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.