Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 #261 seen passing a farm in Plato, MN with an excursion in May 2008. Robert Butler photo
MINNESOTA- After a lengthy custody battle between preservation groups, a movie cameo with Johnny Depp and an FRA-mandated boiler inspection, Milwaukee Road 4-8-4 Northern #261 appears ready to go back into service for the Friends of the 261 non-profit.
The 1944-built ALCo was successfully test-fired at the end of September and a number of shakedown runs are scheduled for the next several weeks. The locomotive last ran on a BNSF employee special between the Twin Cities and Winona, MN in September 2008. Within a year, the Friends of the 261 and the 261's owner- the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, WI- were at odds with each other over the lease agreement. After advertising the locomotive for sale in the middle of it's 15-year FRA inspection, the Friends of the 261 and the National Railroad Museum eventually came to an agreement after a rumored sale to a 3rd party in California fell through. In May 2010, the National Railroad Museum announced that it had sold the 261 to the Twin Cities based non-profit for $225,000. While this gave Friends of the 261 sole ownership of the locomotive, funds allocated for the completion of her boiler inspection were used to complete the purchase.
The Friends of the 261 were able to raise funds by operating charter luxury railcar excursions using restored Milwaukee Road Hiawatha varnish behind Amtrak or Canadian Pacific. Prior to its 'final' run [before the FRA mandated boiler inspection, at least- NANESB!] the 261 made its way to Chicago for the filming of the Depression-era Dillinger biopic Public Enemies starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Curiously, the 261 wasn't built until a decade after Dillinger was gunned down, although similar locomotives were used extensively at the time.
The 261 also holds the distinction of operating every year between 1993 and 2008. Besides holding down at least one excursion out of the Twin Cities every year up until 2008, the big Northern has even ventured as far afield as Scranton, PA and the New River in West Virginia in the 1990s.
Soo Line 1003 getting ready for a photo freight at Fairwater, WI in October 2008. Daniel Simon photo.
WISCONSIN- Speaking of steam locomotives in the upper Midwest, Soo Line 2-8-2 Mikado #1003 will reportedly be going back into service less than two years before she was withdrawn for her mandatory 15 year boiler inspection.
Stored at the Wisconsin Automotive Museum and successfully test-fired earlier this year, the Steam Locomotive Heritage Association announced that the #1003 was ready for service and would be hauling the 2012 Toys for Tots train over Wisconsin Southern rails between Milton and Middleton, WI on Saturday, November 3rd.
The 1913-built Mikado last ran on November 13, 2010 and some expressed doubts whether or not there would be enough funding to return the 1003 to steam.