Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #28 – 2020 Midwest Rail Rangers Year in Review

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Hello everyone… we hope you had a Merry Christmas… and will have a fun and safe New Years’ Eve tomorrow!   We don’t need to tell you — but 2020 was like a year none of us have ever experienced before. Regardless, we decided to continue our annual tradition here at the Midwest Rail Rangers with sending out our “Year in Review” e-Newsletter to look back on some of the fun times we had in past year… and point out some of the exciting things we have to look forward in the New Year… plus give you a long-term preview of where things are headed with our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

January 2020 saw the official opening of our new Midwest Rail Rangers headquarters in Barron, Wisconsin. Where is that you ask? Well, we are about 45 minutes north of Eau Claire, or near where U.S. Highways 8 and 53 meet. In order to attract more potential partners than just in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, our Headquarters and Main Office decided to make the move to the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We now have part of our Board of Directors up here… while most of our Board and Interpretive Guides remain stationed down in Northeast Illinois and Southeast Wisconsin. We house all of our National Park Passport Stamps used on our various excursions here in Barron, WI.. so if you are ever in the area, let us know… make an appointment and we will be happy to meet you** (** = once the pandemic is over with!).

SOUTH SHORE LINE PROGRAMS

The year started off pretty much like any normal year… with our Interpretive Guides focusing on our South Shore Line programs in January and February 2020. While most other activities we present are seasonal…  our programs on the South Shore LIne always operate year-round. Some people ask why we run our programs year-round on the SSL… and the answer is pretty simple — there is very distinct beauty in all FOUR seasons when taking the train through the Indiana Dunes State and National Parks. You will never see the same thing in the same way when you ride with the Midwest Rail Rangers in various seasons. We got about five or six on-board educational programs in this year on the South Shore Line before we and NICTD decided to suspend programming in Mid-March 2020. While we had hoped to return in the summer or fall… the realty of the continuing spikes in COVID-19 cases made that impossible. Having people interact with the Interpretive Guide and sit close together in one car to hear program does not conform well to the guidance of social distancing and not gathering in large groups.

In order to encourage people to still ride (while maintaining a safe distance from others outside their immediate household) and hear our narration, the Midwest Rail Rangers and NICTD are offering a special program on weekends — where all westbound rides are free. And instead of having an interpretive guide on your train, you can download a free westbound South Shore Line MP3 podcast from the Rail Rangers to learn about what you are seeing out the window. This deal continues at least through February 28, 2021. The free podcast is available for download at the Midwest Rail Rangers Store… head to our main website (http://www.railrangers.org) and click on “Rail Rangers Store” and follow the prompts to download your free MP3 South Shore Line Podcast.

Currently, In-person on-board educational programs are suspended on the South Shore Line through May 30, 2021. We look forward to returning later this year.

We do have some exciting news to share though… we have extended our partnership with the South Shore Line (NICTD) to provide our programs at least through March 2023. So, we can’t wait to be back and be riding with you.

WISCONSIN GREAT NORTHERN RAILROAD PROGRAMS

Despite most passenger operations being shut down since Mid-March, 2020 has been a very exciting year for our partners at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad. This family-run railroad near Trego, Wisconsin acquired the historic Mark Twain Zephyr over the summer and has been making amazing progress on restoring the train set.  If you have not checked out the website yet, spend some time at http://www.MarkTwainZephyr.com.

While COVID-19 prevented us from hosting any of our planned “Open House” events on the Wisconsin Great Northern’s Sky Parlour Car in 2020, several of our Midwest Rail Rangers docents participated in giving guided tours of the Mark Twain Zephyr train set on the weekend of October 24 and October 25, 2020 during a special “Open House” to celebrate the train set’s 85th Anniversary. We had over 100 people show up — some from as far away as Kansas and Ohio — and watch our history presentations and walk through four of the five cars that were under renovation.

There is MUCH to look forward to in 2021 at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, too! The Midwest Rail Rangers look forward to assisting WGNRR Staff in whatever ways needed with more “Open House” events on the Mark Twain Zephyr and on the Sky Parlour Car next year.  Stay tuned to our website and e-Newsletters with more details on these events as the months go forward and the WGNRR is slated to resume normal passenger service again on May 1, 2021.

The Midwest Rail Rangers are also collecting CB&Q and Zephyr memorabilia and donations that will be given to the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad for inclusion in their “Becky Thatcher” Museum Car. This will likely the focal point of future “Open House” Events and Interpretive Guide talks with passengers.

PRIVATE RAIL EXCURSIONS

Unfortunately, COVID-19 caused serious problems for owners of private cars who were planning excursions in 2020. Every private car trip this year that was planning to have Midwest Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides aboard was cancelled. We hope for a better 2021 and to offer you some fun private car experiences again. At this point, we do not have any definite trip dates for 2021, however we encourage you to watch our website and future E-Newsletters. Several of our private rail partners have mentioned that they will probably not run any trips in the first half of 2021, but are hoping to offer something during the second half of 2021.  Stay tuned and hope for the brightest!

AMTRAK CHARTERS ON THE 20TH CENTURY RAILROAD CLUB

Unfortunately, COVID-19 also caused serious problems for the Amtrak charters organized by the 20th Century Railroad Club in 2020. You may recall that we planned to have Interpretive Guides on about five different trips the club was offering. Every trip this year that was planning to have Midwest Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides aboard was cancelled. We hope for a better 2021 and to offer you some fun 20th Century narrated experiences again. At this point, we do not have any definite trip dates for 2021, however we encourage you to watch our website and future E-Newsletters. The Board of Directors of the 20th Century Railroad Club is expected to meet in January 2021 to discuss what offerings might be possible. Know that we look forward to being part of their trips once they get rolling again.  Stay tuned and hope for the brightest!

OUTREACH EVENTS & DONATIONS

We were able to get one major outreach event under our belt in 2020 before COVID-19 set in. You may have caught us at MadCity Rail on the weekend of February 15th and February 16th at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.  Volunteers staffed our booth and sold our popular railroad route guides as a fundraiser for the Midwest Rail Rangers.  Unfortunately, our other major outreach event of the year — Trainfest 2020 — was cancelled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the venue was being used as a COVID-19 Field Hospital.  Looking forward, we know MadCity Rail 2021 is CANCELLED already. We hope to resume our outreach events with Trainfest in November 2021… and return to Madison, Wisconsin in February 2022.

Our outreach events are VERY important to the future of the Midwest Rail Rangers, as these let us interact with the public and help spread our name. They are also very important because they serve as a fundraise for our group. When you purchase a railroad route guide at Trainfest or MadCity Rail, it helps to pay for thing such as office supplies, our mandatory insurance needed to do our programs, speaker upkeep, and much more. Unlike a lot of railroad organizations, we do not offer “memberships”… we do not charge people yearly dues to hear our programs… in fact, our narration is always FREE to passengers when they purchase a ticket for an excursions. However, we do have a lot of costs and those are covered by you purchasing our railroad route guide books.

Please take a moment right now, and consider either making a donation to the Midwest Rail Rangers if you are able to do so.  Or, go over and check out our railroad route guides. You can make a generous donation and/or buy a route guide on our main website, http://www.railrangers.org.  Donations received by 11:59PM CST tomorrow night (Dec 31) will count to your 2020 taxes… as we are a 501(c)(3) and everything you donate is tax deductible.

We are in good shape compared to a lot of other railroad museums and organizations as we do not own any physical property besides our headquarters office and speaker systems… but 2020 was still not a good year… so your donation or route book purchase would mean a lot to us… and would make things that much more stable going into 2021.

VIRTUAL PROGRAMS

Finally, virtual programs. This is something we started up brand new in June 2020 when it became apparent we would not be able to be in groups doing our narration for quite some time. We plan to continue offering two new programs per month for you to watch for the foreseeable future. They are offered on select Sunday evenings at 7:00PM CT… and then can be watched there-after on demand. Various topics are presented — ranging from actual train rides, visits to historic train locations, model railroading, and more.  Your donations definitely also help cover our expenses in traveling across the Midwest producing these programs. This is not a cheap endeavor!  We will only be able to continue offering these through your generous support.  Once we resume our on-board interpretive programs later in 2021, we will continue to offer virtual programs, but may cut back to one program per month or so… so we do not lose focus on our main mission.

Sincerely,

Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

Robert Tabern, President

Bob Neil, Vice President

Dave Poole, Treasurer

Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer