“Milwaukee Road 261,” a steam locomotive that likely pulled passenger and troop trains to Chicago and Puget Sound during World War II, will chug along the same Delano to Hopkins right-of-way this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 2 and 3. It will be assisted by a restored Milwaukee Road, diesel locomotive.
If you delight in the drama of belching plumes and jets of hot steam, driving pistons, mechanical noises, train bells and shrill whistles, remain in town this weekend. The Milwaukee Road 261 and its power assist are passing through Eden Prairie and will be pulling a train of beautifully restored passenger cars.
Eden Prairie provides a number of good train-spotting sites, but locomotive engineer Steve Sandberg told Eden Prairie Local News this week that the best place to view the train will be in Chanhassen at 500 Market Street when the train is boarded – Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. Both seven-hour excursions head west to Glencoe and then back east to Hopkins with a return to Chanhassen.
No tickets will be sold; both excursions are fully booked. Sandberg said that 40% of the passengers are from out-of-state; some from California, Florida and Texas. He is delighted that what is branded The Gourmet Express, is sparking business for local hotels, restaurants and attractions like the Chanhassen Dinner Theater.
“We’ve been running the 261 for almost 30 years now,” said Sandberg. The excursions are operated by Friends of the 261, a nonprofit, volunteer group that also runs rail tours elsewhere in the Midwest.
An affiliated Twin Cities organization, the Railroading Heritage of Midwest America (RHMA) takes on the restoration work.
Sandberg comes from a railroading family and is RHMA’s chief operating officer.
The Gourmet Express tours mirror the glamour era of passenger train travel in the United States when airlines were first becoming comfortable and the interstate highway system was being constructed.
The Gourmet Express is traveling through our suburban quilt with restored coach and glass dome cars and the celebrated lounge car of the Milwaukee Road’s Olympian Hiawatha train (1947 to 1961).
This weekend, passengers will see emerging fall colors in Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Carver County as they are served gourmet munchies and meals on the train and under a large dining tent set up at a secret whistle stop in rural Carver County.
During its prime, the Olympian Hiawatha could cruise up to 110 miles per hour on straightaways between Chicago and Seattle.
In Eden Prairie, at much slower speeds, the elegant train passed by Birch Island Lake and Woods, over Eden Prairie Road, through a cove of Duck Lake and crossings at what are now Valley View and Dell Roads.
Sandberg told EPLN that Friends of the 261 could not provide train watchers with a route schedule other than the loading times in Chanhassen. He and the Friends do want folks to enjoy and appreciate the sight and sounds of a railroading era that helped build America.
The unforgettable sound of a steam locomotive or the blast of its warning whistle this weekend are signals that you have only a few minutes to head towards the TC&W Railroad tracks to a safe vantage point before the train arrives. Bring your phone cams. Stand way back from the tracks. Make a movie.
Eden Prairie train spotting locations
- Railroad bridge over Dell Road
- Railroad crossing and signal on Valley View Road, near Eden Prairie High School (EPHS)
- Eden Prairie Road/sidewalk bridge over the tracks near EPHS
- Hallmark Lane dead end
- Railroad crossing and signal on Birch Island Road (no parking permitted)
- Railroad bridge over Indian Chief Road (conservation area parking lot)
- Camp Eden Wood, conference center parking lot
- Railroad crossing and signal on Highway 62 service road near Industrial Road
For more information go to Friends of the 261 website.
For information on Twin Cities and Western Rail Road, the chief corporate sponsor of the Gourmet Express go to the TC&W website.
Note: EPLN writer Jeff Strate also serves on EPLN’s Board of Directors