• CP 2816/ Friends of 261 Steam Excursion - Mpls to Calgary

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

Moderator: David Benton

  by Scoring Guy
When the Friends of 261 announced this trip, I had the check in the mail that very day. Besides that fact that I would be aboard a train made up of vintage cars, pulled by a steam engine, the other hook was the fact that it was over track no longer hosting regular passenger service, the SOO line from Minneapolis to Winnipeg, and the CP line from Winnipeg to Calgary. The trip was to take seven days, six days of daylight travel, with overnight stays at motels, and a whole day in Winnipeg for being a tourist.

Although promoted by the Friends of 261, the pulling power for this trip came from the Canadian Pacific’s 4-6-4 Hudson, known as the “Empress”. This steamer, reclaimed from a static display, was subject to a restoration project, costing in excess of five million dollars, which made it look better than new, and converted it to run on highway, pump, diesel fuel. This was the final leg of a 35 day promotional tour by the CP, from Calgary to the States and back, which included, trips out of the Chicago area during Labor Day Weekend.

About 35 passengers boarded the train in Minneapolis, two thirds of which opted for the “Premium” section which gave them (including myself), exclusive use of the 261’s signature cars, the # 53 Superdome, and the “Cedar Rapids” Skytop lounge car. - The rest of the passengers in the combined Coach/First Class section had the rest of the consist at their disposal. The departure point was the former SOO Line Shoreham Yard, in North Minneapolis, which is now used by the CP as a track maintenance facility.

The consist was the following:

CP # 2816 “Empress” 4-6-4 Hudson, diesel fueled steam locomotive with two tenders:
First Tender, 12,000 gals Water, 4,600 gals Diesel
Second Tender 23,000 gals Water
CP # 3094 GP-38 Diesel Locomotive (shined up and looking brand new)
CP # 29114 , A box car used as a tool car (CP cars all solid maroon color)
CP # 96 Power Car
CP # 110 “H.B. Bowen, a 8 duplex Rmte, 4 Br, 6 Rmte sleeping car (with one roomette converted to shower).
CP # 101 “Dominion”, Coach car
CP # 102 “Ernest Smokey Smith, V.C.”, Coach Car
CP # NSR 9107 - Express Baggage car converted to food counter and lookout car
261 # RPCX 5534 Coach Car (261 cars all early 50’s Milw. Rd maroon and orange paint)
261 # 31 “Minnesota River” 8-4-6 Sleeper (with one Roomette converted to shower)
261 # NSR 3103 “Wisconsin Valley”, “First Class” car with furniture type seating, plus a kitchen/food service area.
261 # 53 “Superdome” (full length dome car, ex-Milw. Rd car built by PS in 1952)
261 # 800040 “Cedar Rapids” Skytop Lounge (Parlor Observation - built by Milw. Rd. in 1948)

(additional cars from the Friends of 261 stable were added to the train for the various stateside excursions)

Consist Notes: The diesel locomotive provided a security blanket for the train, just in case the steamer had a problem, although it was the diesel that had a small problem near the border. In addition the diesel would supply additional pulling power, when needed, and was used exclusively for motive power in slow going situations and backing. The “Wisconsin Valley” (not an original “Valley” car) was usually empty, and used primarily for luggage storage, because the car has a shortage of windows and is especially rough riding. The two sleeping cars were for train crew: the CP sleeper held the dozen, or so, CP personnel who piloted and cared for the locomotive, while the 261 sleeping was for the small on board service crew, which included 261 head, Steve Sandberg. The NSR 9107 car had the four sliding door openings fitted with railing/fences so passengers could lean out and get photos - the good thing was that the diesel burning CP was much cleaner burning that the 261’s coal burning 4-8-4 Northern, behind which, goggles would have been a must. The Superdome, has a kitchen in the lower level, and meals, for the Premium passengers were prepared there (as part of the ticket) - the coach passengers could elect to purchase those meals, in leu of the hot dog faire in the express car.

The first day, September 16, the train traveled from Minneapolis to Thief River Falls, MN, following the the route of the SOO Line’s top train on that line, the “Winnipeger”, a service stop for fuel and lubrication was done at the depot in Glenwood, MN. The beautifully preserved depot in Thief River Falls is now used as the City Hall. We stayed at the casino on the outskirts of town.

One day two, the train continued along the “Winnipeger” route to Winnipeg, with a rather time consuming stop at the border, before custom agents were available to board the train and check our passports. When we arrived in Winnipeg, the train stopped at the CP yard, not the VIA station, and we were bussed to the Fort Gary Hotel, which is across the street from the (ex-CN) VIA station.

Day three, we were all on our own in Winnipeg. Several of us managed to “sneak” our way onto the platform to photograph the arrival of the eastbound VIA Rail “Canadian”, with its three F-40 locomotives and 26 Budd stainless steel cars, and magnificent sight, and part of my next train trip. We then hustled down to the “Forks” to photograph the Park Car which was stopped on the trestle over the Red River. The CN track through Winnipeg is all elevated making picture taking, from ground level, a breeze. The Via Station also contains a nice train museum under part of the massive trainshed.

Day four was the shortest leg of the trip, taking us only as far as Brandon, MB, for a stay at the Victoria Inn. One of the things that kept us entertained throughout the trip was the antics and persistence of the “chasers”, railfans racing the train to get to the next photo op. In addition, through the entire trip, the CP had three vehicles following the train, two CP service trucks, and an unmarked rail cop car, to make sure there were no problems at the road crossings - quite an expensive undertaking.

Day five, was three meals on board before arriving in Moose Jaw, for an overnight stay at yet another casino. Moose Jaw was a hideaway for Al Capone and the town was proud to promote that history. The large depot has been converted for business store fronts. On the way to Moose jaw the train made a long service and photo stop at Broadview, which drew a very large crowd of rail fans. After leaving, the train had to make a stop about 10 miles out of Broadview, as the power connection to the Skytop car had worked loose, leaving it without lights and AC.

Day six, was a longer than scheduled run to Medicine Hat, SK, and the only glitch of the trip came upon arrival when the bus connection failed to show, but fast work on the part of the 261 crew rounded up several taxis that shuttled us to a Best Western motel, where we were able to catch a late dinner, at the next door restaurant.

Day seven, September 22, was the final leg of the trip. In the morning we were able to get a better daylight view (and photo) of the Medicine Hat depot, still owned and used by the CP. Just a couple blocks away was a park, with two F7 locomotives on display. Upon leaving Medicine Hat we crossed Saskatchewan River, and then proceeded to climb the steepest grade on the trip, a six mile, 1.8% run, with both the steamer and the GP-38 pumping out the black smoke. Along the entire trip, the train gave short rides to small groups that came to the train at various stops (about 500 people total for the entire trip) - these riders were mixture of CP personnel and customers, and persons who were major doners to local charities. The largest single group, about 100, boarded at Brooks, SK, and rode to Dunmore.

The train arrived in downtown Calgary, stopping at the Fairmont Hotel (just outside of town we passed a laying over Rocky Mountaineer trainset). Upon arrival, we were all on our own, with each person having their own agenda as per staying in Calgary, or additional travel or returning home. In my case, after a couple days of sightseeing, I flew back to Minneapolis, to retrieve my car, and drive back to my home in Onalaska, WI.

This may turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and one I could not pass up. I was somewhat surprised that there were not more end to end passengers, but on the other hand, the total lack of “crowding” made the trip, very enjoyable and very relaxing. The best part, was that everyone was a train nut, and sharing one’s knowledge (I hope I sounded like I knew what I was talking about) with the others, and visa versa was especially entertaining and educational. The passengers came from all over the US, not just the upper Midwest, and included one “Mate” who flew over from Australia just for this trip. Perhaps, the most compelling aspect of the trip was the tender loving care given the locomotive by the CP crew. I can only hope that sometime in the future, the CP and 261 get together and run a similar trip, if so, don’t pass it up.

  by Scoring Guy
You can read the shorter story version of this trip, w/photo, that I wrote for the latest issue of Passenger Train Journal magazine, 2008:1, Issue # 234, page 42.

  by David Benton
Thanks scoring guy , for an interesting trip report . it certainly sounds like a trip not to be missed .