Mar 1, 2012


On Dec. 9, 2011, the rebuilding of Milwaukee Road 261 reached a milestone when the locomotive was placed back atop its four sets of driving wheels. No. 261 had been separated from its wheels since July 2010.

The four sets of drivers had been shipped to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn., which has specialized equipment necessary to turn the wheels and crank pins. After thousands of miles of operation, the drivers had become oval shaped, because they wore down a bit faster at the strongest part of the piston thrust on each side of the engine. The first set of drivers had the most wear on the flanges, so it was turned down first to restore it to its original profile. The other three sets were then turned to exactly match the first set, and then all four were shipped back to Minneapolis.

The Friends of the 261 is performing the locomotive’s federally mandated inspection and overhaul. The temperature hovered at a frigid 13 degrees as the Friends steam crew, working with Vic’s Crane & Heavy Haul of Rosemount, Minn., positioned two cranes to lift the locomotive’s 227,000-pound boiler and set it back on the wheels at the Minneapolis Junction shop. The wheel sets, which already were connected to the driving rods, were gently nudged under the locomotive by a forklift with a special drawbar attached.


After No. 261 was back on its wheels, the focus of the rebuild work turned to the boiler, with the goal of the first steam-up this spring. During the last two weeks of March workers and volunteers expect to complete installation of two hundred 2¼- inch boiler tubes. This will be followed by installation of 58 larger 5½-inch tubes, which hold the super heater units in place. In the cab, new wood flooring has been put in place and temporarily covered with carpeting to preserve it. A diesel multiple unit control has been installed on the control stand on the engineer’s side of the cab to allow diesels to be controlled from 261. Yet to come is new piping and wiring for the multiple unit control.

A few modifications have been made to 261 to make maintenance and inspection easier. New drop down ash pan sides have been installed to allow for quicker inspection and cleaning. A new lighting system has been built, and plans are to install the lights under the locomotive to allow for quicker inspections, especially at night.

Tramming of the driving rods, which involves precision trimming of the area where the rods are held on the driving wheel crank pins, was handled at no cost by Panther Precision Machine of Ramsey, Minn. Panther is also making new brasses for the rods.

Friends of the 261 Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg said that he hopes to do a hydrostatic test of the boiler later this spring, followed by the engine’s first fire up. Sandberg said there is no plan to operate 261 on excursions trips this year, but that doesn’t mean it won’t run. “We are planning to operate 261 on tests to evaluate its performance before committing to main line

operations,” he said.


By Justin Young

Shown above is the updated interior of the Nokomis. The Friends is focusing on improving its current rolling stock to enhance its historic fabric and the quality of the experience of its guests.

This winter and spring Friends of the 261 workers and volunteers have been working hard again in the coach yard. Work is being done on only a few cars, but the projects have been rather large.

The first project has been the continuing replacement of windows in the observation end of Skytop Cedar Rapids. We have been working diligently to replace some of the windows with Federal Railroad Administration approved safety glass. Not only does this add to passenger safety, it also makes for better window clarity. The process has been aided by having a set of the original Milwaukee Road diagrams, which contain the exact dimensions and size of each windowpane, which are all custom sized. Each window on the diagram has a letter suffix. The diagram has been scanned by our glass supplier in Quebec, so now we can just call them, tell them we need window pane “A” for example, and they pull up that plan, cut the glass to size, and ship it to us.

Work has also continued on coaches No. 202 and No. 203. This year these cars are getting a getting a much-needed makeover. Coach No. 203, Nokomis, needed new walls and a new floor. New aluminum sheets were installed on the walls. Leaky windows were removed, cleaned, and new gaskets and hardware installed around them. The original, non-operable steam heat system was replaced with a new electric heat system on both sides of the car. New carpet was put in place, and seats were thoroughly cleaned, checked to make sure they operate smoothly and properly, and reinstalled.

After work was completed on car No. 203, similar work began on No. 202, Wenonah with the exception of carpeting. The tile floor in No. 202 was in better shape than No. 203 so it was retained. Now both cars have some of the best climate control of any passenger coaches today. We are also continuing the process of remodeling lounge car Wisconsin Valley with more woodwork, and dividers similar to the work completed on the St. Croix Valley in 2009. Over the next few months we may also repaint the fading black on the Cedar Rapids, and possibly repaint business car Milwaukee back to Milwaukee Road passenger colors. All these plans are pending time and funds, of course.

Since its inception in 1993, the Friends has shifted from simply a steam locomotive operator to a full service moving museum.


Skytop-lounge observation Cedar Rapids is making a special trip to New York City this spring. An individual is chartering the car for a party at New York’s Penn Station. This is the first time the car has ever visited the “Big Apple.”

In preparation for the move, which will be on regular Amtrak trains, the holding tank, mufflers, air compressor and related items under the car had to be relocated to clear the third rail at Penn Station. The underside of the car is also being repainted. The Skytop will also be visiting Iowa this summer for annual convention of the National Railway Historical Society, being held in Cedar Rapids. This will reportedly be the first visit of the car to the city for which it is named. The car will be used to carry premium lounge class passengers, along with Dover Harbor; a heavyweight Pullman owned and operated by the Washington D.C. Chapter of the NRHS, built in 1923.


The Friends of the 261, in conjunction with Amtrak, BNSF Railway and Canadian Pacific, will operate two days of fall color trips this October. On Saturday, October 13, the train will operate from Minneapolis to Boylston, just outside Superior, Wis., on BNSF Railway’s freight only ex-Great Northern Hinckley Subdivision. The train will be turned at Boylston for the return to Minneapolis.

On Sunday, October 14, the train will operate over Canadian Pacific’s scenic ex-Milwaukee Road River Subdivision along the Mississippi River from Minneapolis to Winona, Minn. After the Winona stop, the train will proceed to La Crescent, Minn., where it will be turned on the wye for the return to Winona and Minneapolis.

Times and ticket prices will be announced when arrangements have been completed with Amtrak and the host railroads, but mark your calendars now to ride these excursions. At this time it is expected the trains will be pulled by Amtrak diesels.

Side rods have been machined by a nearby shop, and they are now ready for reinstallation. ©Steve Glischinski

This view looking from the front tube sheet shows tubes being placed into the boiler. ©Steve Glischinski

Having been cleaned and inspected, a little bondo goes a long way in cleaning up 261’s drivers. ©Steve Glischinski


As in years past, several passenger cars from the Friends of the 261 fleet will travel to Chicago for National Train Day, May 12, 2012. The cars will depart St. Paul on Amtrak’s Empire Builder on Friday, May 11 and return on Sunday, May 13. As has been tradition, the Friends were selling tickets on these moves to allow passengers to enjoy the tradition of classic mid-20th Century passenger railroading, but by surprise to the Friends, the May trip was almost instantly sold out.

With this in mind, the Friends are now scheduling another ‘Summer Get Away’ trip to Chicago on Friday, July 20th and return to the Twin Cities on Sunday, July 22nd. Another date to add for upcoming one way trips would be Friday June 15th, a Twin Cities to Chicago trip and then on June 26th, Chicago to the Twin Cities. These trips will feature premier rolling stock, including Super Dome 53 and Cedar Rapids.

The “First Public Excursion Run:” Pictured here at Van Dyne, Wis., on the Wisconsin Central, newly-overhauled Milwaukee Road 261 makes its first public excursion run on Sept. 18, 1993, following its first extensive overhaul in Minneapolis. Milwaukee Road 261 is now receiving its most thorough overhaul since the 1950’s, ensuring years of safe, successful operation to come. ©Steve Glischinski

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