Dec 1, 2014

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.

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