The Milwaukee Road Steam Train # 261

Milwaukee Road Steam Train #261 (source:

Milwaukee Road Steam Train #261 (source:

Sarah Kanas, Staff Writer

The Milwaukee Road number 261 is an S3 Northern class steam locomotive. The weight of the engine is scaled to 460,000 pounds of steel (210,000 kg). The 261 has 4,500 hp (3,400kW) and reaches speeds up to 100 mph (160 km/h).

The engine is also classified as a 4-8-4, meaning she has four pilete wheels and eight drivers.
Each wheel is 74 inches in diameter and a four wheeled-trailing truck that supports both the cab and the firebox. This engine was built by the American Locomotive Company in July of 1944.

During the mid 1940s, the 261 operated on the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad also known as the Milwaukee Road. There, the engine hauled passenger trains and freight trains until she was outmatched by the diesel locomotives in the early 1950s.

In August of 1954, the 261 was retired from service on the railroad and the diesel took over passenger trains and freight trains after many other steam engines were moved to museums or being cut down for scrap.

However, the engine’s journey to the scrapyards never came to be, for she was donated to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay Wisconsin in 1958. Thus, the 261 remained silent and still until she was restored to operating condition in 1991.

In 1993, the 261 was running back on the rails again; embarking on an excursion career which pulls a train full of railroad enthusiasts from town to town in any state in the US. The engine was owned by the North Star Railway until her new owners, “Friends of the 261” took over in 1995. The locomotive sometimes needed an Amtrak diesel locomotive coupleted behind her as a helper for long trips. Not only does the diesel help the 261 with sharp bends and steep hills, but it also provides electricity for the passenger cars.

In 2008, the 261 was taken out of service for a 15 year rebuilt until it came to a long stand still in 2009. During that time, the Friends of the 261 got involved with the negotiations of the National Railroad Museum for an extension on the lease. Two different opinions two organizations leading to the lease falling through the stand still of the rebuilt.

In early 2010, the 261 was up for sale with her owners being the official buyers. With that, the rebuilt of the locomotive and the lease on the line continued until completion in 2012.

In 2013, the 261 returned to the mainline continuing her excursion career and other special occasions such as the North Pole Express in the month of December and traveling in the colors of autumn in the Midwest. The locomotive also traveled to many other places such as the Red River Valley and Western in North Dakota in 2017 (

Today, the 261 is riding the rails once again preparing for the Hiawatha excursion; which happens to be a train ride in tribute of an observation car called “The Hiawatha”. The train will travel through St. Paul, MN on Saturday June 22ed and Sunday June 23ed. Tickets are available online to travel and explore the history of Hiawatha which will make the journey very special (

The 261 is one of my favorite steam engines in the history of American Railroads. In fact, I encountered the train running on the mainline after being restored to operating condition.

The year was June 23ed, 2002. I was an eight year old child longing to see a real life steam engine run on the tracks. My dad told me that the 261 would go through Flagg Center, IL after going through Chicago and Rochelle IL. Together, my family and I went down to Flagg Center and waited for the train to go by. We parked the car and found a spot next to the elevators at a far distance from the tracks. A BNSF freight train thundered passed on the tracks and my dad started taking pictures.

Finally after thirty minutes, the 261 came chugging into view. All was silent as the locomotive blew her whistle and rang her bell loud and clear. She looked big and very strong pulling a long line of passenger cars. There was no diesel in front of the first coach, for the engine had plenty coal and water. My dad started to make five short videos with his camera.

Suddenly, the train came to a stop. The 261 was going to back the passenger cars up to the switch and turn around to head back to Chicago IL. Of course, I wanted to see more of the steam engine on the mainline, but my mom and dad had insisted that it was time to go home. I wasn’t too happy about it and I ended up throwing a fit until my family and I returned. After calming down, my dad showed me the videos he made during the ordeal. He record the train on five videos and took pictures.

The pictures included the freight train and the Hiawatha observation car at the end of the train. The videos included five different things. For example, the first video shows the 261 ringing her bell and chugging loudly down the track until it stops at the first glimpse of the first passenger car. Two more videos showed the train going by. One with the smoke and other with the sound of the whistle. Upon leaving Flagg Center, my dad made two videos of the train backing up on the switch. One with the coaches and the other was the engine in a short amount of time.

I may not have rode on the 261, but I will always remember the time I saw her on the mainline as a child. Nowadays, I watch videos of her on YouTube and I can’t help but listen to the sound of the whistle.

To me, the 261 is a beautiful train and I consider her as one of the legends of the rails that made history on the railroads of America and no matter what happens in real life, the Milwaukee Road 261 will always be my favorite steam engine.