicago to Milwaukee – $75.00

MRHA, Friends team up for Hiawatha steam excursions in June

The Friends of the 261 and the Milwaukee Road Historical Association (MRHA) are teaming up to operate two Hiawatha excursions in conjunction with MRHA’s annual convention in St. Paul. The trips will operate over the Twin Cities & Western and Minnesota Prairie Line June 22-23. Power will be Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 and Milwaukee Road E9 32A, pulling its first Friends excursion. On both days because there are no turning facilities for #261, the trains will be pulled east back to Minneapolis by 32A.

While these trips are being operated for MRHA, Friends members can purchase any remaining tickets. This is a rare chance to join former Milwaukee Road employees and friends as they take a special journey on the former route of the Milwaukee Road’s famed Olympian Hiawatha, which once traveled portions of what is now the TC&W main line.

On June 22, the train will make a round trip from Minneapolis to Glencoe, Minn. on the Twin Cities & Western’s former Milwaukee Road line that the Olympian Hiawatha used until it was discontinued in 1961. On June 23, the train will travel on TC&W from Minneapolis to Norwood, where it will switch to the Minnesota Prairie Line’s former Minneapolis & St. Louis route to Winthrop, Minn. Passenger service ended on the M&StL route between Minneapolis and Watertown, S.D., on July 20, 1960. Photo run-bys will be held both days.

The train will include Dome Class, Premium Class, Presidential Class, First Class and Coach seating. Premium Class features seating in ex-Milwaukee Road Skytop observation car Cedar Rapids. Dome Class includes full length Super Dome #53 and ex-California Zephyr dome Silver Palace where passengers can enjoy a meal under glass. Premium and Dome class includes a selection of complimentary meals, hors d’oeuvres and beverages and deluxe reserved seating, while First Class includes complimentary meals, snacks and beverages in a deluxe lounge car. Presidential Class includes First Class service in a car specially designated for you and your group.

Ticket prices are still being worked out, so mark your calendar and watch for more information on when you can purchase tickets for these exciting excursions.

Amtrak charter train update

In March 2018, Amtrak implemented a new policy which in effect banned special charter train operations and severely limited private car movements. This policy has had a chilling effect on the Friends of the 261, resulting in the cancellation of a previously scheduled steam trip to Duluth, which would have provided substantial revenue to install Positive Train Control on No. 261. Other charter trips have helped raise money for the overhaul and maintenance of No. 261. The operation of private cars and charter train provides additional profitable funding to Amtrak but requires additional effort. Amtrak has decided that operating these trains is a distraction from their core business and revenue that these charter trains provides is profitable but not worth the effort. While Amtrak has rejected revenue from charter trains and private cars, it continues to ask for subsidies from taxpayers to operate.

There has been some incremental progress. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was able to persuade Amtrak to operate the New River Train in his state last fall, but Amtrak raised the operating costs so much the future of the train remains in doubt. On March 1, ninety-one members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Amtrak President and CEO Richard Anderson demanding answers to a long list of concerns “regarding changes that Amtrak has recently implemented and is reportedly considering making to its operations” posed by their constituents. Among the concerns stated in the letter is private car carriage and charges.

The Friends of the 261 continues to press for changes in Amtrak’s policy. In our home state of Minnesota, a possible new Amtrak train service from Minneapolis to Duluth is being studied, and would require taxpayer subsidies to Amtrak to operate it. We are asking that if Minnesota taxpayers are helping pay for the new service, Amtrak should at least be willing to let the Friends operate charter trains in the state.

We again call on all members and friends to contact your elected representatives by letter, phone call or email and ask for this policy to be rescinded so that nonprofits such as ours can continue to educate the public about railroads and passenger train travel.

Shop news

By Justin Young

With the snow piling up from a typical Minnesota winter, things around the shop progress slowly. Although it does not stop, work continues on the Union Pacific dome 9001. All the dome windows are being replaced with new FRA compliant glass, as well as repairs being done to the window openings. After sitting outside in the elements for over a decade, there is quite a bit of repair work to do to make the windows seal properly. Along with new windows, the UP dome is also having new base board radiant heat installed, and new LED lighting. All abandoned electrical systems are being completely removed in preparation for a new electrical control panel. Plans for the car also included sending the generator out for a complete over haul by the manufacturer, as well as complete overhauls on the A/C system to make sure they are ready for the summer sun.

Work also continues on other odds and ends projects such as, replacements for the glass partition walls in the Silver Palace, as well as new glass partitions for the Fox River Valley. Some of the cars have older model fluorescent lighting which is getting costly to replace, so some of these are being converted to LED.

Scotland SOLD OUT!

The Friends of the 261 is sponsoring a once a once in a lifetime holiday in Scotland in May 2019. These international trips have become popular: this trip to Scotland is already sold out!

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. Our steam power will be the world famous 4-6-2 Flying Scotsman and Class B1 Mayflower.

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.

Visit to get on the e-mail list for upcoming international trips.

2018 Car Shop Report Fall

Category : Uncategorized

2018 has brought big changes to the fleet of the Friends of the 261. 2 new domes and a complete overhaul on the Fox River Valley, former Henry Hudson. New Gaskets and windows are on their way for the Silver Palace, former Western Pacific coach dome. Custom carpet is on its way for the Silver Palace as well as the Fox River Valley. The Fox River Valley is having major changes made as well. When the car was with Amtrak it was a Buffet car, complete with steam table and lots of refrigeration. With most of the item in need of major repair, it was time to convert it back to a lounge car. 



Five windows were cut back open, which were previously plugged by Amtrak, as well as all new windows through out the car. Two new bathrooms are being added back in, many mechanical updates are being made with simplifying the electrical and hvac systems. The Fox River Valley is also being completely refinished from floor to ceiling in African Mahogany.

The Fox River Valley will make its debut appearance on the Gourmet Express in September 2018. Be one of the first people to ride the Fox River Valley!

Photos are sorted before and after, with in-progress photos at the end.