Well, we have been teasing some big news going on with the Midwest Rail Rangers the past couple of days on our Facebook and Twitter pages… and here is the scoop (but first, a little history!)…
It was 63 years ago this summer that the Santa Fe rolled out its then-brand new fleet of Hi-Level equipment on the famed El Capitan train between Chicago and Los Angeles. Included were six Hi-Level lounge cars that featured panoramic seating on the upper level and the Kachina Coffee Shop on the lower level. These cars would go on to out-live passenger service on the Santa Fe… and on May 1, 1971… were sold off to Amtrak. They continued to be used on the combined El Capitan and Super Chief (and later Southwest Limited). The Hi-Level lounges were so sturdy, reliable, and beloved that they served as the inspiration for Amtrak’s Superliner Sightseer Lounge Cars that began to roll off the assembly line in the early 1980’s… and are still in use on many long-distance trains today. Five of the six former Santa Fe Hi-Level lounges got a second life in 1995, when Amtrak executive Brian Rosenwald came up with a plan to refurbish them and use them as first class lounge car on the Coast Starlight. For the next 23 years, these beautiful cars would be used as a diner/lounge knows as the Pacific Parlour Car. Perhaps you had the chance to ride them through California, Oregon, or Washington State?
Times are no doubt changing at Amtrak… and by February 2018… the company’s new CEO Richard Anderson made the decision to pull all five of the Pacific Parlour Cars out of regular service and sell them off to private individuals through an auction process. One of the successful bidders was the Vreeland Family, who owns and operates the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad outside of Spooner/Trego, Wisconsin (in Washburn County). Yes, through the Vreeland’s hard work and dedication — a former Pacific Parlour Car would be coming here to the Midwest to be preserved! Ex-Amtrak Pacific Parlour Car “Napa Valley” #39972 arrived at the Wisconsin Great Northern on July 11, 2019… and has been used this summer and fall for Sunday wine and cheese trains… re-named as Sky Parlour Car “Namekagon View” (named for a local river that the train passes by).
In fact, the Wisconsin Great Northern is currently THE ONLY place in the entire country that is offering regularly scheduled rides on a former Santa Fe Hi-Level / Pacific Parlour Car. Given how special and rare this car is… the Midwest Rail Rangers has agreed to partner with the Wisconsin Great Northern for a special event on Saturday, October 5th to help promote the history of the car… and for people to come out and experience why this private car is so special.
Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern explains, “Over the past four years now, the two major goals of our non-profit 501(c)(3) organization has been to promote the history of the South Shore Line… where we do regular on-board educational programs on… and then, of course, presenting programs on private railcars all across the Upper Midwest. When we first started up the Rail Rangers in 2015, our team of guides would present between 10 and 15 programs a year on private railcar trips that were run on the back of Amtrak trains. But, because of Amtrak’s new restrictions on private cars and the huge increase in costs for these kind of trips — the number of traditional private car trips has dropped off by around 60 to 70 percent a year that pass through the area. So, our Board has decided we need to look at alternate methods of education on private railcars. We will still do traditional private car trips whenever we can. But this will also mean teaming with organizations such as the Wisconsin Great Northern, who owns some very beautiful private cars. They might not run 79mph on the back of an Amtrak train… but it’s very important people come up and support the organizations like the Wisconsin Great Northern —- who have bought these cars and are preserving them. So we are here today to announce a new test partnership where our Interpretive Guides will be aboard the car.”
So, come out and join the Midwest Rail Rangers on Saturday, October 5, 2019 at the Wisconsin Great Northern. Between 10:00am and 4:00pm, a FREE “Open House” will be held at the railroad’s depot in Trego, Wisconsin… located about 2 hours from the Twin Cities… 5 hours from Milwaukee… and 6.5 hours from Chicago. But yes, it’s worth the drive up! Remember this is the only place in the country you can currently experience one of these special cars. Come and meet with Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern, Educational Officer Kandace Tabern, and Interpretive Guide Bruce Stahl. Besides a tour of the car — there will be over two dozen pieces of historic memorabilia on display from the Rail Rangers collection. A movie about the history of the car will also be shown… and a special new 52 page book about the history of the car will also make its debut (books will be available for purchase in the gift shop — then bring them out to the car to be autographed).
And while you’re there on Saturday, October 5, 2019 for the Sky Parlour Open House — why not go for a ride? Tickets are still available for the 12:00n pizza train plus the 2:00p and 3:00p sightseeing trips. And while the Sky Parlour will be stationary for the Open House… you can come out the following day (Sunday, October 6, 2019) for a ride on the 11:00am wine and cheese train.
For tickets, just head to www.SpoonerTrainRide.com or call Wisconsin Great Northern.
Midwest Rail Rangers President says, “Partnering with the Wisconsin Great Northern to promote their luxurious private railcar that has so much history on both the Santa Fe and Amtrak fits in so well with the Midwest Rail Rangers’ mission. We look forward to the event and hope a lot of people come out to experience the special displays, including a new book and movie that we will be working hard to finish up production on in the next couple of weeks”.
If this event is deemed a success, the Midwest Rail Rangers is hoping to offer multiple days in 2020 that its Interpretive Guides will have a presence on the Sky Parlour at the Wisconsin Great Northern. Stay tuned for more details on that in the months ahead…