Sep 1, 2018

Frank E. Sandberg, Jr.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No. 261 to pull Gourmet Express

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

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

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

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

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

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

Positive Train Control and Milwaukee Road 261

by Erik Hoofnagle

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amtrak changes charter train, private car policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Russia steam tour nearly sold out

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

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

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

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

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

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

For booking and more information call 651-688-7320 or e-mail [email protected].

Mini-Hiawatha operates in Pacific Northwest

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

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

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

Friends receives $30,000 PTC grant from Emery Trust

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

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

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

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

2017 North Pole Express: another success

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friends of the 261 traveling to Scotland in May 2019

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

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

Click here for more information.

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