Mar 1, 2011


This winter, the Friends of the 261 have been busy making modifications and upgrades to our passenger cars. Crews have been working on Skytop lounge observation Cedar Rapids , parlor car Wisconsin Valley and baggage/concession car 2450.

Skytop Cedar Rapids, built in 1948 by the Milwaukee Road at the Milwaukee Shops, was in need of window replacement because several panes had fogged over the years. This winter, work at the shop in Minneapolis included replacing the windows with FRA-approved safety glass. The woodwork inside the car was also replaced, or where wood was rotted, replaced and stained to match the older wood. The interior of the car was then repainted in colors to match the paint the car had when it was built. The Cedar Rapids is one of our more popular “feature” cars and has a fresh look passengers are sure to enjoy.

Shiny Mahogany: Interior of newly-refurbished lounge St. Croix Valley, sister car to the Wisconsin Valley. Shown above is the buffet end of the car, showing new wood paneling ©261

Last fall, work was completed on upgrades to the newest addition to the passenger car fleet, parlor car St. Croix Valley. The Friends received positive feedback from passengers who rode the car, so the decision was made to upgrade its sister car, Wisconsin Valley. Improvements to the Wisconsin Valley include new light fixtures recessed in new mahogany-trimmed maple ceiling panels. An elegant ceiling fan was installed, and the old carpet wrapped valences and mismatching windowsills were replaced and trimmed in smooth mahogany. The Wisconsin Valley will be the “must see” car during the next charter and excursion trips. Both the St. Croix Valley and Wisconsin Valley are former U.S. Army/Amtrak cars built by St. Louis Car in 1952.

Interior of the Cedar Rapids pre-renovation: Though it was acceptable in appearance, the Friends’ renovation returns the car to its original glory and ensures many years of beautiful ©261

This spring, work is in progress on baggage/concession car 2450. Crews are in the process of adding a matching oak bar back and cabinetry, making the car more efficient and multipurpose. Also being added is a television screen with a global positioning satellite display so passengers will be able to see the location of the train as it moves down the tracks. The hope is that some day small cameras can be added on the 261 so passengers can monitor the steam crew and see the locomotive in action from inside the train. American Car & Foundry built car 2450 in 1957 for Union Pacific as baggage car 5741.

The Friends of the 261 is moving its historic car fleet into the 21st Century… be sure to come along for the ride!


This fall, famous model manufacturer Lionel will be producing an O-gauge model of Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 (shown above). The suggested retail price of the model will be $995.00. However, members of the Friends of the 261 will be able to purchase this fine model at a discounted price of only $895.00.

To purchase one of these models, members need to make a deposit of $261.00 to hold a model at the discounted member price. Just print out the order form with this newsletter and mail it to the “Friends of the 261,” or go to and place your order via the Internet.

Remember, you must be a member to qualify for this offer – membership will be verified before orders will be placed with Lionel. The deadline for ordering the model of Milwaukee Road 261 is July 1, 2011 so act today to take advantage of this exclusive offer. Thanks for your membership and support of Milwaukee Road 261.


After over a year of hard work, the rebuild of Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 has reached the halfway mark. Work on the locomotive is taking place at the Harrison Street Shop at Minneapolis Junction. This winter, for the first time ever, the shop was partially heated over the cold weather months so work could continue.

261’s boiler has been the center of attention. All stay bolts have been inspected, cleaned and replaced as needed. On March 14, 18,000 pounds of new boiler tubes and flues for the 261 arrived at the Port of Houston from Germany and were shipped to Minneapolis. After the wheels are put back under the locomotive, the flues will be rolled into the boiler. Crews are waiting to install the flues, since the “clock” starts running on the Federal time limit for locomotive boilers as soon as they are placed in the boiler. Rather than start the clock and then wait for the wheels, the decision was made to wait until wheel work is complete.

During the week of March 6, a special custom-built machine was used to press apart the main driving axle on Milwaukee Road 261. The work was done to inspect the main roller bearings on the wheel, and to establish a better fit of the wheel on the axle hub. Although the wheel had not moved on the axle, it had oil bleeding from it and appeared to be wearing on the axle.

Chief Operating Officer of the Friends of the 261 Steve Sandberg pulls a piece of the main bearing assembly off of its crankpin. The wheels have since been removed and trued ©261

Because 261 has one-piece roller bearing housings, it required us to build our own wheel press, since most wheel presses do not have an opening that will accommodate the size of 261’s roller bearing box. The roller bearings on the 261 are the same American Locomotive Company configuration as found on Union Pacific 4-8-4 No. 844, but the design is different from those found on other steam locomotives. For example, Norfolk & Western No. 611 has a different roller bearing arrangement.

Hot off the press! The one-piece roller bearing housing and immense, hollow axle are clear in this photo. Once common, steam locomotive wheel presses are rare in America today. ©261

The Friends machine is capable of pressing up to 450 tons. The wheel on the 261 came off at 171.35 tons. Frank Sandberg, Jr., father of Friends of the 261 Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg, designed the machine. Sandberg’s Con-Tek Machine, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of industrial presses and injection molding equipment, constructed it.

The Timken Company, which manufactured 261’s roller bearing, provided all of the original manufacturing blueprints. The inspection of the 261’s main roller bearings revealed that all the bearing parts are in excellent condition. Next the steam crew will be pressing the main driver back together for turning. “It is pretty impressive to open these bearing boxes and see the massive roller bearings,” Steve Sandberg said.

All of the appliances on 261 are being cleaned, inspected, tested and repaired as necessary. The most recent cleaning took place on the Barco Float Low Water Alarm, a device used toward the end of the steam era to alert the crews if the boiler water level was too low. The siren sound made by the alarm can’t be missed in the cab!

The entire frame of the locomotive has been needle-scaled (right) and will soon be painted. Before painting, however, all lubrication lines need to be cleaned, inspected and tested. Further plumbing on the locomotive already underway includes re-piping the blow down valves, fireman’s side whistle and other appurtenances.

Milwaukee Road 261 is receiving a thorough work-over, including the replumbing of all pneumatic and lube lines. Above, detail of the newly re-plumbed sinding valves. ©261

No date has been set for 261’s return to service. While there is some hope that the engine will be steamed this year, it is it is more likely it will be in the spring or summer of 2012. Turning the wheels is taking longer than expected, and is very precise work. This is not something we want to rush – it’s important to get the work right to ensure the engine can operate properly.

We are asking all our members and friends to make tax deductible donations by sending a check or donating online at We know times are tough, but only through your support will we be able to get 261 rolling down the mainline again.


At the request of Amtrak, the Friends baggage/concession car, parlor car St. Croix Valley, Super Dome 53 and Skytop lounge observation Cedar Rapids traveled to Chicago to participate in the National Train Day events at Union Station. National Train Day was held on May 7 with events around the United States. One of the largest celebrations was held in Chicago, with participation from Amtrak, the Friends, Canadian National, Indiana Harbor Belt, Metra, Union Pacific and private car owners.

The cars departed St. Paul on the rear of Amtrak’s Empire Builder on May 6. The equipment was displayed at the north end of Union Station, where Milwaukee Road passenger trains once departed. Amtrak displayed two of its new Heritage painted locomotives to celebrate its 40th Anniversary. On the south end of the station were other displays, including Bennett Levin’s ex-Pennsylvania Railroad E8 locomotives and cars. Pennsylvania trains, including the famed Broadway Limited, once departed from the south end of Union Station. Visitors were able to go on a 40-minute trip aboard Amtrak equipment departing from Union Station. The trips offered an up-close look at the amenities and accommodations offered on Amtrak trains today. The Friends passenger cars returned to St. Paul on the Builder May 8.


When Alco built Milwaukee Road 261 in 1944, it had round smokebox door on the front end. Later in the 1940s, a squared off smokebox door was installed to allow superheater units to be removed more easily.

Now, 261 may be returned to its “as-built” appearance. The Illinois Railway Museum has agreed to sell our group an old smoke box door from an engine they scrapped a few years back. Friends of the 261 Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg looked at it at IRM last fall and it looks close to the right size. The Museum has agreed to sell it outright to the Friends for $2,500. Sandberg estimates the cost with shipping, modifications, and installation the cost of the new smoke box door will be about $10,000.

Changing the door would have no effect on how the locomotive operates. As Sandberg said, “The engine looks the same with or without a new smokebox door from my seat.” However, it would offer photographers and fans of the 261 to see the engine as it looked when it rolled out of Alco’s Schenectady, N.Y., plant in 1944.

Whether this happens or not depends on how many donations are received from those interested in seeing the engine return to its original appearance. You can make a tax deductible donation by sending a check made out to the Friends at Make sure you note “smoke box door” with your donation.


The Friends of the 261’s fleet of passenger cars will be heading to Rock Island, Ill., this summer to participate in Train Festival 2011 being held July 21-24. The festival will be a celebration of American railroading featuring steam and diesel locomotives from around the United States. Among the steam locomotives expected to appear are Iowa Interstate’s two Chinese 2-10-2s, Nickel Plate Road 2-8-4 No. 765, 4-4-0 No. 63, the “Leviathan,” Flagg Coal Company 0-4-0T No.75, and Viscose 0-4-0T No.6.
Visitors will be able to tour the cabs of locomotives, take photos, watch demonstrations or visit model train layouts.

The Friends cars will be used on either all day excursions or shorter two-hour train rides over the Iowa Interstate Railroad behind various vintage locomotives. Scaled down miniature trains will be hauling passengers around the grounds of the event as well.

The Friends will be selling one way tickets from St. Paul to Chicago, and one way tickets from Chicago to St. Paul to help with the cost of getting the fleet to Rock Island for the Festival. The cars will travel to Rock Island on a special train
from Chicago Union Station on July 21.

Train Festival 2011 is being produced by Prestige Rail Marketing and is sponsored by the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau and the City of Rock Island. For more information visit the Train Festival website at For information on riding the ferry trips moving the cars to Chicago, go to


©Paul Hoffmann

The Friends of the 261 are planning for the annual fall color trips along the Mississippi River this fall. This year the trips are scheduled for Oct. 8-9, 2011. While we are awaiting final approval from Amtrak, we expect to receive the goahead soon. As in past years, we will offer Premium Class, First Class, and coach seating. While Amtrak diesel power will be used, we are requesting that Amtrak provide one of their special anniversary diesels to pull the train. Amtrak has repainted several diesels – P42DCs 66, 145, 156, P40 822, and F40PH 406 in historic color schemes from the 1970s and 1990s.

Watch our web site, for more details on these trips as they become available.

Running off into the sunset: Unlike so many other excursion steam locomotives that are no longer in service, through the dedication and support of our members and so many organizations, the Friends of the 261 is able to rebuild the 261 for another 15 years of dedicated service. Keep up the good work, and this scene could be repeated again soon! ©Mitch Goldman

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