The Milwaukee Road 261 is headed to eastern North Dakota for a series of excursions this weekend on the Red River Valley & Western. The first leg of their journey from Minneapolis to Breckenridge was accomplished today over BNSF rails. Fortunately, my weekly schedule has me in Willmar for a meeting on Tuesdays through the early afternoon. The usual assistance from fellow railfans and a little checking of ATCS meant only a few minutes of waiting for me and my colleague on the pedestrian overpass before the headlight appeared to the east. I know another 4-8-4 has been getting a lot of attention over in Virginia lately, but for us in the upper midwest the 261 is our best bet to get a taste of large mainline steam at its finest. It may not have the classy streamlining of the 611, the distinctive smoke deflectors of the 844, or the flashy paint scheme of the 4449, but I think the 261 suits our sensibilities nicely. It's the details that matter: the polished brass bell, the American flags proudly displayed, a touch of streamlining on the pilot, and a no-nonsense elegance that still makes heads turn. The way I see it, the 611 may be the belle of the ball, the 844 may be the upper crust socialite, and the 4449 may be the flashy west coast debutante. But the 261? She's the farmer's daughter dressed up for a night on the town, and I love her.