Milwaukee Road 261 to pull 'Gourmet Express' excursions

Trips Sept. 21-22 will also feature newly acquired E9
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Milwaukee Road 261 departs Minneapolis with a "Gourmet Express" trip in September 2018.
Steve Glischinski

MINNEAPOLIS — The Friends of the 261 will operate “Gourmet Express” excursions pulled by Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 No. 261 and E9 No. 32A on the Twin Cities & Western Railroad Sept. 21-22. The special trips cater to passengers interested in unusual food and wine events and piggyback on similar trips operated in 2018.

The 7-hour trips will travel between Minneapolis and Glencoe, Minn. The Friends will have chefs aboard the train to prepare meals, and wine tastings will be conducted. A stop in Bongards, Minn., will be made for photo runs and to taste cheese from the Bongards Cheese factory adjacent to the tracks. The train will be made up of mostly first-class cars, although there will also be some coaches, along with two open-door baggage/concession cars.

The schedule reflects the dining theme. The Sept. 21 train will depart Minneapolis at 1 p.m. and return at 8 p.m. so passengers can enjoy afternoon and evening meals. On Sept. 22 the train will depart Minneapolis at 10:30 a.m., returning at 5 p.m., offering a brunch during the trip.

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 Western Pacific ex-California Zephyr Budd dome Silver Palace, where passengers can have a meal under glass. 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 Milwaukee Road business car 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. The line has not seen regularly scheduled passenger train service since 1969. 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 to Glencoe with No. 261 leading, but since there is nowhere to turn the steam locomotive newly acquired former Milwaukee Road E9A No. 32A will pull the train east to Minneapolis.

Friends of the 261 President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg said it is unknown whether the 32A will be repainted in Milwaukee Road colors in time for the trip. The group is working on several projects this summer and can’t guarantee the E9 will be completed by September. However, Sandberg said all the vinyl decals that were on the locomotive when it arrived from the Wisconsin & Southern this spring have been removed in preparation for painting.

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