Milwaukee Road No. 261 is certainly one of the most seen mainline steam locomotives in recent history. In fact, her excursion career has already been longer than her original service run!
The Milwaukee Road’s S-3 class of Northerns (4-8-4s) were ordered to meet the extreme demands of World War II traffic and arrived in 1944. All were built as coal burners, five were later converted to oil. Unlike the road’s previous Northerns, the S-3’s were built by ALCo, who touted their modernity as the “last word in 4-8-4 design.” Those words would be somewhat prophetic, but probably not for the reasons ALCo suggested.
The S-3s were assigned to both freight and passenger service, especially on passenger trains of 12 cars or more. As modern and efficient as they were however, the Northerns were no match for the new diesel-electrics that would become available again as soon as the war was over. Retirement began in 1954, and all ten were off the active roster by 1956. Like so many other great steam locomotives of the 1940s, the S-3’s time in the sun was brief.
Two of the class were set aside for preservation however. No. 261 became the first locomotive in the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay. No. 265 traveled to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union. No. 261’s fate was forever changed in 1991 when North Star Rail went searching for a modern steam locomotive to restore to service for mainline excursion runs. A 4-8-4 capable of pulling long passenger trains, equipped with roller bearings and other “modern” devices – and with a boiler that had only seen 10 years of service – what more could you ask for?
The restoration was completed 2 years later. Her excursion career has taken the 261 from Pennsylvania to celebrate Steamtown’s opening to pulling BNSF employee specials, to teaming up with Canadian Pacific steam and more. Now owned by the non-profit Friends of the 261, she is currently undergoing continued overhaul but will soon be again pulling her matched consist of Milwaukee Road-colored passenger cars to the delight of fans everywhere.
The LEGACY Model
For such a famous face, Lionel committed to making the most authentic model possible. The all new LEGACY S-3 is an impressive beast of an engine. Equipped with LEGACY control and sounds, there will be no mistaking this engine with both its steam whistle and single-chime air horn. And in addition to chuffing smoke, you also get cylinder steam effects. The hefty locomotive will have no problem pulling a 12+ car passenger train like the prototype, and she’ll be right at home on a long freight too. Our wireless tether to the tender, plus a new self-adjusting drawbar will make the connection between loco and tender the most realistic it’s ever been.
And of course you get all of the other features and quality that you’ve come to expect from Lionel’s LEGACY engines: directional headlights, marker lights, Mars light, cab, firebox and ashpan lighting, amazing backhead detail, and more separately applied detail castings than we can list.
No. 261 is ready for freight, passenger or excursion service on your layout. No. 267 is also available for those who’d like to model the S-3 fleet in its prime. They’ll negotiate O-54 curves. MSRP is $994.99 and they should be blasting into a dealer near you very soon.