DAVENPORT, N.D. - Nearly a million pounds of a World War II "war hero" sat belching smoke on the railroad track for about an hour here Thursday, June 1.
And before Milwaukee Road steam locomotive No. 261 chugged away from this small prairie town, heading to Lisbon on a gorgeous, sunny late-spring evening, the aging iron horse had won its share of admirers.
"It's cool. I think it's going to be a lot of fun," 12-year-old Ryleigh Skaurud of West Fargo said, leaning out to look out of her train car as the train prepared to leave.
Misty Amberg said she couldn't pass up the chance to experience the steam age of travel
"Why not? It's amazing; a beautiful train," the Mahnomen, Minn., woman said. "Just the experience, I think. A different experience."
The Red River Valley and Western Railroad teamed up with the Minneapolis-based "Friends of the 261" to bring the 1944-vintage steam locomotive to the Red River Valley as part of the railroad's 30th anniversary celebration.
"It was built in 1944, so it's a war hero," said Steve Sandberg, a spokesman for the Friends of the 261. "It was built for the war, to haul troop traffic ... and war goods. The reason it exists is that water was prevalent in the northern part of the United States.
"They could build steam engines fast," for the war effort, Sandberg said, so diesel engines went to the southwestern United States, where there was no water. No. 261 had a top speed of 90 mph, he said.
Erin Schaaf, with a tiny infant wrapped in a sling, prepared to board the train with her husband.
"This is an early Father's Day gift. My husband and my father are train enthusiasts," Schaaf of Hawley, Minn., said.
"We've seen a lot of veterans, a lot of old railroad veterans, who used to work with the old steam engines," come to look or take a ride, Sandberg said.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the rail line on Davenport's south side was a primary route for heavy freight for the Great Northern Railroad, Sandberg said.
Beyond the passengers, it appeared half of Davenport had turned out to admire the old train and its restored cars, along with other rail aficionados from area towns.
"We're just here to see it," said Kristi Zick of Colfax, N.D., with her sons Owen, 7 and Grant, 5, in tow.
"We have been on the steam train in Rollag (Minn.) and that's it," Zick said.
Owen was entranced, as he stood perhaps 15 yards from the burly, black, smoke-belching machine.
"It's cool!" Owen said, adding he liked "the smoke, and the way it looks."
The train will also be making the Davenport-Lisbon trip on Friday and an excursion from Wahpeton to Kindred on Saturday.
To learn more about No. 261, go to https://261.com.