Sept. 18, 2006

Old-time steam locomotive stops in Howard Lake

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

Local residents were able to take a step back in time last weekend when an old-time steam locomotive rolled into Howard Lake.

Locomotive 261 carried passengers from Wayzata to Howard Lake in vintage passenger cars. Once the locomotive cleared Lions Park, it came to a stop and an engine on the rear of the locomotive pulled the train back to Wayzata.

All eyes lucky enough to catch a view of the rare visit were delighted with the smoke show the engine displayed. The old-fashioned whistle blew an impressively loud sound into the air.

In fact, local resident Dawn Horst explained that while watching from Lions Park, her teenage kids had a hard time hearing for a short while after the whistle blew.

The trip was part of the “James J. Hill Days Steam Excursions” that took place during James J. Hill Days in Wayzata last weekend. This is an old-fashioned event that celebrates amenities of years past.

Two round trip excursions were made each day, Sept. 9 and 10. One trip was from Wayzata to Minneapolis, and one trip was from Wayzata to Howard Lake. This route has not seen regular passenger service since 1979 and is part of the route once used by the Great Northern Railway.

The Great Northern Railway was developed with private funds by James J. Hill from the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad.

The Great Northern route ran from St. Paul to Seattle, Wash., and originally covered over 1,700 miles.

Construction of the railroad was purposely kept at a slow pace to prolong exposure to local farmers, cattle drivers, lumberjacks, and the like. To promote interest in the railroad, Hill held contests and used promotional incentives such as feed and seed donations to farmers getting started along the line.

The Great Northern Railway eventually grew into a system that covered more than 8,000 miles of track. In 1970, the Great Northern Railway merged with the Burlington Northern Railway and is now owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.

Fall color excursions

Here’s your chance to ride a historic steam locomotive yet this year. The “Friends of the 261” in cooperation with Amtrak and the Canadian Pacific Railway, will offer fall color steam excursions Saturday, Oct. 7 and Sunday, Oct. 8 with the Milwaukee Road 261 locomotive.

This steam locomotive will begin the trip in Minneapolis and head to Winona. After arrival in Winona, a local trip will be operated to La Crescent to turn the locomotive around. This will be a 278 mile-round trip in the historic 261.

Contact Milwaukee Road 261 Store for tickets at (651) 765-9812 or www.261.com.

To hitch a ride next year, contact the Wayzata Chamber of Commerce for more information about next year’s trip from Wayzata to Howard Lake during James J. Hill Days at (952) 473-9595.

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