Rail Rangers Look Back at 2016 Trips; Look Forward to Planning New 2017 Excursions

It’s hard to believe that Christmas 2016 has come and gone already, and in less than 24 hours from now, we will be ringing in a new year – 2017. This is the perfect time for the APRHF Rail Rangers to take you on a brief look back through some of the exciting excursions and events that we have been part of this year, while giving you an exclusive sneak peek at some of the exciting projects that are in the works for next year. Sit back, relax, and enjoy this flashback of what was Rail Rangers: 2016.

Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “We are really grateful to our five private rail car partners for their support this year. We would not have had such a successful year if it wasn’t for our partners at the Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route, American Rail Excursions, the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, and Paxrail. We have gotten a lot of compliments from the owners and passengers about the services our Interpretive Guides were able to provide for passengers. Often times, private car owners are so busy with planning the details of an excursions – from budgeting, to ticket sales, to planning out food service needs – that things like quality narration and detailed route guidebooks fall by the wayside. We are honored they chose us to fill the void.”

Kandace Tabern, Chicago Coordinator for Rail Rangers adds, “We provide all of these services at no cost what-so-ever to the private car owners and operators thanks to our 501(c)(3) non-profit status and affiliation with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation. No other organization in the country that I am aware of can say that and does what we do. In fact, we have raised over $1,100 for our private rail car partners during the course of 2016 through the sales of our route guidebooks. It’s a pretty cool thing we have going on here.”

The APRHF Rail Rangers program was founded on July 20, 2015 and is solely managed by the APRHF Board of Directors, APRHF President/La Plata Coordinator Bob Cox, and Executive Director Robert Tabern. Prior to that, the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation partnered with Amtrak and the National Park Service to sponsor a Trails & Rails program that operated on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO. When the National Park Service decided to end the partnership agreement, the APRHF formed the Rail Rangers to continue its mission of providing onboard educational programs for passengers and to reach beyond the organization’s headquarters city of La Plata.

Below is a brief re-cap of what we have offered passengers with each of our partners:

FRIENDS OF THE 261 – MINNEAPOLIS, MN

The Friends of the 261 is the ONLY partner of the APRHF Rail Rangers that regularly operates with a steam locomotive… making their organization very unique and special for passengers who are lucky enough to get tickets on their excursions. The Rail Rangers partnered with the Friends of the 261 on six different occasions during the course of this year. In June 2016, Interpretive Guides provided narration for passengers in Premium Class on a steam excursion that took place between Minneapolis Junction and Duluth, MN. In October 2016, the Rail Rangers provided narration on the Friends of the 261 steam excursion between Minneapolis and Glencoe, MN. This trip took place on a rare-mileage line owned by the Twin Cities & Western Railroad.

Interpretive Guides put away their microphones and put on their Santa hats and covered shifts on four different dates in December 2016 for the Friends of the 261’s popular North Pole Express trips. In addition, the Rail Rangers sold very detailed and custom-made rail route guidebooks on the Duluth and Glencoe excursions this year. These route guide sales raised more than $1,000.00 for the Friends of the 261… which will be used towards preservation of the Milwaukee Road steam locomotive and fleet of heritage passenger cars. We look forward to see where the 261 will be taking us in 2017 — and look forward to have our guides as their 4th Annual North Pole Express Train in December 2017. For more information about the Friends of the 261, check out their website, located at http://www.261.com.

ZEPHYR ROUTE – ST. CHARLES, IL

Zephyr Route, based in St. Charles, Illinois (outside of Chicago), is the ONLY partner of the APRHF Rail Rangers that works directly with us to help plan out some of their excursions. The company is overseen by President Mike Abernethy. Numbers wise, Zephyr Route is also the most frequent partner of the Rail Rangers!

Our year with Zephyr Route kicked off in April 2016 with a round-trip to St. Louis, Missouri in dome car “Sky View”; our Interpretive Guides told passengers stories about the I&M Canal, Route 66, and President Abraham Lincoln. Our next trip with Zephyr Route was on their annual “Train to Twain” event during the fourth weekend in June 2016 that took passengers on dome car “Prairie View” to Galesburg, Quincy, and Hannibal, MO, as part of a daytrip. We hit the rails again with Zephyr Route in September 2016 — bringing a group of 11 passengers to La Plata, Missouri for the first time in the town’s history! Travelers got to enjoy a visit to Amish Country, Walt Disney’s Hometown, and a cookout on the deck at Lookout Point Park in La Plata. Our final trip of the year with Zephyr Route took place in mid-October 2017, as we took passengers over 800 miles between Chicago and the Twin Cities to enjoy the fall foliage of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Rail Rangers has had several meetings with Zephyr Route already and has a tentative schedule of ATLEAST four private railcar excursions for 2017… including yes… a repeat trip to La Plata, MO thrown in during August 2017. We are working on finalizing the details and hope to release it to the public by February… if not sooner. For more information about Zephyr Route, check out http://www.zephyrroute.com.

AMERICAN RAIL EXCURSIONS – MADISON, IL

We began a new partnership this year with American Rail Excursions, based on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River near St. Louis, MO. American Rail Excursions runs a handful of private car charters every year and has an excellent reputation for their customer service. In June 2016, Interpretive Guides Joe Kuczynski and Dave Poole this the rails to narrate for passengers between Chicago and Kansas City, MO. Some of the stories they shared included the railroad history of Galesburg, the deadly mine fire at Cherry Hill, Illinois, and about the Mississippi River town of Fort Madison, Iowa. The duo passed through the APRHF Headquarters city of La Plata before rolling into Kansas City Union Station.

This was part of an excursion that brought passengers through the famed “Iron Triangle” of Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City. We appreciate the change to work with Roger Roger Verbeeren at American Rail Excursions and look forward to being on more of his trips in 2017. For more information, check out http://www.americantraintrips.com.

FRIENDS OF THE CUMBRES AND TOLTEC SCENIC RAILROAD – CHAMA, NEW MEXICO

The Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad was another new partner for the APRHF Rail Rangers in 2016 that worked out very well. The Rail Rangers worked with Tim Tennant, President of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, to provide narration for passengers on a private railcar trip between Chicago and Los Angeles. Guides rode the first 300 miles of the journey from Union Station to La Plata, Missouri, providing tales of the towns along the route through Illinois, the “toe” of Iowa, and far Northeast Missouri.

The Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad chartered private railcar “Montana” which provided passengers the unique experience of riding the BNSF line through Iowa and Missouri at speeds of 90 miles per hour on an open platform. Despite being based in New Mexico and primarily doing charters along the West Coast, we hope to work with the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec whenever they roll through the Midwest again… hopefully in 2017. For more information, check out http://www.cumbrestoltec.org.

PAXRAIL – CHICAGO, IL

An exciting new partnership came about in the late half of 2016 with a veteran-owned company called Paxrail; it is based in the north suburbs of Chicago. Trips are organized by owner Jim Evanson and feature ex-Northern Pacific half-dome “Stampede Pass”.

Even though the main mission of Paxrail is to sell its trips to groups, the APRHF Rail Rangers has teamed up with Paxrail to provide narration for passengers on several of its public excursions on the Hiawatha between Chicago and Milwaukee. Interpretive Guides were on select departures in July 2016 and again in October 2016 to tell passengers about the 85-mile stretch of rail through Glenview, Sturtevant, and Milwaukee Airport. Passengers got quite a kick about learning about the sauerkraut farms in Racine County and the “secret” of identifying the state line between Illinois and Wisconsin from the train. “Stampede Pass” has been in service down at the French Lick Scenic Railroad the past couple of months and will be getting some work done over the winter. But, tentative plans are to return it to the rails between Chicago and Milwaukee this summer and fall. Rail Rangers looks forward to working more Paxrail trips come mid-to-late 2017! Stay tuned. For more information, check out http://www.paxrail.com.

APRHF RAIL RANGERS: RIDING THE HOOSIER RAILS – LAFAYETTE, IN to CHICAGO, IL

While we are working on our schedule for 2017 private rail excursions, the APRHF Rail Rangers continue participating in a four month pilot project with Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation. Interpretive Guides with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program will be aboard the Hoosier Train on select Sunday morning departures to present “rolling” educational programs about Indiana’s people, places, industry, and history. Programs take place between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago Union Station. Passengers will have the opportunity to learn about such things as the Battle of Tippecanoe (the train passes right by the battlefield!), agriculture and industry, geology, famous Hoosier ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Orville Redenbacher, and interesting facts about the dozens of trackside towns along the route such as Rensselaer, Monon, Reynolds, and Dyer. We will also see two units of the National Park Service from the train — the Kankakee River National Water Trail and Pullman National Monument.

This program is being presented in cooperation with Iowa Pacific Railroad and the Indiana Department of Transportation. Two other sponsors in the Rail Rangers’ efforts to educate passengers include the Hilton Garden Inn – Wabash Landing and the Campus Inn. Both of these West Lafayette, Indiana hotels are helping with lodging needs for Chicago-based Interpretive Guides during their layover on Saturday evenings in Indiana. The first APRHF Rail Rangers “Riding the Hoosier Rails” program took place on Sunday, November 27, 2016 on northbound Train #851. An abbreviated second program took place on Sunday, December 11, 2016. If you missed our inaugural run on the Hoosier — no need to worry! More programs are coming up soon. In fact, we will be on the train TOMORROW and EVERY Sunday in January 2017 — including January 1, January 8, January 15, January 22, and January 29th. The schedule for February and March 2017 will be released soon. Interpretive Guides board in Lafayette, IN at approximately 7:30am EST and continue talking with passengers through the approximate 10:00am CST arrival into Chicago’s Union Station. There is no additional cost for the Rail Rangers program beyond the normal train fare. Passengers traveling in both standard coach and the business class dome car will have the opportunity to interact with the Guides. To hear the full narration and to get the best views of the passing scenery from the dome car, a business class ticket is highly recommended (and you get a breakfast cooked fresh aboard the train, too!). For more information and other upcoming dates (as they are announced) you are encouraged to check www.hoosierrails.org. Some Indianapolis departures may be added in early 2017 when special events warrant. As part of its agreement with Iowa Pacific, the APRHF Rail Rangers are also releasing a brand new 110-page route guidebook for the train route between Indianapolis and Chicago. “Riding the Hoosier Rails: A Route Guide From Indianapolis to Chicago” features a distinct collection of fun, educational, and interesting stories about the communities along the route, history of the Monon Railroad, and background information about the heritage passenger rail cars used on Iowa Pacific’s train. This book was written by two members of the APRHF Rail Rangers team earlier this summer when they were researching the train route. A route guidebook will come in handy on days when there are no Interpretive Guides on the train, or by passengers who are looking for more in-depth stories than the Rail Rangers have time to share between Lafayette and Chicago.

Executive Director Tabern summed things up by saying, “We have a lot of exciting things to look forward to with both the APRHF in general and the Rail Rangers ahead in 2017. This is why people should become members of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and support the Rail Rangers by purchasing our route guidebooks. We expect to have around 10 private car trips on our schedule next year… and if the Hoosier Train program is extended beyond just our test runs, then we will have guides riding between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago atleast two weekends every month year-round. We already have contracts to be at MadCity Rail in Madison, Wisconsin in February 2017 and at Trainfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in November 2017. It doesn’t get much more exciting than this. We are so happy to be the outreach arm of the APRHF.”

APRHF Rail Rangers Continue Hoosier Train Program Through March 2017: Come Ride With Us!

In case you haven’t heard, this week marks an exciting new chapter for the APRHF’s Rail Rangers program. For the first time since the outreach affiliate of the APRHF was created in July 2015, Interpretive Guides with the Rail Rangers are presenting on-board educational programs on a public train. Iowa Pacific Holdings and the Indiana Department of Transportation reached an agreement with the APRHF earlier this summer that allows programs to be presented on the northbound Hoosier State train on select Sunday mornings. Guides board the train in Lafayette, Indiana around 7:30am Eastern Time and present their program for approximately 3.5 hours, until arriving at Chicago Union Station around 10:00am Central Time. The first trip took place on Sunday, November 27th, 2016 and featured Executive Director Robert Tabern, Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, Lead Interpretive Guide/Trainer Robert Neil, and Interpretive Guide Kathy Bruecker.

When one thinks of traveling through Indiana, corn and soybean fields probably come to mind. While there is plenty of that to see from the train — there is a lot more out there than most people realize when they stop and take time to learn about the communities they are traveling through.

Rail Rangers Executive Robert Tabern says, “We are really excited to be on the Hoosier Train. INDOT and Iowa Pacific have been great to work with up until this point, and I think their passengers are going to be the real winners. There are a lot of amazing stories out there that haven’t been told until now for passengers on this route. For example, the train goes literally feet from the Battle of Tippecanoe Site outside of Lafayette, Indiana. Many people may look out their window and see a historical marker, monument, and fence and not even know what they are looking at. We are going to be on board the train to help fill in the gaps. We will be there to explain to people that this was one of the most important battles in the Indian Wars of the Early 1810’s.”

It’s not just history that the Rail Rangers will be sharing with passengers on the Hoosier. Passengers now have some assistance spotting wildlife, too, from their windows.

Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explains, “Near Renssealer, Indiana, the train route crosses one of the most important migration areas for Sandhill Cranes anywhere in the entire country. In the spring, passengers will see these magnificent birds heading north to either Wisconsin or Michigan… and in the fall, they will stop over here in Indiana on their way back down to Florida where they winter. Jasper County is an important stop-over point for Sandhill Cranes because this is where the large flocks break down into smaller groups — and then head on the east side of Lake Michigan or on the west side. You can often spot these birds with their large wingspans ‘dancing’ in farmers fields in the early morning hours.”

A week before the Rail Rangers gave their first presentation, most of the guides participated in a driving research trip of the route that included a stop at the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area near Medaryville, Indiana, where they witnessed more than 20,000 Sandhill Cranes preparing to overnight in a field.

Even if passenger don’t see any Sandhill Cranes from the window of the train — they will likely get a chuckle out of the stuffed animal Sandhill Crane some of the Guides carry with them; it was affectionately nicknamed “Killer” by a passenger.
If it’s Indiana industry and famous people you are interested in – then riding with the APRHF Rail Rangers will also satisfy that curiosity, too.

Interpretive Guide Dave Poole mentioned, “One of the landmarks that we are going to tell passengers about is a large plant that people can seen from the train while passing through Reynolds, Indiana. I have been here several times with the company I work for. Workers with this company will go in and recover iron ore tailings from old mines in Northern Minnesota and ship them here to Indiana by rail. Workers at this plant will create pellets that are then shipped down to Kentucky or Ohio to power steel mills.”

Magnetation, Inc., the company that Poole was talking about, has actually given the Rail Rangers a sampling of the tailings and pellets to show passengers on the train. These items are just part of the larger Interactive Visitor Center that will travel with the Rail Rangers on many of their upcoming departures.

Other industry seen from the train includes many old pump houses on the south side of Chicago and a factory on the east side of Renssealer, Indiana that makes all of the buns for White Castle Restaurants.

There are also a lot of other interesting landmarks that passengers can learn about when traveling with the Rail Rangers on the Hoosier. Passengers found it interesting they were traveling through or close-to two units of the National Park Service on their journey between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago. Near Shelby, Indiana, the train crosses the Kankakee River National Water Trail, designated a NPS-affiliated site in March 2016. Passengers with a good eye can also see the main administration building of the Pullman Factory; it was designated a National Historical Site by President Barack Obama in February 2015.

So how can you participate in an APRHF Rail Rangers program on the Hoosier State? The process is quite simple. First, head over to our new website at http://www.hoosierrails.org and click on the “Upcoming Events” tab to see what dates we are scheduled to be on the train. Right now, the program will be presented approximately two to three times a month (on average) through the end of March 2017. All programs will be presented on select Sunday mornings on Train #851. Our next program will be abbreviated (due to most guides committed to an event in Minnesota) with one guide and no narration on Sunday, December 11, 2016. Our programs will re-start in full force in January 2017, as we present onboard programs EVERY Sunday morning in January 2017 — including January 1st, January 8th, January 15th, January 22nd, and January 29th. February and March trip dates will be added soon. Don’t hesitate getting your tickets, as the agreement between the APRHF and INDOT and Iowa Pacific only runs through March 26, 2017. There is a chance the program could become a permanent fixture on the train, if enough positive feedback is received from passengers.

The real beauty of the program is that there is no additional cost to participate in the Rail Rangers program on the Hoosier State; the only thing you have to pay for is the cost of either your coach or Business Class ticket. Ticket prices can be as low as $1.00! The APRHF Rail Rangers highly recommends that passengers purchase Business Class tickets – as that guarantees you a seat in the Upper Level of the historic 1950’s dome car used on the train, full access to hear our narration, and even a breakfast meal cooked fresh aboard the train by Iowa Pacific crews. Coach passengers can still interact with Guides and have their questions answered about the route. The APRHF is providing various free handouts for passengers too, including a map of Downtown Chicago, a one-page route guidesheet, an Indiana state map, a membership brochure about the APRHF, information about National Park Service sites in the area, and an order form for rail route guidebooks.

So how is the program funded? The biggest expense is overnight lodging for the Chicago-based volunteers down in Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday evenings ahead of them catching the train back north on Sunday mornings. Through a sponsorship agreement, the Hilton Garden Inn and Campus Inn Motel in West Lafayette, Indiana have agreed to cover the rooms for our guides during the test period, and possibly beyond. Other expenses are covered by the sale of a 100-page route guidebook that covers the route; it is entitled “Riding the Hoosier Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Indianapolis, IN to Chicago”. It is available for sale on the train on select departures and from a new website that the Rail Rangers just launched — http://www.railbook.org. Also for sale on this site is 8 other railroad route guidebooks written by the Taberns, the official APRHF Junior Rail Rangers Book written by Kandace Tabern and Karri Cox, and other “Flashing Yellow” Route Guidebooks for various long-distance routes written by Dr. Eva Hoffman.

The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation began its efforts to provide onboard educational programs in December 2012 when it established a partnership agreement with Amtrak and the National Park Service to create a new Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago, Illinois and La Plata, Missouri. Between May 2013 and July 2015, this program reached out to over 50,000 passengers and received national recognition for being #1 in volunteer hours amongst all non-daily Trails & Rails programs in the country. When Trails & Rails decided to end the program, the APRHF stepped in and created the Rail Rangers program on July 20, 2015. Since then, the APRHF Rail Rangers have established partnerships with five owners/operators of private railcars and have presented programs in 6 different Midwestern States. While the focus of the APRHF Rail Rangers will remain on providing programs in private railcars, we welcome the chance to reach out to passengers on a public train like the Hoosier. Since all of the railcars on the Hoosier were built during the 1950’s and 1960’s, providing programs on them fits in well with the overall APRHF mission of spreading awareness of railroad history.