Milwaukee Road No. 261 carries 600 passengers on Twin Cities & Western excursions

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Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 steams westbound through Augusta, Minn., on Sept. 30.
Steve Glischinski
MINNEAPOLIS — Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 pulled two days of Fall Color excursions on the Twin Cities & Western and its subsidiary Minnesota Prairie Line Sept. 30 – Oct. 1. The trips, sponsored by the Friends of the 261, carried 600 passengers over the two days. The short line operates a portion of the former Milwaukee Road main line from the Twin Cities to the West Coast, so No. 261 was riding home rails for much of the weekend. The trips were a repeat of a successful series of trips over the same route in autumn 2016.

Like last year, The Friends made a special effort to line up the first several cars in the train with cars carrying Milwaukee Road passenger colors of orange and maroon; 261’s auxiliary water tender was also left behind. These were the only four non-Milwaukee painted cars on the 13-car train and they were placed toward the middle and rear of the train for a more pleasing appearance. The train included two dome cars: privately owned Northern Sky, ex-Union Pacific No. 9003 built by American Car & Foundry in 1955, and the Friends Milwaukee Road Super Dome No. 53 built by Pullman Standard in 1952. Glass-backed Skytop observation car Cedar Rapids brought up the rear of the train. Making its debut was buffet-diner Warriors Rest, an ex-Pennsylvania Railroad car the Friends acquired this summer.

On Sept. 30, the excursion train departed from the Friends shop in Minneapolis and headed west to Norwood, Minn., on what was the route of Milwaukee Road’s famed Olympian Hiawatha streamliner that traveled from Chicago and the Twin Cities to Seattle-Tacoma. This line has not seen regularly scheduled passenger service since 1969.

At Norwood the train switched to Minnesota Prairie Line’s ex-Minneapolis & St. Louis line. Passenger service ended on the M&StL route between Minneapolis and Watertown, S.D., on July 20, 1960, but excursion train passengers were able to ride a portion of the line from Norwood to Winthrop, Minn. This is one of the last significant portions of the Minneapolis & St. Louis that remains intact. The Prairie Line also operates an additional 65 miles of “Louie” track from Winthrop to Hanley Falls, Minn., but that portion is all operated at 10 mph and passenger service is not permitted.

On Oct. 1, the trip continued west past Norwood to Glencoe, Minn., TC&W’s headquarters city. On both days because there are no turning facilities for No. 261, the trains were pulled east back to Minneapolis by a TC&W diesel.

Next up for No. 261 will be North Pole Express trips at Union Depot in St. Paul, Minn. The annual holiday event sees Santa Claus emerging from his North Pole workshop at the east end of the depot grounds and visiting with children on board a special train pulled by the 4-8-4.The regular schedule for this year will see North Pole Express trains operating Nov. 30, Dec. 1 to 2 and Dec. 7 to 10. New this year will be first class tickets in parlor car Wisconsin Valley that will offer extra perks for passengers.

More information is available online. 
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