Rail Rangers Brings Private Railcar Passengers to La Plata

Ever since the APRHF Rail Rangers program was founded on July 20, 2015, one of our major goals was to bring a group of passengers to La Plata, Missouri by private railcar. While the headquarters of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation is always a great place for railfans to stop off at, La Plata had never before had anyone arrived by this luxurious and memorable mode of rail transportation. That was until the trip we helped to organize, in conjunction with Zephyr Route, on the weekend of September 9th, 10th, and 11th, 2016.

You may recall that between December 2012 and July 2015 the APRHF co-sponsored a Trails & Rails program on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from Chicago Union Station to La Plata, Missouri, along with Amtrak and the National Park Service. During the three summers that we rode this 298-mile stretch of rail, our Trails & Rails volunteers reached out to more than 50,000 Amtrak passengers, explaining about the people and landscapes seen from the train across Northern Illinois, the “toe” of Iowa, and Northeast Missouri. Our group of 30 dedicated docents were repeatedly recognized by Amtrak and the National Park Service for donating the most volunteer hours of any non-daily Trails & Rails program anywhere in the United States during the 2013 and 2014 summer seasons. Unfortunately, despite the success of the Chicago to La Plata Trails & Rails program, the APRHF Board of Directors was informed by Trails & Rails National Coordinator Jim Miculka that he wished to end the partnership agreement that allowed our program to operate. The final Trails & Rails program between Chicago Union Station and La Plata, MO took place on Sunday, July 19, 2015; to date, sadly, there has been no effort to begin a new Trails & Rails program on any long-distance Amtrak train out of Chicago.

The APRHF invested a great deal of time and funds into developing a unique interpretive program on the Chicago to La Plata, MO route and refused to let the decision of one individual impact our group’s mission of educating passengers about what they were seeing out their windows. The day after Trails & Rails ended its operations, APRHF President Bob Cox and former Trails & Rails Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern announced the creation of the APRHF Rail Rangers program. For the past 15 months now, Interpretive Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers have been presenting interpretive programs aboard private railcar excursions. Trips have taken place to five different states in the Midwest, including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The APRHF Rail Rangers program currently has five different private railcar partners that organize the trips on which our Interpretive Guides work, including Friends of the 261 (Minneapolis), Zephyr Route (St. Charles, IL), American Rail Excursions (Madison, IL), Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad (Albuquerque, NM), and Paxrail (Chicago). APRHF Rail Rangers is also just weeks away from announcing a very exciting new partnership that will have our Guides on a public train once again (stay tuned for that big news!).

Our APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides, who are all former Trails & Rails volunteers, really enjoy telling passengers about the route from Chicago to La Plata, MO via Naperville, Mendota, Princeton, Galesburg, and Fort Madison. In a way, we consider this our “home rails”, due to the time and energy everyone put in to creating the interpretive program about this route from scratch back in late 2012 and early 2013. One of our major goals with Rail Rangers, since almost ‘Day 1’, was to bring a group of passengers to La Plata in a private railcar (and preferibly in a full-length dome car). This is something that had never been done before in the history of the town, we quickly learned from APRHF President Bob Cox and APRHF Vice-President Amy Cox. Planning such a trip ended up being the hardest part of the whole process. No private railcars are currently able to be stored overnight in La Plata due to lack of a quality siding and a switcher engine. This meant that any private railcar round trip journey that would bring travelers to La Plata would have to continue on to at least Kansas City, where the car would be taken off the Southwest Chief and stored for two nights in a secure location. In late 2015, we shopped around the idea of a private railcar trip from Chicago to La Plata to several of our partners. Mike Abernethy, President of Zephyr Route, seemed the most interested. He mentioned that he was already planning a weekend trip to Kansas City for September 9-11, 2016, and agreed to put aside a number of the seats on the dome car for passengers who wanted to get off and on the train in La Plata, Missouri. The deal was set! Heavy promotions about the trip in local newspapers along the way brought in 11 travelers who wanted to head to La Plata; about double that amount bought tickets to ride on to Kansas City for the weekend.

Interpretive Guides for this special trip included some of Rail Rangers’ ‘top brass’, Executive Director Robert Tabern, Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Lead Interpreter/Trainer Robert Neil. The group met almost three hours ahead of the scheduled departure time at Chicago Union Station on Friday, September 9, 2016 in order to prepare for the journey ahead. Robert T. got the Rail Rangers Interactive Visitor Center set up with various props about the route and met with Iowa Pacific officials who stopped by to see how things were going. This trip also marked the debut our our new “Passport to Your National Parks” Cancellation Station. Kandace and Robert N. helped greet passengers in the Great Hall and Metropolitan Lounge at Union Station along with Zephyr Route President Mike Abernethy. Around 2:20pm, everyone walked out to the train and found their assigned seats. The car that we used for the trip was chartered out from Iowa Pacific Holdings;  we are talking about ex-Great Northern Great Dome “Prairie View”. For the record, this is the sister dome car to “Ocean View”, the last remaining dome car owned by Amtrak. We departed right on time at 3:00pm and quickly scooted along through the western suburbs of Chicago along the BNSF “race track”. For those who are not familiar with this term, the BNSF “rack track” is the triple-tracked ex-CB&Q line that runs 37 miles between Downtwon Chicago and Aurora, Illinois.  At times, three trains all headed in the same direction, have been known to pass each other!  At Naperville, Kandace and Mike headed out on the platform to greet the group of private car passengers who would be boarding there.

By 4:00pm,  the far western suburbs of Chicago slowly began to fade away, as the farm fields of Central Illinois came into view. APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides took turns providing narration for passengers, and providing some one-on-one time with each passenger to answer whatever questions they had about the route. One of the favorite stories takes place between Mendota and Princeton, Illinois. Looking off on the left side of the train (when heading west), passengers see a 150 foot high hill in the distance. Our Guides will often ask passengers to use their imagination and guess what the hill might be. Considering the landscape between Chicago and Princeton is about as flat as they come, this hill looks totally out of place. We had some people guess that it was a large Native American burial mound. Other people said it was a garbage dump for the whole county. Someone even thought it might have been the remnants of an ancient volcano!  Well, all are good guesses… but the hill is actually a slag pile left behind from the mining operations of Cherry Hill Coal Mine more than a century ago. Slag hills contain non-valuable rock materials taken out of the Earth during a mining operation. Cherry Hill was the site of one of the deadliest mining disasters in United States history!  More than 250 men and boys, some as young as nine years old, were killed here in 1909. The coal was used for Milwaukee Road steam trains, so there was definitely a connection between the train line and the passing landscape. One of the props that the Rail Rangers carry with them when talking about the disaster is a mule shoe. It belonged to a mule, who lived in the mine at the time of the fire, but survived. It was donated to the APRHF Rail Rangers program by the Bartoli Family, who currently owns the property.  It’s special experiences and stories like this that make a private railcar trip so memorable for our passengers. Sure, it may just look like corn and soybeans out there — but there is so much more when one stops and gets to know the history, people, and places of a region.
By 5:30pm, we were rolling through Galesburg, our last station stop in Illinois. Around this time, passengers were treated to a traditional dining car meal that was actually cooked on board the train. No microwaves and no convection ovens!  This is something you no longer can experience on an Amtrak train. While they were beginning to eat, Robert N. told passengers about how the famous Marx Brothers got their nicknames while playing poker in Galesburg. Kandace then followed up with a story about the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates took place in 1860 at Knox College, which can be seen from the train today. A little further west, Robert T. pointed out two alpaca farms which can be seen from the train between Galesburg and Smithshire. One of the props that he shared with passengers was a bag of alpaca fur that was donated from one of the farms seen from the train. Kandace pointed out Jack and Martha, two alpacas who were just babies (but are now full grown) when we began researching this route under the original Trails & Rails program.

One of the highlights for everyone is crossing the Mississippi River; it is that much more spectacular when you are traveling on a full-length dome car from the 1950’s era. And luckily, the train remained more-or-less ‘on time’ so that the sun was still up for our arrival into Downtown Fort Madison. APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides ended up pointing out popular landmarks in Fort Madison like the combined railroad-highway bridge, Mississippi River Marina, old pen factory, Fort Madison replica, and the old Santa Fe and CB&Q stations that can be seen from the train. Passengers got a kick out of Kandace and Robert N. walking throughout the train with a jar of Mississippi River water that they had obtained from a 2012 research trip to the area. Robert N. joked about wanting to exchange the muddy water for a glass of a passenger’s wine. He had no takers!  Robert T. responded by saying the river water looked like Fort Madison tap water! The sun was just setting as we pulled out of the Fort Madison/Shopton depot, but it was still light enough to see the Mormon Temple at Nauvoo, Illinois, about eight miles in the distance across the river, and the nearby wind turbine factory. It was getting dark as we crossed the Des Moines River into Missouri, so we decided to end our narration and spend the last hour talking with passengers one-on-one again.

Since the platform is so small in La Plata, our train had to make a triple stop at the station to let everyone off (one stop sleepers, one stop coach, and one stop for all of us in the dome car). All of the passengers were greeted by the warm smiles of APRHF President/Rail Rangers La Plata Coordinator Bob Cox, APRHF Vice-President/Rail Rangers Asst. La Plata Coordinator Amy Cox, and their daughter Karri Cox. Several other curious onlookers were also on hand to see passengers getting off a private railcar for the first time in the city’s history. This is another railroad milestone that took place in La Plata now! Bob and Amy provided a brief welcome and orientation of the town for everyone before all of the passengers were taken over to the Depot Inn & Suites, where they would be spending the next two nights.

On Saturday, September 10, 2016, passenger participated in an all-day van tour of Northeast Missouri lead by Bob and Amy Cox. The group left the hotel around 8:30am and headed west on Missouri Highway 156, into the heart of Missouri’s Amish Country. Stops were made at an Amish bakery where free donuts and coffee greeted everyone. Many of the travelers talked with the family here and purchased cookies, bread, or pies. From there, we headed to an Amish dry good stores where people were able to purchase snacks for the day. From there, Bob and Amy drove everyone even deeper in the country, hitting several fruit and vegetable stands. One of the highlights was visiting an Amish farm where travelers got to interact with local Amish and get up close and personal with some of their animals. Our favorite was a horse who came up to the van. It was then back to the Depot Inn & Suites for everyone to drop off everything that they bought.

Saturday afternoon was spent heading down to Marceline, a town about 45 minutes away from La Plata. Marceline is best known as the boyhood hometown of Walt Disney. Kay, our tour guide for the museum, had Walt Disney himself stay in her family’s home when she was a little girl. She talked about how Walt drew cartoons for her. Kay now owns the former Disney boyhood home, which includes a barn and the remnants of a tree that Walt once sat under and enjoyed the fresh country air. Everyone enjoyed lunch, ice cream, and walking around looking at the old steam engine that was on display in town. Around 4:00pm or so, all of the travelers headed back to La Plata to have some down time at the hotel, and also to check out the APRHF Exhibition of Amtrak history.

Saturday evening featured a special BBQ cookout at the APRHF Lookout Point, which was hosted by the Cox and Tabern family. Bob and Amy Cox and other volunteers have recently put in a lot of time and hard work to make significant improvements to the deck and actual Lookout Point building to make it more weather resistant and friendly for visitors. The Coxs and Taberns grilled up some hot dogs and freshly made hamburgers for everyone. Visitors loved the chance to enjoy a small town cookout while watching various freight trains pass by on the BNSF mainline. Things culminated with the arrival of the westbound Southwest Chief through La Plata around 8:00pm.

After a day that went way too fast, it was time to head back to the Windy City for everyone!  Due to a two hour late eastbound train, passengers had some extra time to sleep in and enjoy the Depot Inn & Suites on the morning of Sunday, September 11th, 2016.  Around 10:30am everyone headed over to the Amtrak station for an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour with Bob and Amy Cox, who are also the main caretakers for the historic station.  The train arrived around Noon, and all 11 passengers loaded back on “Prairie View” to join the Kansas City passengers who started out on the train trip about two hours earlier.  From there, it was back on the road again for the 298-mile return to Chicago. Passengers were treated to a tasty lunch and snacks provided by the crew. The day wrapped up with the arrival of the dome car into Union Station around 5:30pm.

La Plata, Missouri saw a second private railcar tour roll through about three weeks after the first tour.  On Saturday, October 1, 2016, the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad sponsored a private car trip as a fundraiser from Chicago Union Station to Los Angles, California. This featured ex-Milwaukee Road lounge car “Montana”. A group of seven passengers were aboard this run, with three passengers riding all of the way to Los Angles and four passengers heading through to Kansas City. While everyone on this tour was riding past La Plata, Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern and Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern provided passengers narration between Chicago and La Plata. Passengers has a great time enjoying seeing farmers out in their fields harvesting from the open-platform observation area.

Did this trip sound like fun to you? Well, we hope so! As we mentioned, APRHF Rail Rangers partners with five (soon to be six!) different private railcar operators who plan fun and exciting trips like this all over the Midwest. While most of the trips for 2016 are “in the books” already, work is already underway to plan out our 2017 trips. Rail Rangers is hoping to team up with Zephyr Route again to do a repeat trip to La Plata and the Kansas City area, possibly in mid-August 2017.  Other trips that Rail Rangers have been involved in during 2016 included Springfield, Saint Louis, Galesburg, Quincy, Hannibal, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Milwaukee. The best way to get notified about future trips is to “like” our Facebook page and to send your e-mail address to railrangers@rtabern.com so that you can get added to our new E-newsletter list. There is no advertising or spam involved.. just a monthly (or so) e-mail update on private car trips that are coming your way. Do you have a great idea for a private railcar trip? Then, be in touch with APRHF Rail Rangers in the next month or so and we’ll bring it up when we sit down with our private railcar partners over the winter to plan out our 2017 dates and destinations. We would like to thank everyone who has been supportive of our group over the past 15 months and made our efforts such a success, especially our private railcar partners who took a chance on having our Interpretive Guides on their train.

Rail Rangers: Four Private Rail Excursions Ahead in September & October 2016

Even though August has been a relatively quiet month for the APRHF Rail Rangers program, things will begin picking up shortly. Interpretive guides with the program will participate in four different private railcar excursions over a period of five weeks in September and October 2016. Limited tickets for each excursion are still available, but it’s best you act quick!  For more information about these trips and some of the other events we have planned… check out our website at www.railrangers.org and make sure you give us a “LIKE” on Facebook.  Here is a quick rundown of what we have planned this fall:

SEPTEMBER 9-11, 2016: CHICAGO to LA PLATA, MO Roundtrip 

The APRHF Rail Rangers have partnered up with Zephyr Route of Saint Charles, Illinois in order to bring the first-ever private railcar excursion to La Plata, Missouri. Guests will get to ride roundtrip on ex-Great Northern full-length dome car “Prairie View”, which will be located on the back of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief. The train will leave Chicago Union Station at 3:00pm CT on Friday, September 9, 2016, making stops in Naperville, Mendota, Princeton, Galesburg, and Fort Madison. The car will stop in La Plata, MO at approximately 7:51pm CT. Guests will be treated to two nights at the rail-themed Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata. On Saturday, September 10, 2016, travelers will participate in an all-day guided van tour of Missouri, with stops at the Disney sites in Marceline, an Amish bakery, an Amish dry goods store, and a cookout along the railroad tracks at the recently renovated Overlook Point. The van tour will be hosted by APRHF President Bob Cox, APRHF Vice-President Amy Cox, Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, and Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern.  Travelers will return to Chicago on the “Prairie View” on Sunday, September 11, 2016. Rail Rangers docents, including Interpretive Guide Robert Neil, will be providing narration and route guidebooks.

OCTOBER 1, 2016:  CHICAGO to LA PLATA/KANSAS CITY, MO

The APRHF Rail Rangers is teaming up with Tim Tennant and the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad for the first time to bring an open-ended platform observation car to La Plata, Missouri. You’ll want to be part of this excursion — as you stand on the back platform and see farmers hard at work in the fields of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri — while whizzing by at speeds of upto 90 miles per hour!  These types of cars are very rare… in fact… they were often used by Presidential candidates like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman to make “whistle stop” tours of cities across the country.  The ex-Milwaukee Road “Montana” car is normally kept in Los Angeles, California and very rarely runs through the Midwest — making this trip even that much more special.  The “Montana” will be placed on the back of the Southwest Chief, leaving Chicago Union Station at 3:00pm on Saturday, October 1st. This car will load passengers (on request) at Naperville, Mendota, Princeton, Galesburg, and Fort Madison. Passengers will have the choice to de-train in either La Plata, MO or continue on to Kansas City, MO. Note this is a one-way trip and guests will be responsible for their own hotel accommodations and return to their city of origin.  This is a guided trip with APRHF Rail Rangers docents providing narration and route guide services.

OCTOBER 7 & 9, 2016 – CHICAGO to ST. PAUL, MN Roundtrip

The “Prairie View” will be running on the back of the Empire Builder during the second weekend of October

If you’re not able to make the September 7-9, 2016 excursion to La Plata, you will have a second opportunity to ride aboard the ex-Great Northern “Prairie View” dome car. APRHF Rail Rangers is teaming up with Zephyr Route once again to provide passengers with the chance to see the fall colors along the Mississippi River in Minnesota by private railcar. Ride from Chicago to St. Paul Union Depot on the back of Amtrak’s Empire Builder on Friday, October 7, 2016; this trip departs Chicago at 2:15pm and arrives in the Twin Cities at approximately 10:00pm. As part of the package, you will receive two nights accommodations in St. Paul, MN.  On Saturday, October 8th, participate in the Friends of the 261 trip to Glencoe, MN (see below), take an optional guided tour of the city, or spend time exploring on your own. This trip returns back to Chicago on Sunday, October 9, 2016. Other departure cities include Glenview, Milwaukee, Columbus, Portage, Wisconsin Dells, Tomah, LaCrosse, Winona, and Red Wing. This is a guided tour with APRHF Rail Rangers docents providing narration on both the northbound and southbound trips.

OCTOBER 8, 2016:  RARE MILEAGE STEAM TRIP from MINNEAPOLIS to GLENCOE, MN Roundtrip

Rail Rangers is partnering again with the Friends of the 261

Is steam more your style than diesel? Than this is the trip you will want to take. Once again, the APRHF Rail Rangers is teaming up with the Friends of the 261, one of our charter partners, to have interpretive guides on one of their weekend trips. We will hit the rails on Saturday, October 8, 2016 for a rare-mileage steam excursion between Minneapolis Junction and Glencoe, MN. This trip will be running on portions of a rail line that hasn’t seen regular passenger service since 1969!  You will have the chance to ride on the BNSF, Canadian Pacific, and Twin Cities & Western. There are various options to choose from to as to what private car experience you are looking for. Premium Class features ex-Milwaukee Road Super Dome #53 and Skytop Observation Car Cedar Rapids.  Seats will also be for sale in private car Lamberts Point and ex-Santa Fe Big Dome Sky View. First Class guests will be seated in lounge car Wisconsin Valley. There will also be three coach cars on this trip. Guests in both dome cars will be provided with live narration from the Rail Rangers and get the first chance to buy a collectors rail routeguidebook that will be for sale on this trip.

Rail Rangers Release 2016 Schedule; Includes First-ever Private Car Trip to La Plata

Earlier this afternoon (Saturday, March 5th) on the APRHF “Let’s Talk Trains Show”, American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern released the group’s 2016 preliminary schedule exclusively to host Nathan Chidester, a.k.a. “Kansas City Nathan”. Included in the schedule are plans for various events to be held on 12 separate dates during the course of this year; this includes three outreach events at train shows, eight dates for on-board interpretive programs to be presented on private railroad cars, and an all-day van tour of La Plata, MO. The special highlight of the year, of course, will be the first-ever private rail car excursion being offered between Chicago Union Station and La Plata, Missouri (ticket sales are limited to the first 10 people!!!). And remember, when you make your reservations, mentioned “APRHF Rail Rangers” and the railroad organizers will make a donation to our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

SUNDAY, APRIL 17, 2016 – 34TH ANNUAL CHICAGOLAND RAILROADIANA TRAIN SHOW: APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers will have a booth at the 34th annual Chicagoland Railroadiana Train Show, which will be held from 9AM to 3PM on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. This is one of the largest train shows in the Midwest that focuses on railroad collectible items instead of just model railroading. Browse through old timetables, signs, postcards, and other goodies… and be sure to stop by and chat with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation volunteers to talk about their upcoming trips during the new year. Rail Rangers will also be selling various “Outside the Rails” railroad route guidebooks to help raise money for our organization. It’s a great time to get your route guide – without having to pay for shipping and handling – ahead of your spring or summer long-distance train ride. Interpretive guides will include Kathy Bruecker and Robert Neil.

SATURDAY, APRIL 23, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: CHICAGO-ST. LOUIS: The APRHF Rail Rangers’ first on-board interpretive program of 2016 will take place on Saturday, April 23, 2016. A full-length dome car will be placed on the back of Amtrak Train #303, The “Lincoln Service”. Guests will enjoy on-going narration from our guides for the entire 284-mile stretch and will have the chance to buy the new 202-page book, “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to St. Louis”, written by Robert & Kandace Tabern. Learn more about the historic I&M Canal, Route 66, coal mining in Illinois, all the way down to the Mighty Mississippi and the St. Louis Gateway Arch. This excursion is being operated by “Zephyr Route” of St. Charles, Illinois. Tickets are being sold for $699.00 per person double occupancy and includes a ride to St. Louis on this date and a return on Sunday, April 24, 2016 (see below), plus one night lodging at the Double Tree Union Station Hotel in St. Louis. Contact Mike at (630) 542-3607 for additional information, or visit, www.zephyrroute.com. Interpretive guides include Robert Neil, Kandace Tabern, and Robert Tabern.

SUNDAY, APRIL 24, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: ST. LOUIS-CHICAGO: The APRHF Rail Rangers’ will also be onboard for the return trip home on Sunday, April 24th, 2016. A full-length dome car will be placed on the back of Amtrak Train #304, The “Lincoln Service”. Guests will enjoy additional fun and educational stories from our guides for the entire 284-mile stretch and will have another chance to buy the new 202-page book, “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to St. Louis”, written by Robert & Kandace Tabern. Learn more about the historic I&M Canal, Route 66, coal mining in Illinois, all the way down to the Mighty Mississippi and the St. Louis Gateway Arch. This excursion is being operated by “Zephyr Route” of St. Charles, Illinois. Tickets are being sold for $699.00 per person double occupancy and includes a ride to Chicago on this date and the trip down the day before on Saturday, April 23, 2016 (see above), plus one night lodging at the Double Tree Union Station Hotel in St. Louis. Contact Mike at (630) 542-3607 for additional information, or visit, www.zephyrroute.com. Interpretive guides include Robert Neil, Kandace Tabern, and Robert Tabern.

FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: CHICAGO-KANSAS CITY: APRHF Rail Rangers welcomes our newest partner – American Rail Excursions, Inc. The private rail car group is offering a trip that will take visitors on a “River Cities Rail Tour”, visiting Saint Louis, Chicago, and Kansas City over the course of five days and four nights. For a more detailed itinerary, you can check out their website at www.americantraintrips.com. Interpretive guides Dave Poole and Joe Kuczynski will be aboard for the 430-mile stretch of rail between Chicago and Kansas City on Friday, June 3rd to tell passengers about what they are seeing out their window in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.

SATURDAY, JUNE 25, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: CHICAGO-HANNIBAL: All Aboard for an interesting day-time roundtrip between Chicago, Galesburg, and Quincy, Illinois… with a motorcoach extension to Hannibal, Missouri. This trip leaves Chicago at 7:35AM and gets to Quincy around NOON. APRHF Rail Rangers will be aboard to tell you interesting tales of the west suburbs of Chicago, the Cherry Hill Coal Mine, Galesburg, Macomb, and Mark Twain and the Mississippi River. Guests will then board a motorcoach to spend the afternoon in Hannibal, Missouri. APRHF Rail Rangers will greet passengers back aboard the train in Quincy, IL and provide more narration for the return to Chicago (estimated time back to the “Windy City” is just before 10PM). This excursion is being operated by “Zephyr Route” of St. Charles, Illinois. Tickets are being sold for $349.00 per person — which includes a gourmet breakfast and dinner onboard the upper level of the dome car. Contact Mike at (630) 542-3607 for additional information, or visit, www.zephyrroute.com. Special pricing might also be available for those who wish to ride this excursion to Galesburg, Illinois for the annual Galesburg Railroad Days Event. Interpretive guides include Fred Glure, Kandace Tabern, and Robert Tabern.
A very limited number of people will get to participate in a “first” — a private railcar excursion between Chicago and Missouri — this special event will take place the second weekend of September 2016

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: CHICAGO-LA PLATA: This is the “must do” excursion of the year for anyone who wants to arrive in La Plata, MO the Santa Fe way — in a full-length dome car! For the first time ever, a private rail excursion is being offered between Union Station and La Plata, MO. Passengers will board Amtrak Train #3 “Southwest Chief” and enjoy the afternoon scenery through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Passengers will enjoy narration and route guides provided by the APRHF Rail Rangers docents. A hearty welcome will greet you to La Plata, MO — and get ready for a weekend packed with train action. This excursion is being operated by “Zephyr Route” of St. Charles, Illinois. Pricing for tickets is still to be determined — but will include two nights at the Depot Inn & Suites and a guided tour of both railroad and non-railroad related La Plata-area sites on Saturday, September 10th (see below) and the return trip to Chicago on Sunday, September 11th (see below). Contact Mike at (630) 542-3607 for additional information, or visit, www.zephyrroute.com. This excursion will have a VERY LIMITED number of seats available for $699.00 per person double hotel occupancy. Travelers may also use this excursion to spend the weekend in Kansas City, MO; pricing for that is $775.00 double occupancy. Interpretive guides include Robert Neil, Kandace Tabern, and Robert Tabern.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: THE LA PLATA AREA: Guests who participate in the above excursion will be treated to an all-day guided tour of the La Plata, Missouri area and the chance to “rub elbows” with the President and Vice-President of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation… and the Executive Director and Asst. Chicago Coordinator of the APRHF Rail Rangers program. This guided tour will included the various railroad-related sites of La Plata (Depot Inn, SilverRails Vineyards, Silver Rails Gallery & Memorial Library, Silver Rails Events Center, the Overlook Cabin, the Exhibition of Amtrak History, etc.) and various non-railroad related sites (Amish Bakery and Store, Thousand Hills State Park, etc.). This excursion is being operated by “Zephyr Route” of St. Charles, Illinois. Pricing for tickets is still to be determined — but will include two nights at the Depot Inn & Suites, the outbound trip to La Plata, MO on Friday, September 9th (see above) and the return trip to Chicago on Sunday, September 11th (see below). Contact Mike at (630) 542-3607 for additional information, or visit, www.zephyrroute.com. This excursion will have a VERY LIMITED number of seats available. Travelers may also use this excursion to spend the weekend in Kansas City, MO; pricing for that is $775.00 double occupancy. Interpretive guides include Amy Cox and Bob Cox.

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: LA PLATA-CHICAGO: After the full-day guided tour of La Plata and two nights at the Depot Inn & Suites (see above), passengers will leave La Plata, MO in style — traveling back to Chicago on a full-length dome car. APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers will be on-board the Southwest Chief, Train #4, for the return back through Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois. This excursion is being operated by “Zephyr Route” of St. Charles, Illinois. Pricing for tickets is still to be determined — but will include two nights at the Depot Inn & Suites, the trip outbound from Chicago on Friday, September 9th (see above), and a guided tour of both railroad and non-railroad related La Plata-area sites on Saturday, September 10th (see above). Contact Mike at (630) 542-3607 for additional information, or visit, www.zephyrroute.com. This excursion will have a VERY LIMITED number of seats available. Travelers may also use this excursion to spend the weekend in Kansas City, MO; pricing for that is $775.00 double occupancy. Interpretive guides include Robert Neil, Kandace Tabern, and Robert Tabern.

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: MILWAUKEE-ST.PAUL: What can beat the fall colors along the Mississippi River? Join the APRHF Rail Rangers for a special “leaf peeping” trip on the weekend of Friday, October 7, 2016. A full-length dome car will be placed on the back of Amtrak Train #7 – The “Empire Builder” – with passengers boarding in Chicago. APRHF Rail Rangers docents will board in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and provide commentary until sunset, and then remain onboard until the 10PM arrival at St. Paul Union Depot to provide suggestions on what to see in the Twin Cities. This excursion is being operated by “Zephyr Route” of St. Charles, Illinois. Pricing for tickets is $799 per person double occupancy — include two nights at the historic St. Paul Hotel and the return trip to Chicago on Sunday, October 9th (see below). Contact Mike at (630) 542-3607 for additional information, or visit, www.zephyrroute.com. Interpretive guides include Dave Poole, Kandace Tabern, and Robert Tabern.

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2016 – ON BOARD INTERPRETIVE PROGRAM: ST. PAUL-MILWAUKEE: APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers will be onboard for the return trip home – as you ride in a full-length dome car on the back of the Empire Builder – Train #8 – between St. Paul Union Depot and Chicago Union Station. Docents will be aboard to tell you about the scenic Mississippi River and Lake Pepin areas, the “rolling hills” of Central Wisconsin, and the urban corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago. This excursion is being operated by “Zephyr Route” of St. Charles, Illinois. Pricing for tickets is $799 per person double occupancy — include two nights at the historic St. Paul Hotel and the outbound trip to St. Paul on Friday, October 7th (see above). Contact Mike at (630) 542-3607 for additional information, or visit, www.zephyrroute.com. Interpretive guides include Dave Poole, Kandace Tabern, and Robert Tabern.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2016 – OUTREACH PROGRAM: TRAINFEST 2016 – MILWAUKEE: It’s the world’s largest train show and the APRHF Rail Rangers will be back again for our second year! Come out and participate in an informal “meet and greet” with American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation volunteers. If you’re looking for that perfect Christmas gift — you will have your chance to buy various route guides (minus the shipping and handling!) from the popular “Outside the Rails” rail route guide series. A portion of the profits will be donated to the APRHF Rail Rangers program. By then, our volunteers might even be able to give you a sneak peek at some of the 2017 trips that we will have in the works. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to visit the countless vendors and model railroad displays.

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2016 – OUTREACH PROGRAM: TRAINFEST 2016 – MILWAUKEE: It’s the world’s largest train show and the APRHF Rail Rangers will be back again for our second year! Come out and participate in an informal “meet and greet” with American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation volunteers for a second day of action-packed fun. If you’re looking for that perfect Christmas gift — you will have your chance to buy various route guides (minus the shipping and handling!) from the popular “Outside the Rails” rail route guide series. A portion of the profits will be donated to the APRHF Rail Rangers program. By then, our volunteers might even be able to give you a sneak peek at some of the 2017 trips that we will have in the works. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to visit the countless vendors and model railroad displays.

In addition to all of these programs, APRHF Rail Rangers also expects to add additional trips, once our other partners inform us of their schedules. This includes the Friends of the 261 based in Minneapolis Junction, Minnesota, and American Rail Excursions of Madison, Illinois (they’re our new partner for 2016 — more details on this coming soon!)

APRHF Outreach Event Heads to Madison, WI

It’s one of the largest model train shows in the Upper Midwest — and the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) will be there — as part of our recent expanded outreach efforts. This weekend (Saturday, February 20th and Sunday, February 21st, 2016), members of the APRHF Rail Rangers program will be on hand to greet thousands of visitors at the 49th Annual Mad City Rail Show. This event, which is sponsored by the South Central Wisconsin Division of the National Model Railroad Association, draws crowds from Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and numerous surrounding states. You can have your chance to meet with APRHF representatives each day from 9:00AM to 5:00PM at the Alliant Energy Center. There will also be numerous model railroading suppliers in attendance, as well as railroad memorabilia dealers. So, yes, something for everyone!

The APRHF Rail Rangers program was founded in July 2015 by APRHF President Bob Cox, APRHF Vice-President Amy Cox, Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, and Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern. Interpretive guides Kathleen Bruecker, Dave Poole, Robert Neil, Fred Glure, and Joe Kuczynski were also recruited to join the growing staff of volunteers. The primary mission of the APRHF Rail Rangers is to provide experienced docents and printed route guide materials for private rail car and group rail excursions. In just its founding year, APRHF Rail Rangers provided on-board programs between Chicago and Galesburg/Quincy, Illinois (June 2015 “pilot program”); Minneapolis, Minnesota and Boylston, Wisconsin (October 2015); and between St. Paul, Minnesota and Glenview, Illinois (October 2015). APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers also helped to staff the Friends of the 261 North Pole Express train on four different dates in St. Paul, MN during December 2015.

Because of its’ non-profit 501(c)(3) status, APRHF Rail Rangers is able to provide an extremely low-cost (and often times, no cost!) step-on guide service to private rail car owners and group rail organizers. Charter partners from last year include the Friends of the 261 (based at Minneapolis Junction, MN) and Zephyr Route (based at Saint Charles, IL). Often times, private car owners have a plethora of details to worry about when it comes to organizing a trip… and sadly… quality route guides and educating passengers about the interesting landscape passengers will be traveling through often fall by the wayside. That is where APRHF Rail Rangers has stepped in to fill the void. What might appear to passengers as hours of boring corn and soybean scenery can turn into an interesting afternoon of history, education, and fun when you have interpretive guides aboard to share some of the stories. All guides involved in Rail Rangers live in the Midwest (Missouri, Illinois, or Wisconsin) and have multiple years of experience car hosting and providing educational programs about the Upper Midwest.

Besides providing these on-board programs, APRHF Rail Rangers also commit to attending at least three outreach events per year in order to promote their private car partners and upcoming trips. While much of what the APRHF does remains centered around La Plata, Missouri, Rail Rangers expands the organization’s overall mission to other areas of the Midwest. Rail Rangers outreach programs that will likely remain an annual event include Mad City Rail in February (Madison, Wisconsin), the Chicagoland Railroad Collectibles Show in April (Glen Ellyn, Illinois), and TrainFest in November (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). Other outreach events are occasionally held on a more sporadic basis.

So what will be happening this weekend in Madison? Well, the APRHF Rail Rangers will be unveiling their new tri-fold display board which was created over the winter months. This display will give visitors a great overview of what the APRHF and APRHF Rail Rangers do. For the first time, we will also be making public some of the dates that we have excursions planned for in 2016 — some exciting destinations are in the works that you will want to be part of! Outside the Rails Books will also be on hand sending some of their books — including new route guides from Chicago to St. Louis and Chicago to Milwaukee. And, last, but not least, from 12:00N to 4:00PM on Saturday, February 20th, “Junior Ranger Aida” will be making an appearance at the APRHF Rail Rangers booth. You may recall Aida has earned more than 220 National Park Service Junior Ranger badges — and she’s just 14 years old. Aida earned her 209th Junior Ranger Badge from the APRHF while on a visit to La Plata, Missouri on July 19th, 2015. She will be encouraging children and teens to visit national parks and to participate in the APRHF Junior Rail Rangers program.

If you aren’t able to come and visit us in Madison this weekend, make sure you follow APRHF Rail Rangers on Facebook at www.facebook.com/railrangers – we will post updates from the weekend there and information about our upcoming trips. If you are not on Facbeook, there will be an article coming soon here to the APRHF page about our upcoming 2016 trips.

Details on New La Plata Event to be Announced March 5th!

The countdown is on and the anticipation is high!! Bob Cox, the President of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF), and Robert Tabern, the Executive Director of APRHF Rail Rangers program will soon be making an big announcement concerning an event that is planned to take place between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri later this fall.

Robert Tabern says, “We don’t want to give too much away before everything is ready to be announced… but this will be a huge for railfans and non-railfans alike. Possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if you ask me. My hints for you will be — we are giving people the chance to do something they have never been able to do before in the history of La Plata — and once this event is announced — people better call in right away and get their tickets — because only 10 people will be allowed to participate in this event. A very limited, limited opportunity.”

What could it be? Do you also have more questions than answers?

Bob Cox responded by saying, “It has been a real pleasure to be able to put something of this magnitude together. And yes, like Robert said, this has never happened before in the history of La Plata, and we don’t know if we will get the chance to offer something like this again to our visitors out here. But, boy, this is going to be a fun weekend for everyone.”

To be among the first people to hear the announcement, you will need to tune in to APRHF’s “Let’s Talk Trains” program LIVE on Saturday, March 5, 2016 at NOON Central Time. Host “Kansas City Nathan” will be interviewing APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern and APRHF Rail Rangers Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern from NOON to 1:30PM on the broadcast, at which time the exclusive announcement about the La Plata event will be revealed.

Information about the La Plata event and other information about the APRHF Rail Rangers’ 2016 schedule will also be posted on the APRHF website immediately after the Saturday, March 5th “Let’s Talk Trains” broadcast.

APRHF Rail Rangers was founded on Monday, July 20, 2015, as an affiliate of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation in La Plata, Missouri. APRHF Rail Rangers provide educational, but also fun, interpretive programs aboard private railcar and group excursions. Current partners include Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route, and American Rail Excursions. The APRHF Rail Rangers is managed by APRHF President Bob Cox, APRHF Vice-President Amy Cox, Executive Director Robert Tabern, and Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern. Interpretive guides include Kathleen Bruecker, Robert Neil, Dave Poole, Fred Glure, and Joe Kucyznski. APRHF Rail Rangers shares a dual headquarters in La Plata, Missouri and Wadsworth, Illinois.

APRHF Rail Rangers: 2015 Year in Review

Can you believe it? Christmas has already slipped past us and New Year’s Eve is just around the corner! Since today marks the start of the final week of 2015, there is no more appropriate time than now to look back and reflect on some of the accomplishments of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s (APRHF) Rail Rangers program during its first year in operation. Towards the end of this blog post, we will also look ahead to some of the upcoming APRHF Rail Rangers excursions and outreach events that you will want to include on your 2016 calendar.

During Spring 2015, a deal was struck between the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and Mr. Mike Abernathy of St. Charles, Illinois. It included APRHF volunteers being allowed to provide narration and design route guides for a private rail trip that Abernathy’s “Zephyr Route” organization was planning between Chicago Union Station, Galesburg, IL and Quincy, IL/Hannibal, MO on Saturday, June 27th, 2015. Abernathy’s passengers would be heading out on a full-length ex-Milwaukee Road Super Dome from Chicago Union Station to either Galesburg Railroad Days or the Mark Twain Festival. At the time, the APRHF was also co-sponsoring a Trails & Rails program on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO, in partnership with Amtrak and the National Park Service. Volunteers with the Trails & Rails program gained the reputation for being ‘local experts’ about the scenery and history along the former CB&Q and Santa Fe routes through Illinois, Iowa, and Northeast Missouri. Since Abernathy’s trip ran on most of the same trackage as Trails & Rails, he was eager to have experienced docents on board to educate passengers about all of the interesting landmarks that can be seen from the train. The presence of APRHF volunteers aboard Abernathy’s excursion was so successful, there was almost immediate discussion about turning what was supposed to be a one-time event into a long-term partnership deal between the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and “Zephyr Route”.

Around the same time, Mr. James Miculka, the National Coordinator of Trails & Rails based at College Station, Texas, informed us that the National Park Service would soon be terminating its agreement with the APRHF after three years. The result of Mr. Miculka’s decision was the indefinite suspension of more than 35 Trails & Rails volunteers and the loss of the last remaining Trails & Rails program on a long-distance Amtrak train out of Chicago. The last Trails & Rails trip between Chicago and La Plata, MO on the Southwest Chief took place on the weekend of Saturday, July 18th and Sunday, July 19th, 2015. To commemorate the final trip, Amtrak arranged for 14-year-old Aida Frey to ride along and earn her first train-related Junior Ranger badge. Frey gained national attention for earning the most Junior Ranger badges of any child or teen in the entire country. Frey’s trip to La Plata, MO over the summer resulted in her 209th Junior Ranger badge… and setting a new world’s record, as she stepped off the train in La Plata, MO. Dozens of people turned out at the station to honor Frey’s accomplishment and witness the arrival of the last Trails & Rails trip.

With the end of the Trails & Rails looming and the success of the June 2015 “Zephyr Route” trip still fresh in everyone’s memory, the APRHF Board of Directors decided to pursue the creation of a new affiliated group that would provide interpretive programs and route guides for private rail car trips. On Monday, July 20, 2015, APRHF President Bob Cox announced the launch of APRHF Rail Rangers. Former Trails & Rails Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern was appointed the APRHF Rail Ranger’s Executive Director and was asked to fill a recent vacancy on the APRHF’s Board of Directors; Tabern continues to supervise the day-to-day operations of APRHF Rail Rangers and also oversees the affiliate’s finances. Former Trails & Rails Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern was given the same title and role in the APRHF Rail Rangers group. American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation President Bob Cox agreed to serve as Rail Rangers’ La Plata Coordinator; APRHF Vice-President Amy Cox was appointed Assistant La Plata Coordinator, a role that she also served in during the final season of Trails & Rails. Former Trails & Rails volunteers Kathy Bruecker, Robert Neil, and Dave Poole also signed on to be the initial three interpretive guides for APRHF Rail Rangers.

Much of August and September 2015 were spent putting together the formal operational plan and outlining long-term goals for the new APRHF affiliate; this involved meetings in both Chicago, IL and La Plata, MO among the four managers of Rail Rangers. Late summer was also spent designing the new APRHF Junior Rail Rangers program; since having a junior ranger program was such a popular feature of Trails & Rails, it was decided that this also had to be an integral part of the APRHF Rail Rangers organization. Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Karri Cox, the daughter of Bob and Amy Cox, put a lot of time into designing a new 32-page activity book which was released on October 1st, 2015. In just the first few months of its release, several dozen new Junior Rail Rangers have been sworn in. The activity book costs just $10.00, or you can purchase the activity book and prize pack for $15.00. The prize pack include the official APRHF Junior Rail Ranger gold badge, junior ranger patch, sticker, and a surprise gift. All money raised goes towards the APRHF Rail Rangers program.

The inaugural APRHF Rail Rangers event took place on Sunday, October 4th, 2015, when Robert and Kandace Tabern provided an interpretive program for passengers on board a “Zephyr Route” trip between St. Paul Union Depot, MN and Glenview, IL. The 400-mile trip aboard an ex-Santa Fe Big Dome (now owned by Iowa Pacific) included a beautiful stretch along the Mississippi River (eagles were spotted from the train!), the rolling hills of Central Wisconsin, and the urban corridor between Milwaukee and the northern suburbs of Chicago. Passengers were delighted to receive narration and an in-depth route guide book for the first time ever on a “Zephyr Route” excursion.

There was no rest for the weary, as APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers headed back to the Twin Cities just six days later for a fall colors excursion sponsored by the “Friends of the 261″. The organization’s charter on Saturday, October 10th, 2015 featured an entire private train set pulled by ex-Milwaukee Road steam locomotive #261. Amtrak’s Phase IV Anniversary Engine #184 was also in the consist. Passengers traveled up the former Great Northern Hinckley Subdivision between Minneapolis Junction, MN and Boylston Wye, WI, with APRHF Rail Rangers providing narration in Premium Class, and selling route guide books throughout Premium, First, and Coach classes. Highlights included brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows in the trees, and several high trestles in Northern Minnesota and Northern Wisconsin. APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers also sold route guide books before the departure of the Sunday, October 11th, 2015 “Friends of the 261″ excursion between Minneapolis Junction, MN and Willmar, MN. Since the “Friends of the 261″ trip featured an entire train set of cars versus just one private car, this ended up being the biggest trip of the year for APRHF Rail Rangers, with us being able to reach out to more than 500 passengers over the weekend. APRHF Rail Rangers was able to raise more than $500.00 for the “Friends of the 261″ from this trip, as well as several hundred dollars for the Rail Rangers fund.

Late October 2015 saw the release of the official APRHF Rail Rangers Passport Stamp, which is pictured below:

Many people collect these popular Passport Stamps when they visit various National Park Service sites; this was also another popular feature that has rolled over from the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program that ran between Chicago and La Plata, MO on the Southwest Chief from 2012 to 2015. APRHF President Bob Cox and Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern announced that one APRHF Rail Rangers Passport Stamp will travel around the Midwest to be available during all on board interpretive programs done by Rail Rangers interpretive guides; the stamp will also be available during outreach events that APRHF Rail Rangers are involved in. The second APRHF Rail Rangers Passport Stamp will be permanently housed at the Amtrak Depot in La Plata, MO, and will be available whenever a station caretaker is present (usually daily, at the arrival and departure of the Southwest Chief; it is recommended that you call ahead if planning to travel specifically for the stamp). Additional passport stamps may be available on board various excursions that feature APRHF Rail Rangers interpretive guides, including for the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Mormon Pioneer National Historical Trail, and Ice Age National Scenic Trail. Specific questions about the availability of our passport stamp collection can be directed to any APRHF Rail Rangers manager.

APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers participated in three days of outreach programs during November 2015. On Saturday, November 7th, 2015, the Taberns gave a presentation about APRHF Rail Rangers to a crowd at the Galesburg, Illinois Public Library. They explained how Rail Rangers was formed, the overall mission of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, and provided a slideshow about 60 of the most interesting landmarks along the BNSF line between Chicago and La Plata, MO. The Taberns also sold and signed copies of their “Outside the Rails” rail route guide books, which serve as the official reference manuals for APRHF Rail Rangers docents on the train line. Newspaper reporters from Mendota and Galesburg were on hand and wrote stores about APRHF Rail Rangers being in town.

On Saturday, November 14th and Sunday, November 15th, 2015, APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers, including Fred Glure, Robert Neil, and Dave Poole staffed an outreach table at TrainFest 2015 at the Wisconsin State Fair Park near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. TrainFest is the largest model train show in the United States, so it was important for Rail Rangers to have a presence there. Saturday saw record crowds, while Sunday was a little quieter. APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers talked about the new organization to people who were attending the event, promoted upcoming 2016 trips and outreach events, and sold railroad route guide books that are used by interpretive guides. TrainFest-goers got a double dose of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, as the APRHF-affiliated “Let’s Talk Trains” made an appearance, including two two-hour live broadcasts from “Shuttle Train Ted” and friends.

The final APRHF Rail Rangers event of the year was the “Friends of the 261″ North Pole Express train; numerous APRHF Rail Rangers interpretive guides were up at Saint Paul, MN Union Depot on Saturday, December 5th, Sunday, December 6th, Saturday, December 12th, and Sunday, December 13th, 2015. Those who participated included Kathy Bruecker, Joe Kuczynski, Robert Neil, Dave Poole, Kandace Tabern, and Robert Tabern. Unlike other trips, APRHF Rail Rangers did not narrate or perform educational programs for the “Friends of the 261″ during the North Pole Express. Instead, volunteers served simply as car hosts for the trip, welcoming families on board and explaining how the trip would work… including singing songs and handing out activities to keep children busy while waiting for Santa to make his way through the train. During the last weekend of the “North Pole Express”, APRHF Junior Rail Rangers Children’s Activity Books were sold, raising more than $100.00 for the “Friends of the 261″ and enhancing the APRHF Rail Rangers fund.

So what is brewing for 2016? Besides the “Friends of the 261″ and “Zephyr Route”, APRHF Rail Rangers is hoping to partner with additional private rail car organizers to bring additional educational opportunities to passengers. We are hoping to announce more agreements soon… including with an operator who does long-distance private rail car trips beyond the Midwest! Stay tuned to this website for that! Also, during the quieter winter months, we are finishing up our research on the 284-mile railroad route between Chicago and St. Louis, MO, owned by Canadian National and Union Pacific. In February 2016, we expect our partners at Outside the Rails route guide books to release a new 102-page book for passengers about things to see from their train window. Guide books will be $20.00, with a portion of the profits being donated to the APRHF Rail Rangers program.

Mark your new calendars for the 2016 following dates, as our preliminary schedule begins to come together:

Saturday, February 20th and Saturday, February 21st, 2016 – APRHF Rail Rangers events will be on-hand at the 49th Annual MadCity Rail Show at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin. Visit with interpretive guides to learn more about the program…. while picking up copies of your favorite “Outside the Rails” rail route guides. The brand new Chicago to St. Louis book is expected to have its debut at this event! Get yours hot off the presses!

Saturday, June 25th, 2016 – APRHF Rail Rangers will be on board the “Zephyr Route” excursion planned for this date departing Chicago Union Station at 7:30am. Passengers will have their choice to de-train and spend the day in Galesburg, Illinois, or continue on and de-train at the end of the line in Quincy, IL and exploring the Mark Twain town of Hannibal, Missouri. This is a single-day excursion that gets back into Chicago around 10:00pm.

Sunday, October 9th, 2016 – APRHF Rail Rangers will be on board the “Zephyr Route” excursion planned for this date between St. Paul Union Depot and Chicago Union Station. Get the “private car experience” on the back of Amtrak’s famed Empire Builder. Your interpretive guides will tell you everything you need to know about Southeast Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Northeast Illinois. The stretch along Lake Pepin is one of the most scenic Midwest rail journeys.

Saturday, November 12th and Sunday, November 13th, 2016 – APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers have already secured a booth at TrainFest 2016 in Milwaukee. Come out and have an informal chat with one of our interpretive guides or pick up our full collection of “Outside the Rails” rail route guide books, just in time for the holidays. What would the largest train show in the USA be without visiting the Rail Rangers booth?

Please note that this is a VERY preliminary schedule for 2016 and it is subject to change. Many other dates will be added in the coming months. For an up-to-date listing of events, please check out www.railrangers.org. Also, we hope that you will “like us” on our Facebook page!

APRHF Rail Rangers Fall Foliage Programs

The APRHF Rail Rangers presented their first two on-board interpretive programs during private rail car excursions earlier this month. On Sunday, October 4th, 2015, APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers were on board a trip organized by the “Zephyr Route” group, using an ex-Great Northern full-length dome car to see the sites between St. Paul Union Depot, Minnesota and Chicago Union Station, Illinois. On Saturday, October 10th, 2015, APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers were also on board a trip organized by the “Friends of the 261” using an ex-Milwaukee Road steam locomotive and a string of private rail cars that operated between Minneapolis Junction, Minnesota and Boylston Wye, Wisconsin (just south of the Twin Ports of Superior/Duluth).

 

The APRHF Rail Rangers program was founded in July 2015, as a direct affiliate of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation in La Plata, Missouri. The program is headed by Executive Director/Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern, La Plata Coordinator/APRHF President Bob Cox, Chicago Assistant Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and La Plata Assistant Coordinator Amy Cox. The goals of the APRHF Rail Rangers program are to provide interpretive programs, narration, route guide sheets or books, maps, and other service to passengers on private rail excursions or charters. Whenever children are onboard an excursion, APRHF Rail Rangers offers a brand new ‘Junior Rail Rangers’ program where youngsters and teens can learn more about the route by partaking in special activities geared toward their age levels. Those who purchase and complete the corresponding activity book are eligible to earn a Junior Rail Rangers patch, sticker, and custom-made gold activity badge. The APRHF Rail Rangers also spread the mission of their group, and the APRHF in general, by attending various rail-related outreach events in the Midwestern United States.

One of the private car owners/operators who agreed to work with the APRHF Rail Rangers from the start of the program this summer is Mike Abernethy of Saint Charles, Illinois. Abernethy formed a company called “Zephyr Route”, which organizes rail excursions all across the country, with a focus on the Midwest day and weekend trips. “Zephyr Route” has done weekend trips from Chicago Union Station to such places as Saint Louis, Denver, Galesburg, Quincy, Hannibal, and the Twin Cities. Abernethy uses the all funds raised from such excursions to continue restoration work on “Silver View”, an ex-CB&Q dome/round-end observation car that he owns and is in the process of restoring at a rail storage facility in Iowa. His car, “Silver View”, was built by the Budd Company in 1947 for the Burlington Vista Dome Twin Cities Zephyr. It provided first class parlor service, and was the signature car of one of the most handsome trains ever built. Once Abernethy completes the “Silver View”, he plans to offer excursions on his car, instead of having to contract out trips with other car owners. The APRHF Rail Rangers look forward to being a fixture on his trips, providing passengers with the First Class service they expect.

As part of the 2015 Fall Colors “Zephyr Route” Trip, passengers left Chicago Union Station at 2:15pm on Friday, October 2nd, and headed up to the Twin Cities on a full-length dome car that was positioned on the back of the westbound Empire Builder, Amtrak Train #7. Passengers had the entire day on Saturday, October 3rd, to check out whatever sites in the Twin Cities that they wanted to see. Many chose to head over to the Mall of America or walk around the downtown areas of Saint Paul or Minneapolis. One popular location for tourists to visit is Minnehaha Falls, located in Minneapolis. The Milwaukee Road would actually use a glass bottle filled with water from Minnehaha Falls to “christen” new railroad equipment before it was put in service. On Sunday, October 4th, 2015, APRHF Rail Rangers joined up with the passengers on the “Zephyr Route” excursion and provided an interpretive program for 400 miles of the route between St. Paul Union Depot and suburban Glenview, Illinois. The weather was perfect and the skies were clear and blue, providing everyone beautiful views of the Mississippi River, rolling hills of Western Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Dells, and the urban corridor between Milwaukee and Chicago. Despite being a few hours late due to a late departure of the Empire Builder from its origin in Seattle, passengers had an excellent ride, combined with excellent food and conversation. Passengers got to listen to the route highlights provided by the APRHF Rail Rangers and had the chance to purchase route guide books that explained the route highlights in more detail than what was shared over the wireless speaker system.

 

 

The “Zephyr Route” trip took place using “Prairie View”, an ex-Great Northern Dome Car that is currently owned and operated by Iowa Pacific Holdings. The car was built in 1955 as #1394, and was used on the Empire Builder between Chicago and the Pacific Northwest. It was acquired by Amtrak when it took over passenger operations and ran on various routes as Car #9364. As Superliner equipment became more popular in the early 1980’s, the dome was used as a parts car by Amtrak. By May 1993, it was sold as a shell (less trucks) to the Burlington Northern. It was stored by the BN at a shop in Springfield, Missouri for about a year before being sold to Holland America Westours. After putting over $1,000,000 of work into the car, it was re-named “Deshka” and put into service on the Alaska Railroad line in 1997. In 2003, Westours put all three of their Budd domes up for sale; they kept this car because it required no couple pocket modifications for the new Colorado Railcar domes and it has Budd braked trucks (from under one of the two 1956 Budd built Santa Fe business cars that were re-trucked with four wheel trucks in 1989). The car was transferred in late 2004 to a new division called “Alaska Rail Tours” (which is now out of business). In October 2009, it was sold to the Iowa Pacific and renamed back to the original “Prairie View”; it is used in various charters across the country. “Prairie View” was one of five Great Domes constructed for the Great Northern. It is the sister-dome of “Ocean View”, the last remaining dome car in Amtrak service; it has been used in New York and around the Midwest during the fall season over the past couple of years.

The focal point of the trip, was of course, Milwaukee Road Steam Locomotive #261. It was built by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) in Schenectady, New York in June 1944 in the 4-8-4 configuration. It was originally operated by the Milwaukee Road when that rail company was officially known as the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific. The locomotive, which weighs in at 460,000 pounds, is rated at a maximum horsepower of 4500 and maximum speed of 100 mph, is coal fueled. It operated on the Milwaukee Road until retired in 1954, and was donated to the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay. In 1991, the newly formed “North Star Rail” selected 261 for restoration for mainline excursions. The 261 was moved from Green Bay to Minneapolis to the GE shops at Humboldt Yard in September 1992. There, a full-time staff rebuilt the engine. Work progressed quickly, allowing for a hydrostatic test in June 1993, a test fire up in July, and the eventual restoration completion in September. After passing the FRA inspection on September 14, the engine deadheaded over Wisconsin Central in time for its first public excursions on September 18–19, 1993. The engine later returned to its new home at the leased Burlington Northern Minneapolis Junction. Between 1993 and 2008, the 261 went on various excursions across the Midwest and the country. In May 2008, the engine was deadheaded to Chicago for filming in “Public Enemies”, a movie based on the life of John Dillinger and starring Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Though the 261 was built ten years after Dillinger died, the engine did fit the bill for a steam engine that could be filmed at Chicago Union Station. The engine’s final excursion before the required Federal Railway Administration’s “15 year inspection” for the 261 was a run in September 2008 on Canadian Pacific’s ex-Milwaukee Road line from Minneapolis to Winona with a return on BNSF’s ex-Burlington line from La Crosse to Minneapolis. The Friends of the 261 finally were able to purchase the locomotive in May, 2010 for $225,000, keeping it in Minneapolis and returning it to operation upon its rebuild. On September 29, 2012, 261 was test fired and ran under her own power once again. In May 2013, 261 ran on an overnight round trip to Duluth, where she met Soo Line 2719 for the first time. October 2013 marked the 261’s return to Fall Color Excursion service.

 

From 1935 on, the name Hiawatha symbolized the fastest and best the Milwaukee Road had to offer. As the original Chicago-Minneapolis trains grew in popularity, Milwaukee Road built all-new Hiawatha streamliners to serve Midwestern and Pacific NW destinations. One of the additions was Skytop Lounges, including “Cedar Rapids”. Designed by famed industrial designer Brook Stevens, “Cedar Rapids”, and the nine other Skytop Lounges were built by the Milwaukee Road in 1948 at their Milwaukee shops. Between 1948 and 1970, the “Cedar Rapids” saw service on the Twin Cities Hiawatha trains which ran between Minneapolis and Chicago. Many consider the Skytops to be the most distinctive cars ever built. Milwaukee Road built the 4 parlor cars in their own shops (1 drawing room and 24 parlor seats) and had Pullman Standard build 6 sleepers, each with 8 bedrooms and a lounge. The observation ends on the Milwaukee built cars are more of a bullet than the Pullman built cars, with the rear couch about 4 inches narrower. The “Cedar Rapids” was retired in 1970. It was rebuilt in 1984 and operated until 1990 as a private passenger car. The car was acquired by the “Friends of the 261″ in 1998 and started service behind the Milwaukee Road 261 in spring of 1999. It was upgraded and returned to Amtrak service in 2004 by the crew of the 261. The “Cedar Rapids” today has 24 rotating reclining chairs in the main section and seating for an additional 12 in the solarium. It had spent much of late 2014 and early 2015 undergoing further renovations that put new covering on the seats and new carpeting on the floor of the car.

 

APRHF Rail Ranger volunteers were stationed in the Super Dome car and provided narration and commentary for passengers on Saturday morning’s northbound trip. There were 10 “Super Dome” cars built in 1952; they were the first of the “full domes” and originally seated 68 passengers upstairs and 28 in a cafe downstairs. Railfans will note that the Super Domes were the first of the Pullman-Standard domes with curved glass. Between 1952 and 1961, the Milwaukee Road assigned six of these cars to the Olympian Hiawatha, which ran between Chicago and the West Coast. Between 1961 and 1964, these cars ran on “City” trains in conjunction with the Union Pacific; others saw service on Chicago-Madison, WI short hauls. The other 4 Super Domes were assigned to the morning and afternoon Hiawathas which ran between Chicago and the Twin Cities. As more and more people chose to drive or fly in the 1960’s, railroads looked at cutting trains and their reducing their fleet. Even though dome cars provide the best views for passengers, they were very expensive to operate and maintain. The Super Dome you are traveling in today requires 16 tons of air conditioning to keep passengers cool. In 1965, the Milwaukee Road sold the dome car you are riding in today to the Canadian National, which named it “Athabasca”. This car saw service in Canada on the CN and later VIA until it was retired in 1982. In the early 1980’s, this car was brought back to the U.S. and refurbished under a few private owners; it was once again based in Milwaukee. It was sold to the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad in 1985 and was used as a business car. In 1995, the C&NW was bought by Union Pacific who didn’t really want the Super Dome anymore. The following year, it was bought by the North Carolina Department of Transportation and was used as a lounge car on Amtrak’s “Piedmont” service. In January 2005, the Friends of the 261 purchased the car off eBay and moved in to the Twin Cities to begin service on its trains.

 

A special private rail car that operated on the October 10th excursion train was dome car “Stampede Pass”; it was purchased in January 2015 by Paxrail, an organization owned and operated by James and Kim Evenson of Glenview, Illinois. This dome-sleeper-lounge was built as a dome-coach in 1954 for the Northern Pacific Railway, and operated on their flagship train, the North Coast Limited between Chicago and Seattle, Washington. Today the car has three deluxe bedrooms, a kitchen, lounge space, and dome seating. Paxrail plans to make the car available for charters out of Chicago for groups, after it undergoes a major refurbishment over the next few months. Passengers in the “Stampede Pass” also got to interact with APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers who roved throughout the whole train in order to answer questions about the rare-mileage route.

 

Another interesting part of the October 10th excursion train was Amtrak Locomotive #184.Even though the Milwaukee Road steam locomotive does most of the pulling, an Amtrak engine is added in the consist in order to provide extra head-end power to all of the private cars on the train. Amtrak #184 was one of the six locomotives that received a special paint job for the railroad’s 40th Anniversary celebrations in 2011. It was painted in grey to reflect the “Phase IV” paint job that was common for Amtrak locomotives during the 1990’s. This engine debuted on April 13, 2011 and has been seen on various routes all across the country. It was nice that Amtrak would provide this special engine for the “Friends of the 261” trip; previous excursions have seen the Phase I (Engine #156) and Phase II (Engine #66) added to the consists.

 

If you missed your opportunity to participate in one of these two exciting excursions that featured APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers, you still have several chances to interact with the group. On Saturday, November 7th, 2015, APRHF Rail Ranger volunteers will be doing an off-the-train outreach event at the Galesburg, Illinois Public Library at 1:30PM CT. This event is free and open to the public and will feature a 60-90 minute Power Point Presentation about the APRHF and APRHF Rail Rangers, as well as some of the interesting landmarks that you can see on the train between Chicago, Galesburg, and La Plata, Missouri. The following weekend, on Saturday, November 14th, 2015 and Sunday, November 15th, 2015, APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers will be staffing a booth at TrainFest 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Make sure you stop by between 9:00am and 5:00pm and meet some of the people on the Rail Rangers team and buy some of the Outside the Rails Route Guides which will be on sale.

The APRHF Rail Rangers’ final event of the year will take place with the “Friends of the 261” at Saint Paul Union Depot during the first two weekends of December. On Saturday, December 5, 2015, volunteer Robert Neil of Des Plaines, Illinois, will be assisting Friends of the 261 crew members entertain children. On Saturday, December 12, 2015 and Sunday, December 13, 2015 (morning trips only), APRHF Rail Rangers management will be on-hand selling children’s activity books and staffing their steam-powered “North Pole Express” train. There will be multiple departures with times listed and tickets being sold at www.261.com.

Believe it or not, work is already underway when it comes to planning for APRHF Rail Rangers’ 2016 activity schedule for both on-board interpretive programs and off-the-train outreach events. Both “Zephyr Route” and “Friends of the 261” plan to continue working with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation in 2016. Meanwhile, APRHF Rail Rangers has meetings planned with other railcar owners during the “off season” to possibly add them to the growing list of owners seeking the unique service that APRHF Rail Rangers can provide. If you are a private railcar owner or know someone who is, and would possibly like a program to be put on for passengers by our group, you can contact Executive Director Robert Tabern at robert@rtabern.com or APRHF President Bob Cox at president@aprhf.org. APRHF Rail Rangers is looking for possibly two more experienced volunteers for its 2016 season; if you or someone you know is interested, they can also be in touch with either Robert Tabern or Bob Cox. The number of trips a volunteer gets will depend on the number of trips scheduled with private car owners.

 

APRHF’s New ‘Junior Rail Ranger’ Program

About two-and-a-half months ago, the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation launched its new APRHF Rail Rangers program. The goals of the organization, since its inception on July 20, 2015, has been two-fold. The first mission has been to educate passengers aboard private railroad excursions about the people, places, and history of the areas they are traveling through. This has been accomplished with the APRHF striking key partnership deals with two private rail excursion operators to date, including the Friends of the 261 (based at Minneapolis Junction, Minnesota) and Zephyr Route (based at Saint Charles, Illinois). Contracts with additional private rail car owners and excursion groups are anticipated to be signed during the coming months for the 2016 calendar year and beyond. APRHF Rail Ranger docents will ride on select rail excursions organized by these groups, providing informative and fun commentary, route guide books, and other custom-designed educational opportunities for passengers. For a complete list of on-board programs scheduled for Fall and Winter 2015, please review the complete event listing provided in the last portion of this blog post. The second mission of the APRHF Rail Rangers program has been to exponentially increase the number of outreach events that the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation conducts every year in various Midwestern communities. While the APRHF has done outreach events in the past, including at Train Days in La Plata, Chicago, and Los Angeles, there was still room for growth in this area, including spreading the mission of the APRHF in general, and knowledge about the new APRHF Rail Rangers program. This second goal was accomplished by arranging various outreach events in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. For a complete list of outreach programs that will take place in the coming months, also see the listing provided further below in this blog post.

Now, a new mission has been added to the APRHF Rail Ranger program! We are excited to introduce you to the APRHF Junior Rail Ranger program. It officially launched today, Thursday, October 1, 2015. This added facet will get children who ride aboard private excursions, or who attend outreach events, to learn more about railroad history and safety. This program will actually be open to children, teens, or even adults (of any age!) who are interested; there are no age limitations here! The best part is everyone who completes the program has the opportunity to earn some custom-made prizes, too!

Junior ranger programs have been a popular trend in recent years at various national, state, and local parks… and even at some railroad museums and other historical groups. So, it was something the APRHF Rail Rangers planned to incorporate since launching their efforts earlier this summer. It took about two months for organizers to design the booklet that would be part of the program, set prices and budgets, and decide what prizes would be included for those who successfully completed the program. APRHF Rail Rangers Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, who will also be heading up the Junior Rail Rangers program, says, “Between December 2012 and July 2015, the APRHF was a co-sponsor of the popular Trails & Rails program that operated on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago Union Station and La Plata. In consultation with the National Park Service, we designed a very successful junior ranger program that engaged thousands of children on the train during these three years we were aboard; it taught them so much about Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. This junior ranger program was key to getting young ones interested in history and the train ride they were on.” When the National Park Service decided to end its partnership agreement with the APRHF on July 19, 2015, and indefinitely suspend the Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief, APRHF leadership formed the Rail Rangers Program to carry on what Trails & Rails had done in the past, except this time on private railroad excursions, instead of on Amtrak trains. The APRHF Junior Rail Rangers program serves as a replacement for the National Park Service Junior Ranger program that had been offered from May 2013 to July 2015 between Chicago and La Plata.

How it works is quite simple. Anyone interested in the program needs to buy the official APRHF Junior Rail Rangers Activity Book. It will be available for purchase from APRHF Rail Ranger docents aboard most private rail car excursions that docents are on and at most outreach events. If you can’t ride or attend one of our events, there are still alternative options for becoming an APRHF Junior Rail Ranger. The book is also currently available for purchase on the APRHF Rail Rangers website, which can be found at http://www.railrangers.org (click on the “Become a Junior Rail Ranger” link), or through Outside the Rails Books at http://www.outsidetherails.com. The activity book will also soon be for sale at select retailers, including at some of the APRHF venues around La Plata. It features 30 different train-related activities that include everything from coloring, to cross-word puzzles, to matching facts about Presidents of the United States who had a connection to the Midwest, and railroad safety tips. This book was written by Kandace Tabern, and co-authored by Karri Cox, the daughter of APRHF President Bob Cox and APRHF Vice-President Amy Cox. Kandace and Karri traveled together in 2014 to the Oklahoma City National Memorial in Oklahoma and the George Washington Carver National Monument near Springfield, Missouri, to complete their research for this book. All one has to do to become an official APRHF Junior Rail Ranger is to finish the required number of activity book pages for their age group. A certificate, fit for framing, makes up the back cover of the book. A link to an on-line answer key is provided for people to check their work. Those attending an excursion or outreach event can have their work checked in-person by a Rail Ranger, who will then perform a special swearing-in ceremony.

Everyone who completes the activity book and becomes an official APRHF Rail Ranger will also have the opportunity to purchase a special “prize pack” for just $5.00. Included in the “prize pack” will be a custom-made gold badge that reads “Rail Rangers”, has the Rail Rangers logo, and the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation wording around it. These badges are made in the same style and by the same company that manufactures the popular and collectible junior ranger badges for many national and state park organizations. Also included in the “prize pack” is a junior ranger patch and a junior ranger sticker. Finally, everyone who decides to get the “prize pack” will also receive, as a bonus, one of several different possible story, coloring, or activity books (this prize will vary, but starting off for the first 100 participants, it is a copy of “Mystery of the Disappearing Dogs” by Criswell and Carli Freeman; it was donated to the APRHF by the authors to be included in the new junior ranger “prize packs”!). “Prize packs” will be available from APRHF Rail Ranger docents during on board excursions or at outreach events; those who purchase the book elsewhere can obtain the “prize pack” by mailing in their completed book and a check for $5.00 to: APRHF Rail Rangers, P.O. Box 175, La Plata, MO 63549. (Completed books will be returned with the prize pack.)

The first APRHF Junior Rail Rangers badge was earned by Aida Frey. This 14-year-old from the northwestern suburbs of Chicago has gained national attention for her efforts to earn more than 220 Junior Ranger badges from parks all across the country. She often spends the summer months traveling the country and participating in Junior Ranger programs. On a recent visit to La Plata, she was named the official spokesperson of the APRHF Junior Rail Rangers program and was presented with a certificate as being the first APRHF Rail Ranger. Aida and her family look forward to working with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation to promote its mission of rail travel and educating children about the lands that they are traveling through on the train.

Remember, when you become an APRHF Junior Rail Ranger, you are joining the ranks of Aida and all of the other children (and children at heart!) who participate in Junior Ranger programs all across the country! Also, all of the money raised from the sales of the activity book and “prize pack” go towards funding the APRHF Rail Rangers program and/or the General Fund at the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation. The APRHF Rail Rangers program is run by Executive Director/Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern, Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, APRHF President/La Plata Coordinator Bob Cox, and APRHF Vice-President/Assistant La Plata Coordinator Amy Cox. Current docents also include Kathy Bruecker of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Bob Neil of Des Plaines, Illinois.

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COMPLETE LISTING OF UPCOMING APRHF RAIL RANGER EVENTS – OCTOBER TO DECEMBER 2015

Sunday, October 4, 2015 from 8AM to 4PM – Zephyr Route Excursion – Private Car on Amtrak Train #8 “Empire Builder” from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, IL

Saturday, October 11, 2015 from 8AM to 5PM – Friends of the 261 Steam Engine Excursion – Private Train from Minneapolis Junction, MN to Boylston, WI

Sunday, October 12, 2015 from 7:30AM to 9AM – Prior to Friends of the 261 Steam Engine Excursion – Private Train from Minneapolis Junction to Willmar, MN

Saturday, November 7, 2015 from 1:30PM to 3PM – Galesburg Public Library Outreach Event/Presentation, Galesburg, IL

Saturday, November 14, 2015 from 9AM to 5PM – Train Fest 2015 Outreach Event/Presentation in Milwaukee, WI

Sunday, November 15, 2015 from 9AM to 5PM – Train Fest 2015 Outreach Event/Presentation in Milwaukee, WI

Saturday, December 12, 2015 from 9AM to 9PM – Friends of the 261 North Pole Express Train – Private Train out of St. Paul Union Depot, MN

Sunday, December 13, 2015 from 9AM to 12N – Friends of the 261 North Pole Express Train – Private Train out of St. Paul Union Depot, MN

Ride with the APRHF Rail Rangers in Fall 2015

It has been less than one month since the APRHF Rail Rangers program officially launched, and already several upcoming events are planned for this fall that the public are invited to participate in. So, get ready and mark your calendars and buy your tickets now! APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director and Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern explains, “We really weren’t planning to do much outreach right off the bat because I thought we would need some time just to settle in to our new roles and get things organized. We thought we would do a really soft launch of our group, but several offers were put on the table for us to do special excursions that we couldn’t pass up. It was hard to say ‘no’… so we’re going to do them and see what people thing of our new program. We are set, ready, and very anxious to knock the passengers’ socks off with our narration and educational programs. We are so grateful to the private car owners for these amazing and outstanding opportunities within days of our program being announced.”

In case you have not heard of the APRHF Rail Rangers program yet, that’s okay. The group was founded as an affiliate of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation on Monday, July 20, 2015… yes, just a few weeks ago. Executive Director and Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern heads up the group from his office in Wadsworth, Illinois, along with his wife and Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern. Founding members also include APRHF President Bob Cox, and his wife and APRHF’s Vice-President Amy Cox; they will help the APRHF Rail Rangers program from the non-profit’s headquarters in La Plata, Missouri. For three years, the Taberns and the Coxs worked together to administer the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago Union Station and La Plata, Missouri. Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explains, “The National Park Service told us in early June (2015) that the APRHF could no longer be a sponsor of Trails & Rails. Instead of getting angry or upset, we decided just to accept their decision; the last run was on July 19th. The next day we formed APRHF Rail Rangers. It will be very much like what we did with Trails & Rails — the route guides, the narration, the fun interactions with passengers, and even a junior ranger program — except our programs will take place on private railcar excursions — and we will get to fully manage the program without interference, grief, and problems that certain individuals within the National Park Service caused us when we were managing the Trails & Rails program.”

 

Besides their involvement with Trails & Rails, the Taberns have been doing narration aboard private rail cars for more than five years now. They have narrated and presented on-board and off-the-train educational programs for such groups at the Friends of the 261, Iowa Pacific, the Illinois Railroad Museum, the 20th Century Railroad Club, and the Iowa Interstate Railroad. Now, their educational efforts will have the backing of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and will include the formal name, APRHF Rail Rangers.

The Rail Rangers program will be a long-term outreach effort of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation. Earlier this week, APRHF President Bob Cox appeared on the Let’s Talk Train Show and told host Nathan Chidester, “The Rail Rangers program really fits nicely into our outreach mission. For years, we have been trying to reach out to private car owners and tell them about all of the things we at the APRHF have been doing. APRHF Rail Rangers is going to be that key link, I think. We are reaching out to get private car owners to have our volunteers aboard right now and maybe for the next year or so, but my long-term goal would be for private car owners to actually come to us and request our volunteers be aboard. We are hoping to make a really good name and reputation for our APRHF Rail Rangers program.”

 

So how can you get a chance to see the APRHF Rail Rangers in action? Very simple… here is their upcoming schedule of events:

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2015 – This date will mark the official launch of the APRHF Junior Rail Rangers program. Kids (of all ages) can earn a badge, sticker, small paperback book, certificate, and gold Junior Ranger badge by completing a train-themed fun and educational activity book. Look for an article in September 2015 on the APRHF website for more details on how this will work!

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2015 – You can be part of the very first official APRHF Rail Rangers on-board event by riding in a historic full-length dome car on the back of Amtrak’s Empire Builder (Train #8 and #28) from St. Paul Union Depot to Chicago Union Station. APRHF Rail Rangers are joining forces with the “Zephyr Route” to bring you live commentary on Sunday, October 4th for more than 400 miles through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois. Learn about the Mississippi River and the location/story behind the “Crazy Man’s Castle”… find out the secret location of an Iraqi War Village — deep in the heart of Wisconsin… or maybe what’s behind Santa’s Super Rocket and a track-side grave near the Wisconsin Dells… plus all about the urban Milwaukee-to-Chicago corridor. Tickets are going quick, so book now. This tour is part of a three-day weekend package being offered by “Zephyr Route” for a get-away to the Twin Cities; passengers may board at either Chicago Union Station or the Milwaukee Intermodal Station. Rail Rangers will only be aboard on Sunday, October 4th. For more information and tickets, log onto www.zephyrroute.com. When booking, please mention you heard about the trip from APRHF Rail Rangers and we will receive a donation from the “Zephyr Route” group to help cover the APRHF Rail Rangers cost of this trip!!

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2015 – The APRHF Rail Rangers will be back in the Twin Cities the following weekend to participate in their first on-board event involving a steam engine! That’s right folks… what could be better than listening to an APRHF Rail Rangers program in the luxurious full-length Super Dome car while being pulled by the famous Milwaukee Road 261 steam engine! Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern and Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern will be on board providing you specialized commentary about the route between Minneapolis, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin in the Super Dome Car. This excursion features various levels of service including coach, first class, and three premium class cars. The Rail Rangers will be roaming the train, but the main narration will take place only in the Super Dome car… so when you make your reservations at www.261.com — you will need to specifically request the Super Dome #53 car if you wish to hear the program. This special excursion passes through the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities and up into the Northwoods along the old Great Northern line to Superior, WI and Duluth, MN. From the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports – the APRHF Rail Rangers will keep you occupied with inserting stories about the passing scenery. Book your tickets now!! Premium Class is almost SOLD OUT! Make sure you tell the Friends of the 261 that you appreciate their support of the Taberns’ narration. Custom route guides will also be for sale… you can’t buy them on-line or anywhere else besides on the train!!!

SUNDAY, OCTOBER 11, 2015 – The APRHF Rail Rangers will be making a brief appearance at Minneapolis Junction, Minnesota prior to the departure of the Friends of the 261 steam engine trip to Willmar, Minnesota. Join Executive Director Robert Tabern and Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern from 7:30am to 8:45am aboard the train and at the Friends of the 261 station to purchase your copy of the exclusive route guide from the Twin Cities to Willmar. While there will be no live narration on this trip due to a scheduling conflict, you will want to have this handy route guide to tell you about all of the important landmarks on your way out to Willmar. This special route guide book won’t be for sale on-line or anywhere else except from the APRHF Rail Rangers prior to the departure of the Friends of the 261 excursion from Minneapolis Junction. So, make sure you get your tickets now at www.261.com and arrive early so you can purchase your route guide from the APRHF Rail Rangers before the train leaves the station. A significant amount of the profits from the route guide sales will go to the Friends of the 261; all other profits will go toward travel expenses for the APRHF Rail Rangers to come to the Twin Cities.

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2015 – Don’t have time to ride, but want to hear about the APRHF Rail Rangers program? Then head over to the Galesburg, Illinois Public Library on Saturday, November 7, 2015 at 1:30pm for a special presentation put on by the Rail Rangers! How did the program form? What are the future goals? And, what interesting landmarks are there to see on the BNSF line between Chicago, Galesburg, and La Plata, Missouri. The Rail Rangers will tell all in a special off-the-train presentation, plus stick around to browse the special selection of route guides that will be sold and autographed by the authors – what better Christmas presents for the railfan on your list?

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2015 – The APRHF Rail Rangers will be holding a special informational session during Train Fest 2015 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Head over to the Wisconsin Expo Center on the State Fair Grounds in West Allis from 9:00am to 5:00pm both days. It’s called the largest train show in the world — so why not come out and check out all of the model railroads on display and vendor booths? Various members of the APRHF Rail Rangers team will be on-hand to tell you about the non-profit program and what exciting things are planned for 2016. Also, come out and help contribute to some of the special events that will be taking place by making a donation to the APRHF Rail Rangers by purchasing one of the many route guides that will be for sale. APRHF Rail Rangers is honored to be part of the special, well-known, and historic gathering in the Badger State!

 

The APRHF Rail Rangers are currently in negotiations with other private car operators and organizations to possibly participate in other special events during Fall 2015 and throughout 2016. Stay turned to the APRHF website for more updates! Of course, the ultimate goal is to have enough private car excursions that we can begin taking new applicants who would like to volunteer for the APRHF Rail Rangers program; we are hoping this might even happen for some of the 2016 events that are in the works. Stay tuned!

More About the APRHF Rail Rangers

Just a few days ago, the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation announced the formation of its newest outreach program, the APRHF Rail Rangers. The goal of Rail Rangers is to make experienced volunteers easily available to private rail car owners and organizers of group rail excursions across the Midwest; docents will present on-board educational programs that are also fun and entertaining for passengers. The work that the APRHF Rail Rangers do is quite similar to that of the National Park Service’s Trails & Rails program, however APRHF’s Rail Rangers program focuses exclusively on presenting talks on private rail cars, instead of Amtrak trains.

The new program is also sponsored locally in Illinois and Missouri by the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, instead of being overseen on the national level by the National Park Service and Amtrak. For almost three years, the APRHF did sponsor a Trails & Rails program on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri, however that came to an abrupt end on July 19, 2015, when the National Park Service decided to terminate its partnership agreement with the non-profit APRHF. Many of the same people who organized the Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO back in late 2012 are now behind the new APRHF Rail Rangers endeavor, including APRHF President Bob Cox, APRHF Vice-President Amy Cox, Chicago Coordinator and newly appointed Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, and Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern.

While the APRHF Rail Rangers program formally launched on Monday, July 20, 2015, a “test run” of the new program was held on Saturday, June 27, 2015, on board a private 250-mile rail car excursion between Chicago Union Station and Quincy, Illinois. Private rail car owner Mike Abernathy of St. Charles, Illinois teamed up with APRHF Rail Rangers for the pilot program. Abernathy is a huge Burlington Route fan and is currently in the process of restoring ex-CB&Q dome/observation car “Silver View” in Iowa. To raise money for his restoration efforts, Abernathy organizes private rail car charters several times a year throughout the Midwestern United States. Some typical destinations are Chicago, Quincy, Hannibal, Missouri, St. Louis, and the Twin Cities. On June 27th, Abernathy offered a First Class day-trip excursion on the Friends of the 261 “Super Dome” car for passengers to ride between Chicago and Galesburg for the annual Galesburg Railroad Days Event, or all the way to Hannibal, Missouri, for the city’s popular Mark Twain Days Festival. The ex-Milwaukee Road Super Dome was placed on the rear of Amtrak Trains #381 and #382, the “Carl Sandburg”. The Taberns presented commentary on board the dome car, while the Cox family greeted passengers at the Galesburg Amtrak Station and offered them tours of the Amtrak Exhibit Train.

 

Even though Abernathy had been organizing private rail excursions since 2009, he never had anyone on board his train cars greeting and socializing with passengers and doing commentary about the history seen along the way. Robert Tabern, the new leader of the APRHF Rail Rangers program explains, “Doing commentary for a private rail car excursion is a lot different than you might do on a bus tour, or even when we did Trails & Rails in the lounge car on the Southwest Chief. People are paying a lot more money for these private rail trips and want to hear very light commentary so that they can also enjoy their gourmet meals and conversations with their friends or family members. You really have to pick and choose which stories you are going to tell people over the car-wide microphone, but then also make yourself more available to passengers because they will have questions for you about the route… generally a lot more than coach passengers on your typical Amtrak run.”

One of the stories that the Taberns told everyone on board the dry run of the APRHF Rail Rangers program involved the Cherry Hill Mine Disaster. Passengers who travel the BNSF between Mendota and Princeton in Central Illinois may see a couple of lonely 150-foot tall hills in the distance on the south side of the train, about three miles or so away. Some passengers on the June 27th private rail car excursion thought the hills were trash heaps or perhaps Native American burial mounds. Someone even shouted, “I think it’s a volcano!”. But, no, none of those answers were correct. The APRHF Rail Rangers asked everyone to close their eyes and picture they were back in rural Illinois more than 100 years ago. Electricity was very sporadic in the area in 1909, so torches were often used to light paths through the coal miles that dotted the landscape. At the Cherry Hill Mine, whose slag hills you still see from the train today, there was a group of mules who actually lived in the second and third layers of the mine. During their research, the Taberns learned that it was actually better for a mules to live in the mine; being constantly taken from bright conditions to pitch-black conditions would have damage the animals’ eye-sights even more than if they just lived in the mine on a semi-permanent basis. On this particular day in 1909, workers were lowering bales of hay down into the mine to feed the mules, when some of the hay brushed up against a torch. A horrible fire began; the end result was more than 250 miners, some as young a nine years old, perished. Many train travelers who ride the BNSF line today don’t realize they are passing the site of what remains the deadliest mining fire in United States History.

Pointing out sites like the Cherry Hill Mine Site to passengers on private rail car excursions is exactly what the APRHF Rail Rangers program is all about. Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “People were just amazed with our stories on the train between Chicago and Quincy. So many people came up to us and thanked us for being on the train and making their ride that much more enjoyable.”

APRHF Rail Rangers strives to go beyond just presenting an interesting interpretive program for passengers. Instead, their mission is to truly connect private rail car passengers with the history, people, and places that are all around them outside their windows on any given trip. When given enough preparation time, APRHF Rail Rangers actually drive the route of the upcoming train excursion, and connects with some of the residents who live track-side. The Taberns made a trip out to the site of the Cherry Hill Mine in preparation for the Chicago to Quincy excursion. It was there they met the Bartoli brothers, who currently own the land that encompasses the former mine site; their grandfather purchased the land from the railroad in the mid-1930′s when the mine was finally shuttered. While exploring the property with the Bartolis, the Taberns stumbled across a piece of metal that was partially buried in the group. At first, the Bartolis thought it might had been an old railroad spike, as a railroad spur led to the mine. Upon some digging in thick brush, the object turned out to be an actual mule shoe that appears to have survived the 1909 fire; it was later authenticated by an Amish horse shoe maker. The Bartolis gave the item to the APRHF Rail Rangers to use during their on-board presentations. Kandace Tabern says, “Passengers really get a kick out of some of the props that we bring along on our trips. Everyone wanted to hold the mule shoe that survived the Cherry Hill fire… that is our most popular item, I think. We also carry with us a small jar of Mississippi River water that we show to passengers when we cross the Mississippi River; everyone marvels at just how muddy the Mississippi is! You can’t tell that by looking out your train window. We also pass a few alpaca farms on the ex-Santa Fe line near Ormonde, Illinois. We visited one the farms you see from the train and got to meet the alpaca you see — their names are Jack and Martha. The farmer gave us some of their fur that we let the passengers feel. Again, we’re making a real connection with what is out the passengers’ windows. No one else besides APRHF Rail Rangers does what we do.”

The next scheduled APRHF Rail Rangers on-board interpretive program will take place on Sunday, October 4th on a private rail car operated by Mike Abernathy’s Zephyr Route between St. Paul’s Union Depot and Chicago Union Station. Tickets are still available for this excursion and special weekend get-a-way package in the Twin Cities; check out www.zephyrroute.com. Besides just doing on-board programs, the APRHF Rail Rangers will do special outreach events that occasionally take place off the train. You can join volunteers at the popular Trainfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Saturday, November 14th and Sunday, November 15th. For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers program, you can check out their brand new Facebook page at www.facebook.com/railrangers or log on to their new website at www.railrangers.org.

Private rail car owners and those who are responsible for chartering group trips who are interested in having APRHF Rail Rangers aboard, can contact Bob Cox at president@aprhf.org or Robert Tabern at robert@rtabern.com. Since APRHF Rail Rangers is an affiliate of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, the services of the Rail Rangers come at a very minimal cost, generally just covering supplies and covering the costs of the volunteers to travel to the city of origin.