Historic Milwaukee Road 261 locomotive steams into DuluthDespite a late arrival in blustery wind and spitting snow, the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive and its 500-plus passengers arrived at the Duluth Depot on Saturday in an atmosphere of festive exuberance.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Despite a late arrival in blustery wind and spitting snow, the Milwaukee Road 261 steam locomotive and its 500-plus passengers arrived at the Duluth Depot on Saturday in an atmosphere of festive exuberance.
“Isn’t that a sight?” said Ruth Hoad of Duluth as she leaned past an iron-rail fence to get her first glimpse of the massive black engine, its belching steam accompanied by high-pitched whistles.
It was 4:25 p.m., nearly 4½ hours after the train left Minneapolis and 85 minutes after its anticipated arrival. But as the hundreds of passengers filed past the fence draped with bunting to the strains of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” played by the Randy Lee Ensemble toward waiting Duluth Transit Authority buses, they were all smiles.
Pierre Girard, 68, of Golden Valley, Minn., was downright bubbly, saying “thank you” to no one in particular as he walked past the dozens of people who had watched the train come in.
“It was wonderful,” Girard said of the journey. “The 500 people on the train are the happiest people in Minnesota today.”
His friend Mike Morales, 39, also of Golden Valley, grinned widely as he took Girard’s picture. It was the first time he’d been on a train, said Morales, who grew up in Mexico.
John Blake, 70, of Astoria, Ore., has been on many passenger trains, including the Trans Siberian Express in Russia. He had seen this excursion advertised online and knew he wanted to be on the train, he said. He and his wife took Amtrak’s Empire Builder from Seattle to Minneapolis, met friends from Green Bay there, and both couples came up for the overnight stay in Duluth.
“We’re rail buffs,” Blake explained, adding that the trip “went real smooth.”
The locomotive, built in 1944, is operated by a Minneapolis nonprofit, Friends of the 261. It had been out of action for four years and hadn’t brought passengers to Duluth since 2007, said Dave Fritz, 68, of St. Paul. Nattily attired in vintage railroad uniform and hat, Fritz said he had acted as a “car host,” attending to the needs of passengers.
The train ran well but was slowed because it had to wait for freight trains along the way, Fritz said. Its arrival was the highlight of a weekend of events put on by the North Shore Scenic Railroad in observance of National Train Day on Saturday and Mother’s Day today. The train will depart Duluth at noon today.
John Filter, 66, of St. Paul made the journey with his grandchildren, Garrett, 9, and Clara Leisdon, 5, of Columbia Heights, Minn. Filter, a former passenger train conductor, recounted people gathering along the route taking pictures as the 261 passed by.
“It was wonderful,” Filter said. “It was just terrific.”