Jun 1, 2014

London Calling: Friends of the 261 to offer tour of English Heritage railways

The Friends of the 261 is sponsoring a tour to England this September to tour heritage railways and ride behind mainline steam locomotives. The tour will be based in London, and will feature four days of steam operations using several mainline steam locomotives, plus a visit to the Blue Bell Heritage Railway.

On Sept. 3 participants will be able to ride a steam powered main line passenger train from Victoria Station to Weymouth, returning to Waterloo Station. Departing Weymouth for the return to London, one steam locomotive will be used at the head end and a second steam locomotive will be pushing.

On Sept. 4 we will feature an organized tour to the Blue Bell Heritage Railway, which boasts a collection of over 30 steam locomotives and operates an 11-mile line from East Grinstead to Sheffield Park. At Sheffield Park there will be a behind the scenes tour of the locomotive restoration shed.

One of the surviving “Bulleid” 4-6-2 Pacific’s will head a special train out of London on Sept. 5. These locomotives were named after the former Southern Railway Chief Mechanical Engineer Oliver Bulleid, who was responsible for many of the innovations in the steam era and designed this large fleet of express locomotives. The train will use the former London & South Western Railway to Salisbury and Exeter.

Departing Exeter the train will travel a “rare mileage” branch line to Barnstaple. Returning to Exeter the train will add another 4-6-2 for a double-headed run to Cornwall and Penznce. The train will layover for the weekend, returning to London Sept. 8 behind double headed Pacific’s.

Fares for the trip begin at $4995, with several options and add-ons available. The Friends have arranged for special airfares to England with Delta Air Lines, but you must order soon to receive the special fare discounts. For more information and to order tickets go to www.261.com/london-callingo, or call 651-688-7320 or 651-765-9812 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Milwaukee Road 261 to pull Fall Color Excursions on BNSF

Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 will make a return visit to Duluth this autumn. No. 261, which was returned to service in 2013 following a five-year overhaul, will pull a round trip from Minneapolis to Duluth over BNSF Railway on Sept. 27-28.

Preliminary plans, subject to necessary agreements and approvals from Amtrak, call for No. 261 to depart Minneapolis at 9 a.m. Sept. 27 traveling via BNSF Railway’s ex-Great Northern Railway Hinckley and Lakes Subdivisions to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, where a 3 p.m. arrival is planned.

After overnighting at the museum, the excursion will return to Minneapolis on Sept. 28 over the same route as the day before, leaving Duluth at noon and arriving at Minneapolis at 5:30 p.m.

The excursion will include coach, first class and premium class. Premium class includes reserved seating in Milwaukee Road Skytop observation Cedar Rapids or Super Dome 53.

Ticket prices have not yet been determined. Once details are finalized, members will receive a special email blitz announcing prices and online ordering information.

Private car charters to Chicago, Whitefish set to roll

The Friends of the 261 will operate cars from our historic passenger car fleet on charter trips to Chicago and Whitefish, Montana this summer. As with all of our premier excursions, the cars will travel behind Amtrak’s Empire Builder.

The 2014 Windy City Express will depart St. Paul on June 20 for Chicago, returning in June 22. Cars on this trip will include full-length dome-diner-lounge Super Dome 53, and open platform private car Lamberts Point. Rail fare includes freshly prepared meals and libations.

Tickets are $319 for the round trip from St. Paul to Chicago; $179 one way – St. Paul to Milwaukee or Chicago on June 20, and $179 one way from Chicago or Milwaukee to St. Paul June 22.

Following on the heels of last year’s successful trip, The Friends of the 261 is again sponsoring a private car charter from St. Paul to Whitefish, Mont. The six-day, five-night trip will depart St. Paul August 12 and return August 18.

The consist includes Pullman sleeping car Minnesota River, Super Dome 53, and open platform private car Lamberts Point. The exclusive trip offers private sleeping accommodations on board the train, meals prepared and served in the dome, beverage and snack service and access to the open-air platform on the Lamberts Point.

Trip rates include transportation, food and beverage aboard the train. Passengers can choose their own hotels and cost, with a wide variety of accommodations available in the Whitefish and Glacier Park area. With Whitefish being a popular summer destination, it is a good idea to reserve a room and/or rental car as soon as possible before they are booked.

For Whitefish ticket pricing and information go to www.261.com. To book your trip call 651-688-7320 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Central Time. This trip has limited capacity, so book your tickets early!

Friends purchases bi-level commuter cars

The Friends of the 261 has purchased a pair of former Chicago & North Western/Metra/Virginia Railway Express bi-level commuter cars. The U.S. Army was offering the cars for sale and the Friends were able to obtain them at a very reasonable price. The Army had purchased the cars in 2011 from VRE for a proposed troop train movement between Fort Lee, south of Richmond, Va., to Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County, Va., but the train never operated due to budget issues. In March 2012 the program was canceled.

The two cars are in excellent condition and will allow the Friends to operate short, but high revenue special trains as needed or can lease them to other operators. Don’t look for the cars to be used on our long distance excursions however, since the commuter cars are not designed for passenger comfort over long distances.

Contract work part of Friends of the 261 diversification plan

With record traffic overwhelming the main lines on several railroads this winter and spring, the Friends is seeking out additional revenue streams other than excursions and charter trips. One way to do so is with contract work. The Friends recently partnered with the Lake Superior Railroad Museum and Union Pacific Railroad to deliver new flues for two steam locomotives.

The Lake Superior Railroad Museum, based in Duluth, Minn., is overhauling Duluth & Northeastern Railroad 2-8-0 No. 28. The museum wanted to obtain new boiler flues for the locomotive, and contacted the Friends since our organization has experience obtaining flues from a specialty steel company in Germany.

However, a single order for flues for the 28 would have been prohibitively expensive, and that’s where Union Pacific came in. The railroad also needed flues for its famous 4-8-4 No. 844. The Friends was able to combine the two orders to make it cost effective for both the museum and the railroad.

Once the new flues arrived in the United States, they were shipped to Con-Tek Machine in Vadnais Heights, Minn. There, Friends workers and volunteers used a hi-tech swaging machine designed by Con-Tek that “squeezes” one end of the 5½-inch tube to 4½ inch diameter while not cutting away any material. This is one of only two or three steam locomotive swaging machines in the United States. Boiler tubes typically must be narrower at the firebox end, but normal diameter at the smoke box end to accommodate superheater units.

844 FLUES – 261 crews load new flues for Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844 at Con-Tek Machine on May 1, 2014.

All 70 flues for the 844 were swaged and departed Minnesota by truck May 1 for UP’s steam shop in Cheyenne, Wyo. The tubes for D&NE 28 will also be swaged and sent to Duluth soon.

By undertaking contract work such as this, the Friends earns important revenue while at the same time helping keep these steam locomotives in operation for thousands to enjoy.

News from the car shop

By Justin Young

Friends of the 261 car shop workers have been busy this winter on the restoration of Milwaukee Road Skytop lounge observation Cedar Rapids.

Ceiling work on the Cedar Rapids is near completion. The entire ceiling is being replaced, along with the curved side panels above the luggage racks that had water stains and badly damaged wood.

Window work is progressing day by day, with minor rust repair being done around windows before new ones can be installed. The Friends are installing 14 new custom-made, FRA type 1 windows, along with four new oval-shaped side windows. Once all the new windows are installed, the entire car will be sanded and repainted in Milwaukee Road orange and maroon colors.

Shades in the body of car have been cleaned, re-sewn, re-tensioned and are in the process of being reinstalled. Preparation work on the seat bases is continuing with polishing of the horizontal ribs on the sides of the bases.

All carpeting will be replaced, and the parlor seats reupholstered. The car should be available for private car charters later this summer and the steam excursion to Duluth in September.

HEADING NORTH: Milwaukee Road No. 261 heads north passing BNSF Railway’s Northtown Yard in Fridley, Minn. on Oct. 13, 2013. No. 261 will travel these rails again when it pulls a round trip excursion from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minn. on Sept. 27-28, 2014. Photo by Steve Glischinski.

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