• 261 Position Move - Minneapolis to Milwaukee

  • Tell us where you were and what you saw!
Tell us where you were and what you saw!

Moderator: David Benton

  by Scoring Guy
I was alerted, by the Milwaukee Road Historical Association, that the Minneapolis, MN based “Friends of 261” locomotive was pulling a consist of their vintage cars on a “position move” to Milwaukee on Wednesday, June 21, ’06, in order to do excursion runs out of Milwaukee that following weekend. As a result of being a MRHA member, I was able to secure a “Premium Class” ticket for that trip before that section quickly sold out; the train also had “First Class” and “Coach”.
I live near La Crosse, WI (located about half way between Minneapolis and Milwaukee) so I had to do some long range planning and itinerary contortions in order to facilitate this “position move” trip. At that time, many months in advance of this trip, there was a real possibility that I would have to be in Milwaukee (for other reasons) on June 23rd, (although that event was ultimately cancelled) so I set up the following plan: Drive to Milwaukee, on Tuesday, June 20th, have lunch with a friend, then park my car at the Milwaukee Amtrak station, and take the Empire Builder to the “Twin Cities”. I booked a Roomette (Rm. #2, of the 2730 car) and I was pleased to see the new interior upgrading that had been done to this car (sorry I didn’t get the car number). Everything looked like brand new, the hallways were all lined with faux wood paneling, and the upper level lavatory had a completely new (fiberglass) design which was so much better and brighter and nicer and roomier than the old stainless layout. The pleated curtains in the rooms are such an improvement over the original flat panel curtains. My car attendant was great, he picked up a dinner reservation for me, and brought me a small bottle of champagne (too bad there were no ice cubes), and he was fascinated by my up coming ride about the 261 train. The dining car announced a “sellout” by the time we got to Watertown, and when it was my turn to dine, the food and service were great, as was the company at “my” table. The Sightseer Lounge cars on the EB have also been spruced up, with bright blue upholstery and tables on one end of the upper level, plus bar service on the upper level in addition to the full café service counter in the lower level. My roomette didn’t get used much as I stayed in the lounge car until it became to dark to see out, but not too early to take in the bulk of the scenic ride up the west banks of the Mississippi. We arrived at the Twin Cities station only a couple minutes late and I walked over to the nearby Days Inn where I spent the night (as did many other 261 fans, who were also on the EB)..
In the morning, some friends of mine, from the Twin Cities area, showed up at the motel at 6:00 am to take me out for breakfast, and then take me to the 261 (ex GN) yard in North Minneapolis (I must say that I did quite a good salesman job in talking my friends into helping me out, and a good thing it was, because the run on taxi’s by 261 riders could have left me late and SOL.) The 261 was scheduled to depart at 8:30am, and we arrived at 7:30am. My friends, were quite impressed by train, especially the locomotive, the “Skytop” and the “Superdome” and are now planning to ride a future 261 excursion, however after some picture taking, they had to leave to make a 9:00am appointment. As they left, I boarded the Superdome, # 53, to find my seat. Based upon an Amtrak video I have, I realized that the interior layout remains the same as it was when the car was used a dining car on the Autotrain. When the Autotrain, was outfitted with Superliner cars, the #53 went into service in the Carolina’s, before being “retired” by Amtrak. The Friends of 261 purchased the car last year when it was put up for sale on ebay.

Although the Premium section was a sellout, they didn’t pack us in, in fact it was about one passenger for every two seats; thus I had a table for two to myself, as did most other “single” travelers, and couples and/or pairs had tables for four, and we of course were also welcome to join the group in the Skytop car as well. Since the price tag for the Premium was $300 per head, one would assume that the service should be tops, and it was!. They handled our luggage at both ends of the trip, and served us breakfast upon departure (which actually was held up to until 9:00am). Throughout the day, drinks, including juices, soft drinks and alcoholic items, were all “on the house”. Around noon we were served lunch, and in the middle of the afternoon the cheese and crackers and veggies showed up. Cameras were clicking left and right, and the predominantly railfan group was talking train all the way.
Although we bypassed the Twin Cities Amtrak depot, beyond that, we followed the Amtrak (CP) route the rest of the way and made a stop at every Amtrak stop (Redwing, Winona, La Crosse, Tomah, Wisconsin Dells, Portage and Columbus) as riders had the option of boarding or departing at any of those stops. The La Crosse stop was much longer that the rest, because at the half way point, the second tender, that holds the water, had to be topped off. The large parking lot and adjacent streets at the La Crosse depot were packed with cars as a large crowd showed up to greet the 261. Even another friend of mine, who walks a postal route near the depot, was there to say “Hi”. When we chugged through Bangor, WI (just east of La Crosse) the town where I work, my co-workers held up a “Hi Dick Johnson” sign when the train zoomed by - several of my fellow passengers were impressed, and so was I, in fact, I was shocked!
The Superdome makes such a great platform for ogling the Mississippi valley and the Wisconsin countryside, that, in a way, I was happy that we were about and hour and a half late into Milwaukee. Save for some pigeon droppings, my car was safe and sound and it was time for the three hour drive home, remembering the many new railfriends I had made during the day.
The 261 train made a dinner train run to Sturdavant and back on that Friday evening, and on Saturday and Sunday made round trips to the popular summertime vacation spot, Wisconsin Dells. For those trips the train was wyed at New Lisbon, WI, where in days before Amtrak, the North Woods Hiawatha would rendezvous with the Twin Cities Hiawatha, for an exchange of passengers, and in earlier days, an exchange of “thru cars”. On that Saturday (June 24th), I and about one hundred other railfans were on hand at the New Lisbon junction to witness, and record on film, the turning of the train. The train stopped just short of the south turnout, and the 261 locomotive was idled down, and it slowly free wheeled over the aging turnout, while the motive chores were turned over to the Amtrak Genisis (power car) locomotive. The train was taken several hundred yards north of the crossing of Highway 12, so that the water tender could be topped off at a local hydrant. The train, still under Amtrak power, was then backed very slowly to and through the wye, where it turned to the north over the parallel siding, where the depot used to be, before making its way back onto the CP mainline, only now facing the south. Once the switch was back to the through position, the 261 locomotive was once again in charge and almost like a dragster, had puffed up to almost full speed by the time it returned to the wye area, heading back to Wisconsin Dells and Milwaukee. During all of this, I managed to fire off three rolls of film, plus some additional digital shots, and luckily for me, a few turned out pretty well.
This was my second 261 trip, having done some of the “Grand Excursion” trips in ’04. If any of you ever get the chance to ride this train, I urge you to take it, whatever the cost – it was more than worth it. My hat is off to Steve and the Friends of 261 staff.