Spring steam 2017: No. 261 makes it a complete serving of hot heavy metal

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Monday, April 17, 2017

I’ve been excited about this year’s steam season for many reasons: Lots of trips, major restorations, our Big Steam is Back special issue and DVD are set for June release and almost finished. As you’ll learn in our video and special magazine, it’s a new golden age for mainline steam. Let’s talk about trips. All of the big mainline engines have interesting and unique schedules between now and July.

Union Pacific No. 844 leaves for Boise Tuesday and is also called for the College World Series in Omaha in June and Frontier Days in July; the living legend is a staple on the main line to Omaha and on the Cheyenne Frontier Days train out of Denver, but it doesn’t roam to the north and west often. Prize day of this outing in my view: April 27, when the eastbound train runs through spectacular Echo Canyon just outside of Ogden, Utah, on fabled Wasatch grade. I would give a lot to be at the I-80 rest area overlook that day, but I will be kicking myself on an American Airlines plane to North Carolina to live stream the debut of the restored Civil War locomotive Texas at my home base in Spencer, N.C.

Norfolk & Western No. 611 is running out of Greensboro, N.C., this weekend and out of Lynchburg and its hometown of Roanoke two weekends in May; these are all solid excursions with great scenery and a good workout for the Class J. Tickets are still available on most trips, although some categories have already sold out. I have made plans to ride the May 6 Lynchburg-Petersburg, Va., trips, chase the May 7 trip, and follow the deadhead move May 8 from Lynchburg to Roanoke (and try and intercept the Ringling circus train leaving Charleston, W.Va.). Hope you can join us on board.

Nickel Plate Road No. 765 has its June trips in Chicagoland that mix steam, music, cocktails, food, and 1940s fun with an excursion from Joliet to LaSalle Street Station; and hitting the main line for the first time in 5 years, Southern Pacific No. 4449 is carded for a Portland, Ore.-Bend, Ore., overnight trip in late June. Railroading in the Columbia River Gorge is always spectacular; steam railroading there is an added bonus.


That left only Mineapolis-based Milwaukee Road No. 261 to check in. I think of all of the mainline steam trips this year, No. 261’s trips on a short line partner in the Fargo, N.D., area may be the sleeper of the bunch with rare mileage, no Amtrak diesel tucked behind the canteen, and the first time for this locomotive to visit this area in almost 20 years. The locomotive will be in steam and running for six days in a row.

So, if your calendar wasn’t full before, it should be now. The season of steam is upon us. Get out there and enjoy it.


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