At the APRHF Rail Rangers… we have a popular saying that we tell passengers on almost all of our partners’ excursions and during almost all of our outreach events —
“Not knowing what you are seeing out your window, is just like watching the Travel Channel with the audio turned off.”
If you have attended one of our onboard educational programs, you have probably heard this line. It’s more than a statement to us though — it’s almost a mindset — that our Interpretive Guides always keep first and foremost when presenting programs to you, our audience. While most of our Guides are “railfans” — much like you probably are — we know most of our passengers/audience (especially on the public South Shore Line programs) are not. That is why we offer a mix of railroad history with general knowledge about the history, people, and places along along the train route.
For example, passengers who have rode with us on one of our South Shore Line programs between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, are amazed to learn in the 90 miles between the two Midwestern cities — pass near or through four units/affiliates of the National Park Service. That is the most parks hit on any Midwestern railroad line! For the first five or six miles of the route between Millennium Station and 47th Street, passengers travel through the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor. This important waterway (I&M Canal) linked the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River shipping basins — saving mariners thousands of miles or a tough portage through swamps. A lot of our travelers love when the train reaches 115th Street on Chicago’s South Side and we pass by the recently-designated Pullman National Monument. Our Interpretive Guides point out the old shops, hotel, and clock tower/administration building (all adjacent to the train line!). Plus, we might tell you some of the lesser-known stories about Pullman… like the bars that still line the “other side of the tracks” because Pullman did not allow alcohol into the town. The South Shore also passes through the heart of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore — a 15-mile-long stretch of preserved sand dunes and wetland areas. Many people take the South Shore to the Indiana Dunes to avoid the heavy traffic on area expressways and toll roads. Closer to Hudson Lake and South Bend, the train travels just a few miles away from the beautiful Kankakee River National Water Trail — an affiliated unit of the National Park Service.
It’s stories like this — and so much more we have to offer — that our Interpretive Guides can add to one’s train trip. Often times you might just see buildings, factories, sand dunes, and farms — but once you hear our narration — you will really learn “the rest of the story”.
The APRHF Rail Rangers is a team of just 12 Interpretive Guides. Many still work full-time and always just volunteer our services and are never paid. This obviously means we can’t be on every train ride you might be taking. That is why our Executive Director (Robert Tabern) and Chicago Coordinator (Kandace Tabern) have spent the past six years writing railroad route guidebooks for all of the major medium-distance and long-distance passenger railroad lines across the Midwest. “Outside the Rails”, the name of their series, has grown to include 11 different editions now. Passengers traveling between Chicago and such cities as Milwaukee (Wisconsin), St. Paul (Minnesota), Quincy (Illinois), La Plata (Missouri), St. Louis (Missouri), Carbondale (Illinois), Indianapolis (Indiana), South Bend-Airport (Indiana), and Detroit/Pontiac (Michigan), can now know what they are seeing out their windows all of the time!
If you haven’t heard of “Outside the Rails”, you really need to purchase a book for your favorite route or two. Just like with the APRHF Rail Rangers’ onboard educational programs, quality and detail come out in every paragraph. Many regular riders are surprised by some of the stories in these books that they didn’t know about. Prices range between $10 and $35, with route guidebooks ranging in size from 48 pages all the way up to 350 pages.
The APRHF Rail Rangers have also teamed up with author Eva Hoffman whose “Flashing Yellow Guidebook” series covers most of the long-distance passenger rail lines beyond just the Midwest. From the Coast Starlight along the Pacific Ocean to the Downeaster in Maine — “Flashing Yellow” will no doubt enhance your trip. Many sleeping car attendants on Amtrak recommend “Flashing Yellow”‘; some even carry copies aboard so they can share landmarks with passengers!
Both series are available at http://www.MidwestRails.com. The Outside the Rails series is also available through the new APRHF Store at http://www.APRHFStore.com. A portion of all sales goes to benefit the APRHF Rail Rangers program.
There is also some exciting news to share regarding the “Outside the Rails” Guidebook series! Over the years, many passengers have said they enjoy the information contained in the books — but sometimes they are just too bulky to carry on a long train trip. We have worked long and hard to come up with a solution — and have finally found a vendor who converted all 11 editions of “Outside the Rails” into a digital PDF download. For now, the digital versions are available exclusively at www.MidwestRails.com. Get your books available almost immediately and download them to your laptop, phone, tablet, or other electronic device. Have all of the information about your train route available without carrying around heavy books. Digital versions come with no shipping and handling costs AND are 25 percent off the purchase price.
APRHF Vice President and Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “Over the course of 2018 we will be launching Podcasts of the various Midwestern train routes. Now people can sit back and listen to some our narration anytime they want — ON DEMAND! We are in the beginning stages of this project and hope to roll out the first podcast sometime during Spring 2018. Each podcast will likely be 20 to 30 minutes in length and will feature not all of the text of the books — but will include the major route highlights. Four of our Interpretive Guides will be providing the voicework for this project. We hope to have all route completed sometime in late 2018 or early 2019. This is something we have wanted to do for a long time — and now is just the right time to do the work on this effort. This will be another great way to raise money and make sure the APRHF Rail Rangers remain as financially sound as possible.”
Podcasts will be available for sale exclusively through http://www.MidwestRails.com starting in late spring 2018.
APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern adds, “We would like to thank APRHF President Bob Cox for his support in doing this — and for our friends over at Let’s Talk Trains for some of their technological help. ‘Kansas City Nathan’ has been guiding us through the whole process in making and editing the MP3 files that we will be putting together.’
A true partnership between various APRHF affiliates to make something really great for passengers is coming soon… STAY TUNED!