Restored to operation by the Minnesota Transportation Museum between 1976-1981 after being on display in the city of Stillwater since around 1950 thanks to the intervention of MTM predecessor Minnesota Railfans Association, the little NP ten-wheeler has roamed everywhere from the St. Croix River valley to southern Minnesota and many more places. Her last regular service was on the MTM’s Osceola & St. Croix Valley Railway from 1992 to 1999. I first saw her in action there in 1998 during “Steamfest In The Valley” which saw two Soo Line steamers pay a visit: 2-8-2 1003 and 4-6-2 2719. The grand finale: a steam triple header using all three engines! (The year before 1003 had visited and doubleheaded with 328 too.) Taken out of service for overhaul, the 328 has fallen into the ranks of many a steam locomotive waiting in limbo to return to steam.
Will the 328 roll again? I’m afraid your guess is as good as mine. Officially, the MTM says she is still under restoration; rumor mills have been rife that it will only be cosmetic due to costs, a crying shame if true.
It was still good to see her again, though.
Note: for more information about the NP 328, go here: http://www.mtmuseum.org/jsr/roster/np328.php
The Union Pacific’s purchase of the Chicago and North Western in 1995 saddened me deeply, but I knew that cloud had a silver lining: the UP’s steam program! Surely they would send either their 4-8-4 Northern number 844 or their 4-6-6-4 Challenger 3985 up to Minneapolis/St. Paul? For years I waited with nothing happening on that front. Then in 2002 the 3985 arrived in South Saint Paul … but I couldn’t make it. Fast forward to 2008: on the memorable date of September 26th, a remarkably sunny, warm (and breezy) Friday in the early fall, I caught Union Pacific’s 4-6-6-4 Challenger-class steam engine number 3985 as it passed through Rosemount, MN on its way to Saint Paul, MN.
At last I had caught a UP steam train running on track not only once run by the CNW, but the Rock Island/Milwaukee Road before that (this stretch of “Spine Line” was joint track for the RI/MILW from Rosemount to the junction at Comus, MN).
I’ve always wondered why the 3985 was emitting such a clean exhaust that day. Had somebody mixed in a little diesel fuel oil with the steam fuel oil? (Hey, a guy who worked for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy once told me they did just that for some of their steam fan trips …)
Once upon a time on a Sunday evening in June, 2008, the uncompleted Highway 12 bypass in Long Lake lay devoid of cars beneath the warm sun as it waited to be tied off at both ends thanks to unstable soil at its western end that dictated a “land bridge” solution money was slow in coming for.
The BNSF had its new alignment of its Wayzata subdivision up and running long before now, though, and darn did the uncompleted bypass make a great place to railfan from, especially now, with North Star Rail’s Alco Class S-3 4-8-4 Milwaukee Road 261 approaching with the westbound BNSF Employee Appreciation Special to Howard Lake and return.
After a westbound freight passed, here she came, beautiful and dramatic as ever. Out of the photos I took of her that evening, this one is my favorite. I especially like how I got her smoke plume, one of the westbound signals, and a bird flying right overhead, all captured in decent light.
Viva the Milwaukee Road 261! I look forward to taking more such pictures of her when she returns to the rails from her overhaul.