• Grand Excursion

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

Moderator: David Benton

  by Scoring Guy
The “Grand Excursion” was organized by the Twin Cities annual celebration, “The Taste
of Minnesota”, to remember the original Grand Excursion, in 1854, which was a floatilla
of river boats bringing settlers to Minnesota - this preceded the railroad, as railroading in
Minnesota didn’t begin until the arrival of Minnesota’s first locomotive, the “William
Crooks”, in 1861. As part of the 2004 “Grand Excursion” the “Friends of 261” put their
1941 Milwaukee steam locomotive at the head of a 16 car train which offered several
trips along or near the Mississippi from the Twin Cities to the Quad Cities.
The G. E. train was operated as an “Amtrak Special”, and thus certain standards and rules
were in place such as; all cars on the train had to be HEP and have Amtrak standard load
pulling capacity and the train operated with two Amtrak “Genisis” locomotives - Note
that the #261 steamer led the train and did the pulling, the two Amtrak locomotives
supplied the electrical power for the train, and were a safe guard in the event that the #
261 broke down. From front to back the consist was #261 with two tenders (one for coal,
one for water) the two Amtrak P-42’s, two ex-Milw (261 owned) cars (service car and
dorm car) followed by the passenger cars for the public. The train had three
accommodation levels, “Coach”, “First Class” and “Premium”. Coach, was just that,
coach cars with 2 by 2 seating. First Class was three “flat top” cars with furniture for
seating, and Premium was the private dome car “Sierrra Hotel”, and the ex-Milwaukee
Road Skytop Lounge car, “Cedar Rapids” ( one of four Brooks Stevens designed cars, built in the Milwaukee Road's own shops for its Twin Cities Hiawatha- this car is also owned by the Friends of 261).
I elected to ride in three consecutive legs of the Grand Excursion trips, beginning in
Davenport, IA. To get to Davenport, I drove, from my home near LaCrosse, WI, to the
Amtrak station in the Twin Cities (free parking there) and then took the Empire Builder
to Milwaukee to visit friends. The next day I took the “Hiawatha” to Chicago, the
“California Zephyr” to Galesburg, IL, and an Amtrak bus to Davenport.
The first leg of the Grand Excursion , for me, was from Davenport to Dubuque, IA departing June 28, 04. I was in “First Class” for this
leg, and sat in an ex-Santa Fe coach car, that had all regular seating removed, and
replaced by a dukes mixture of nice furniture. This was the most popular of the
“First Class” (un-reserved) cars, because it had the biggest and most windows. The other
cars in First Class were actually fancier, but you couldn’t see very well from them.
Actually, I spent 50% of the time standing in the vestible taking pictures.
One more interesting aspect of the train was the public attention: Several thousand
people lined the track through the town of Bellevue, IA (ON A MONDAY
AFTERNOON) to welcome the train. Also where the tracks followed the Mississippi
shore, small craft chased the train, and where the tracks paralleled a road, cars chased the
After an overnight stay in Dubuque, where the city had a July 4th festgrounds, the train
I traveled the next leg, to LaCrosse, WI, again, along the west side of the Mississippi.
Once again I was in the First Class section, same car, same seat. Each day, in the First
Class section, we were supplied with a box lunch.
I taxied home for the night and back the next day for the final leg from LaCrosse to
Minneapolis. For this final leg I rode in the premium section, spending most of the time
in a posh easy chair in the Sierra Hotel dome. The “Sierra Hotel” is an ex-California Zephyr
Budd built stainless steel corrugated dome car - origianally it had a small kitchen and
lounge area under the dome, along with more lounge area in the forward (short) end, the
long end of the car was the dorm area, and the dome seating in this car on the CZ was
reserved for sleeping car passengers only.
The late aftrernoon and early evening leg from LaCrosse to the Twin Cities was done on
the east side of the Mississippi (on former Burlington, now BNSF track - Amtrak uses
former Milwaukee Road, now CP, track on the west side of the river for this run. The
Premium section had a chef, and we were served chicken cor don blu for dinner, along with wine and desert. Upon
arrival in the Twin Cites, at the Fiends of 261 shops, several of us shared a taxi to the
Amtrak station to get our cars for the drive home.
This was literally a once in a life time trip, and was the most unique train trip I have ever
taken. I wish I could recommend it to everyone, but it may be a while before it happens again, if ever. Although on the AAPROC web site you can find other trips in private railcars.

  by AmtrakFan
The Amtrak Locomotives were 123 and 135.