Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #27 – Mark Twain Zephyr Open House & More – October 15, 2020

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Dear Friends and Supporters,

The Midwest Rail Rangers is excited to announce that — for the first time since March 2020 — one of our partners will be hosting an in-person event. The Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad in Trego, Wisconsin will be hosting an “Open House Event” for the Mark Twain Zephyr, which the railroad acquired earlier this year. The Mark Twain Zephyr was one of the most famous trains in the Midwest back in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s… operating along the scenic Mississippi River through part of Iowa and Missouri. Even though the last car arrived up at the WGNRR just before Labor Day, crews have made remarkable progress!  In fact, the train is probably already in its best shape in more than 50 years, after passing through the hands of several owners who neither had the time nor finances to complete its refurbishment. As we prepare this E-newsletter this morning, some of the final windows are being put in the Mark Twain Zephyr.

The Midwest Rail Rangers is proud to be a supporter of the Wisconsin Great Northern’s efforts. You may recall, that we became partners with the WGNRR in 2019, presenting a couple of “Open House” events on their Sky Parlour Car (former Santa Fe Hi-Level Lounge and Amtrak Pacific Parlour Car). These were a success, drawing crowds of between 200 and 300 people to see our displays on Amtrak and Santa Fe History.

Next year, we look forward to hosting additional history events on select weekends up at the Wisconsin Great Northern — both aboard the Sky Parlour — and on the Becky Thatcher Museum Car on the Mark Twain Zephyr.

Mark your calendars for Saturday, October 24, 2020 or Sunday, October 25, 2020 and stop by the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad between 10AM and 4PM CDT. Staff from the railroad will be on-hand both days to provide self-guided tours of the exterior and guided tours of some of the interiors of the cars that are being renovated. You will be amazed at the quick progress being made. Special photo opportunities will also be available with the original medallion from the Mark Twain Zephyr, which has not been on public display since 1962!  Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern and Vice President Robert Neil will be greeting passengers both days. Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern will also be helping to lead tours on Sunday.  The WGNRR gift shop will also be selling route guidebooks from the Midwest Rail Rangers on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

In other news… we have begun working with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District to secure a two year extension in our partnership agreements, so that we can continue brining you onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana approximately two weekends per month, year-round. The Midwest Rail Rangers began doing our on-board educational programs on the South Shore Line back in August 2017. We have reached out to thousands of passengers over the past three years who have enjoyed the narration provided in one of the eight cars of the train on Saturdays or Sundays. While our programs currently remain suspended due to the Corona Virus, we look forward to having an agreement in place through Spring 2023, which means we will be ready to return to the rails when it is safe to give talks to medium-to-large sized groups again. We will keep you updated on the progress going on behind-the-scenes here.

Finally… we appreciate everyone who have enjoyed our “virtual programs” over the past couple of months. We did our first “virtual program” in June 2020… and have produced two of these every month since. In fact, our next virtual program, on Sunday, October 25, 2020, will mark our 10th virtual program!  The focus of the Midwest Rail Rangers will continue to be our in-person educational programs aboard trains… however while that remains not possible right now… we will continue to “virtual programs” so that we can remain connected… and so that you can enjoy fun rail destinations and topics from across the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin).  The plan at this point is to continue to produce two “virtual programs” every month through the course of 2021, as we transition back to in-person programming. Beyond that, in 2022, we will probably do one “virtual program” every couple of months, so we can re-focus on our in-person programming. Virtual programs take place at 7:00PM CT on select Sunday evenings. A complete schedule of programming through November 2021 and topics is posted on our website. Our next program on October 25th will be broadcast from Rochelle, Illinois at the famous railroad diamonds.  Our November 2020 “virtual programs” will focus on celebrating the Midwest Rail Rangers’ 5th Anniversary. Our November 8, 2020 program will be broadcast LIVE from our headquarters in Barron, Wisconsin… as we explain how the Midwest Rail Rangers was founded and what some of our favorite memories have been. Our November 22, 2020 program will be broadcast from La Plata, Missouri, which was our headquarters for our first few years. We will offer a special holiday program in late December about Christmas trains.


Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

Robert Tabern, President

Bob Neil, Vice President

Dave Poole, Treasurer

Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #26 — 2020 Season Update / Mark Twain Zephyr / Ocean View Dome — August 19, 2020


We hope everyone is enjoying the summer season (as much as possible right now)… and are staying healthy and well during these difficult times. We greet you this morning with some important updates about the Midwest Rail Rangers — mainly where we are headed, both in the short-term and the long-term.

 First, we wanted to announce that the MRR Board of Directors has decided to suspend all of our onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend through at least the end of the year (December 31, 2020). We were really hoping that conditions would improve by the fall, but that is clearly not the case… and we do not want to encourage extra crowds to develop on the train during the pandemic to hear our in-person programs. We will re-evaluate conditions in early December and make a decision then about our what our early 2021 programming may look like. As a reminder, you can still ride the South Shore Line on your own (they’re back to a normal schedule) and learn about the route. The Midwest Rail Rangers had made our podcasts for the South Shore Line completely FREE during the time our docents are off the train. You can also purchase one of our hard copy route guidebooks… or one of our PDF e-Books. All of the above are available at the Midwest Rail Rangers On-Line Store. Head to our website ( and click on the “Rail Rangers Store” link.

The 20th Century Railroad Club’s Board has informed the Midwest Rail Rangers that all of their remaining trips for 2020 will also be cancelled. This includes the “Great Lakes and Trains Featuring the Grand Hotel” departure on October 3, 2020… and the “St. Louis, MO Adventure” departure on November 13, 2020… which we were planning to have some of our Interpretive Guides aboard for. We look forward to partnering with the 20th Century Railroad Club once again in 2021, for some exciting trips.

Now that we have all of the cancellation news out of the way… we are happy to report that the Midwest Rail Rangers isn’t going anywhere during the months ahead. While our in-person programs have come to a halt, we are happy to report that we are committed to producing TWO brand new episodes per month of our “virtual programs”. These take you to exciting rail destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. In fact, we now have enough topics and locations lined up to continue releasing TWO brand new episodes every month through at least August 2021. Hopefully well before then, we can begin a return to our in-person talks and programming and can cease the virtual visits. We do appreciate your support and the positive comments we have gotten about these shows… we sure hope you are enjoying them!  Some of the upcoming topics include:  Part 2 of 2 at the Wisconsin Great Northern Dinner Train Cars (August 23rd), Tour of the CB&Q Depot in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa (September 13th), and Ride on the Laona, Wisconsin Steam Train (September 27th). A complete listing of “virtual program” topics and dates can be found on our website. Be sure to mark your calendars and join us on Sunday evenings this fall and winter — as we do the traveling for you.

We have some exciting news to share involving two of our rail partners, too!

In case you haven’t heard, the Midwest Rail Rangers will be extending our partnership with the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad in Trego, Wisconsin. The WGNRR recently announced that it has purchased the historic Mark Twain Zephyr train set. Built in 1935 for the CB&Q, the train ran on a number of routes across the Midwest until 1958… but was primarily used on the Burlington, Iowa to St. Louis, Missouri scenic line along the Mississippi River. Back on August 1st, the engine of #9903 arrived at the WGNRR in Northwest Wisconsin; the other four cars will be following in the weeks ahead. The Midwest Rail Rangers will be helping the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad to raise funds for the “museum car”, which will be built aboard the “Becky Thatcher” (former baggage car). The Midwest Rail Rangers had used your donations to acquire a number of items already that will go on display — including an old lantern, an old watering can, a set of CB&Q violet pattern dishes, and much more. Monetary donations can be made by going to Memorabilia relating to the CB&Q and Zephyrs is also welcome. E-mail to discuss your tax-deductible contributions. The WGNRR is hoping to have the trainset up and running by Late 2021. When that happens, the Midwest Rail Rangers looks forward to having our docents aboard on select runs to give tours of the “museum car” and to show movies in the on-board “theater car”. The museum will be really world class with your financial support and donations.

One of our other partners, PaxRail, announced yesterday that it has acquired Amtrak’s last remaining dome car “Ocean View”. Built for the Great Northern’s Empire Builder, “Ocean View” has been used on special excursions — mainly in the Northeast, Midwest, and Southern California — in recent years… as well as being used as a private business car for Amtrak executives. The car was deemed “too costly” to continue to maintain, and Amtrak put it up for sale in November 2019. In March 2020, Jim Evenson, with PaxRail, contacted us and gave us the news his company was the winning bidder. We agreed to keep things quiet until a press release was put out… but behind the scenes we were helping Jim develop the history section of PaxRail’s website about “Ocean View”. Of course, the Midwest Rail Rangers operates the history page about the car, which you can view at The Midwest Rail Rangers had partnered with PaxRail on numerous excursion in the past…and look forward to the invite to have our Interpretive Guides aboard “Ocean View” on select Midwest excursions the car will make, beginning in 2021.

In the end… yes, things look pretty bleak right now. It is not fun putting out e-Newsletters to announce more cancellations… when pretty much the whole year has been full of that… both with the Midwest Rail Rangers… and a lot of other things going on in our lives. However, things like being able to design a “museum car” at the Wisconsin Great Northern’s Mark Twain Zephyr… and having a beautiful full-length dome car to do our programs on… gives us hope. And it should give you hope, too.  We are fighting for survival right now, like many non-profit organizations, but we have made the commitment not to drop off the map during the pandemic. While our “virtual programs” are not as much fun as being with all of you,at least it does let us connect and be together (sort of) every couple of weeks.  And for that opportunity, we are very grateful.


          Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

          Robert Tabern, President

          Bob Neil, Vice President

          Dave Poole, Treasurer

          Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

          Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #25 — Celebrating Our 5th Anniversary — July 20, 2020

July 20, 2020

Dear Friends and Supporters,

Good Evening! On behalf of the Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors… we wanted to take a moment out of your busy day… and say THANK YOU for your continued support, as today marks the 5th Anniversary of the Rail Rangers. It was on back on Monday, July 20, 2015 that a group of hard-working individuals decided to get together and form a non-profit organization that would enhance passengers’ experiences on private rail excursions across the Upper Midwest by providing expert narration and route guidebooks.

We had some really exciting things planned for 2020 to celebrate our 5th Anniversary, but given everything that has happened so far this year — those will be side-lined for a bit until we can get together and in groups and once again safely ride trains together.

If you have followed our organization over time… you know that the Rail Rangers has had the unique ability to adapt to pretty much anything that has been thrown our way.  Most of the founding members of the Rail Rangers were once volunteers with the Amtrak/National Park Service Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief. In order to have more of a say over how things operated… we broke away… and formed our own organization in July 2015 that had the mission of providing the same quality narration as Trails & Rails, except on private rail car excursions. This was a challenge for our volunteers at first… because instead of learning just a single train route (Chicago to Missouri)… we had to become knowledge about ALL of various train routes out of Windy City. All of our Guides not only met, but exceeded expectations on becoming familiar with the various routes… and more and more private car owners began to request our services in 2016 and 2017 for their trips. In April 2018, Amtrak issues a new set of policies that resulted in many private car owners either cutting back on excursions… or in some cases… selling off their cars totally. The Rail Rangers Board knew that our days would be numbered if we continued to exclusively focus on the dwindling number of private rail excursions taking place in the Midwest. That is why in 2018 and 2019… we worked hard to expand our portfolio. In addition to still providing narration on private rail excursions… we also began programs on the South Shore Line (Chicago – South Bend) two weekends per month, doing open house events on the Sky Parlour at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, partnering with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago for most of their Amtrak charters, and attending more outreach events and programs like Trainfest in Milwaukee and Mad City Rail in Madison, Wisconsin. We also wrote books… and produced e-books and even MP3 Podcasts for each of the routes out of Chicago. This meant we were no longer putting “all of our eggs into just one basket” (private cars)… and made us a true multi-facilitated organization (everything else we do now!). In December 2018, we conquered another hurdle… when we became our own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization… to ensure that all donations received would actually go toward the Midwest Rail Rangers.

Well, another hurdle… March 2020. Probably the biggest one that any one of us will ever experience in our lifetimes. At first we though we might be off the trains for a couple of weeks or even a month or two… but now we know… it’s going to be a bit longer that things are paused. After “waiting it out” for 2 or 3 months, we held a Virtual Board Meeting in May 2020 and realized we had a decision to make. We could either not do anything until it was safe to be back at our various venues —- or we could go out and safely produce a series of virtual educational programs to keep everyone entertained and engaged. Not wanting to put all our marketing and promotional efforts to waste… we knew what we had to do. And, after our “virtual test program” back in late June at the Wisconsin Great Northern’s Sky Parlour… we received wonderful feedback from you… that you have enjoyed what we are doing. So, I’m happy to announce that the Midwest Rail Rangers will be producing 2 new virtual programs every month through April 2021. Over the course of 22 episodes we will visit every state in the Midwest Rail Rangers region —- bringing you railroad adventures from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Hopefully we can return to some of our venues before May 2021… but if not… you atleast have some of our new virtual programs to look forward to.  (We also want to thank the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago for their support and co-sponsor of some of these virtual programs, too).

So, 5th Happy Anniversary… this is not how we really wanted to celebrate with you today, but it is what it is… thank you so much for your on-going support… especially those who have purchased a route guide book, e-book, or podcast during these times… to show you support — so we can keep paying our insurance and other bills that keep coming in even though we are not on the train. Your donations will also help support our virtual programs, too.  And, as we have said many times now —- “Until we can be together, again…”

PS — A complete list of our upcoming virtual programs is available on our website… Our next episode will be Sunday, July 26, 2020 @ 7PM CT as we get a tour of the Aristocrat Lounge Car at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad.  We will be LIVE to answer your questions, too.   For those of you on our E-newsletter list, a reminder will be sent out about 24 hours before each new program takes place.  Add your friends and family members to our E-newsletter list so they can stay in the loop, too!


          Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

          Robert Tabern, President

          Bob Neil, Vice President

          Dave Poole, Treasurer

          Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

          Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #24 — Rail Rangers 2020 Season Goes Virtual — June 10, 2020




June 10, 2020

Dear Friends and Supporters,

We greet you with some bad — and yes, also some good news, this early afternoon.

As you know, for the past three months or so, the Midwest Rail Rangers have put our popular onboard educational programs on a complete hiatus due to the outbreak of COVID-19. During March, April, and May 2020, our Board of Directors was holding out hope there would be a practical, and more importantly… safe way… to resume by summer what we have done and shared with you aboard trains the past five years.

As we are now just 10 days away from the official start of Summer 2020… it has become very apparent that we will unfortunately not be able to resume our in-person on-board educational programs at this time… or even in the immediate future.

Besides the obvious concerns for your health and the health of our Interpretive Guides being in close quarters together aboard a train car, part of our decision comes from the fact the Midwest Rail Rangers always works with partner organizations to present our programs, as we do not own rail cars or equipment. For example, the 20th Century Railroad Club has independently decided to cancel all of its tours through at least October 1, 2020 — which means the onboard educational programs we were planning to offer on their Northern Wisconsin & Minnesota Rail Tour in September can now not take place. Likewise, all private rail excursions featuring heritage equipment that we were planning to be apart of for 2020 have been cancelled by their car owners/organizers… leaving us currently with no private car trips to have our programs aboard. Simple as that.

This is no doubt a difficult year — but being safe has to be the #1 priority — something always echoed in the railroad industry well before the outbreak of COVID-19.

We also hold a very high standard for our programs at the Midwest Rail Rangers. Our Board of Directors are united in the philosophy that if we can’t provide passengers with quality on-board educational programs — we are better off taking a break right now. Think about how uncomfortable and impractical it would be to provide 6 or 7 hours worth of ongoing narration about a given train route while wearing a mask, which is required by some railroads and cities. Also, it would be very difficult for you to understand what is being said trying to talk through a mask over a PA system. Trust us… we want to return to whatever the “new normal” will be of on-board educational programs, but now is not quite that time. We do hope that time will come as soon as safely possible.
As a result and after much though and consultation with our partners, we are suspending our on-board educational programs on the South Shore Line (Chicago to South Bend) through at least September 1, 2020. Our on-board educational “open house” programs aboard the Sky Parlour Car at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad in Trego, Wisconsin will take a hiatus until further notice. The 20th Century Railroad Club has decided to suspend all trips through at least October 1, 2020… and we are planning to follow their plans accordingly. All private car trips that the Midwest Rail Rangers had planned to be apart of for 2020 have also been cancelled. For now, we will be keeping an appearance at Trainfest in November 2020 on our outreach event calendar as planned… but will also follow the direction of Trainfest’s organizers when it comes changes to that event.

If there are any changes to the above information, we will let you — our E-Newsletter subscribers — know first before the general public.

Now, on to the good news. We promised you there would be some in this E-Newsletter!

If you have followed the Midwest Rail Rangers over the years, you know we have triumphed in difficult and adverse times. Our organization’s history dates back to December 2012 when we were a branch of Trails & Rails that provided onboard educational programs aboard Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago and Missouri. After operating for two and a half years on that route, but coming into a disagreement over how the program should be managed going forward, we successfully branched off as our own organization called the Rail Rangers… providing fun and informative onboard educational programs first on private rail excursions. When the number of private rail trips were reduced by Amtrak policy changes, we turned to other organizations to partner with. When our regular weekly programs ended on the Hoosier State train in February 2017, we worked hard to quickly establish a new partnership with the South Shore Line (they have been awesome to work with the past 3 years!). Our organization became so popular that we branched out from our original parent group to become our own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in January 2019. That was also not an easy feat — there are mounds of paperwork and legal work one must do to file to become a non-profit organization. And no — we are not going to let this darn COVID-19 virus get us down either. That we can promise you!

So, until we are able to return to doing regular onboard educational programs with our normal partners… whenever that may be… the Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors has decided to offer brand new “Virtual Programs”. These will be offered on the Facebook page of either the Midwest Rail Rangers or our partners. We are committed to doing at least two of these per month until we return to the rails. Some programs will be LIVE, where you can tune in and ask questions. Other programs will be pre-recorded and posted at a certain time for you to enjoy. Programs will range from about 15 to 30 minutes depending on the topic. The key is to go ahead and “LIKE” the Facebook page of the Midwest Rail Rangers right now (if you haven’t done so already) so that you can participate in our “virtual programs” that will be offered throughout the summer.

We have six awesome “virtual programs” already in the works. Details are below. And, be sure to check out our main website ( as we add more dates and topics, And of course, if you have any suggestions for things you want us to talk about or places we should visit and do a program for you — let us know. Drop our Board of Directors an e-mail at We welcome your creative ideas!

Again, we look forward to returning to the rails soon — but are proud to be able to offer you an alternative during the months ahead versus just shuttering up completely like many businesses and organizations have done.


Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

Robert Tabern, President

Bob Neil, Vice President

Dave Poole, Treasurer

Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer


The COVID-19 Virus has unfortunately caused us to suspend or cancel many of our traditional onboard educational programs during the course of 2020. While we look forward to our return to the rails soon… we will be offering a new brand of “Virtual Educational Programs”. These will be featured on the Facebook page of either the Midwest Rail Rangers or our partner organizations. Some presentations will be LIVE where we can take questions from the viewers… while others will be pre-taped and posted at a given time for you to enjoy.

Note that you will need to create a Facebook page (if you don’t have one already) and then “LIKE” our Facebook page and the pages of our partner organizations in order to participate in the experiences.

Here is a look at what we have planned:

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 24, 2020 — 7:00PM CT

*LIVE PROGRAM* — Tour of the Wisconsin Great Northern Sky Parlour Car

Join Robert and Kandace Tabern with the Midwest Rail Rangers for a tour of the Wisconsin Great Northern Sky Parlour Car LIVE from the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad in Trego, Wis. We will be bringing dozens of pieces of memorabilia onboard to show you from the car’s years as a Hi-Level Lounge on the Santa Fe… and Pacific Parlour Car on Amtrak. We will also have time for Q&A from those who join us live.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This presentation will be presented ONLY on the Facebook page of our partner, the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago. It will not be present on the Midwest Rail Rangers Facebook page like most other events. You must “like” their Facebook page and tune in there to participate in this event. Please tune in a few minutes before the scheduled start time and wait for the post to appear for you to watch.

SUNDAY, JUNE 28, 2020 — 10:00AM CT

Midwest Central Railroad – Mount Pleasant, Iowa

Join Kandace & Robert Tabern with the Midwest Rail Rangers for a tour of the Midwest Central Railroad in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Did you know that there are a group of steam locomotive tucked away at this facility in Mount Pleasant, Iowa? It was also the location that housed the Mark Twain Zephyr train set for 17 years in the 1960’s and 1970’s. You’re guaranteed to learn a thing or two about narrow gauge railroading during this presentation and inside “behind the scenes” look at their steam shop.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a pre-taped program that will be posted at the above time. You must “like” the Midwest Rail Rangers Facebook page in order to watch this program.

SUNDAY, JULY 12, 2020 — 10:00AM CT

Fenelon Elevator – Dubuque, Iowa

Join Kandace & Robert Tabern with the Midwest Rail Rangers for a short tour of the Fenelon Elevator in Dubuque, Iowa. It is a 3-foot narrow gauge funicular railway. Also known as the Fourth Street Elevator, it is claimed to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world. It was individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a pre-taped program that will be posted at the above time. You must “like” the Midwest Rail Rangers Facebook page in order to watch this program.

SUNDAY, JULY 26, 2020 — 10:00AM CT

Milwaukee Road Depot at Winona, Minnesota

Join Kandace & Robert Tabern with the Midwest Rail Rangers for a short discussion about the Empire Builder and the historic Milwaukee Road Depot in Winona, Minnesota. Did you know that you can still see the Milwaukee Road logo on one side of the old freight house located here? And it’s the first crew change for the westbound Amtrak train today.
IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a pre-taped program that will be posted at the above time. You must “like” the Midwest Rail Rangers Facebook page in order to watch this program

SUNDAY, AUGUST 9, 2020 — 12:00 NOON CT

*LIVE PROGRAM* — The Favorite Props of the Midwest Rail Rangers

Join Kandace & Robert Tabern live from the Midwest Rail Rangers Headquarters in Barron, Wisconsin for a look at some of the favorite props we have used over the years with passengers. We will dig deep in our file cabinet and see what we come up with. Maybe you have seen some of our props on one of your trips with us? Just how muddy is the Mississippi River? We’ll show you our jug of river water! And how about sand from the Indiana Dunes and our sandhill crane mascot named “Killer”? You’re guaranteed to learn a thing or two during this 20 minute presentation. We will be taking Q&A, too!


SUNDAY, AUGUST 23, 2020 — 10:00AM CT

Rail fanning at Rochelle with the Rail Rangers

Join Kandace & Robert Tabern with the Midwest Rail Rangers to learn more about the Railroad Park in Rochelle, Illinois. Thousands of people flock here every year to watch where the Union Pacific (Chicago-Omaha) and BNSF (Chicago-Twin Cities) lines cross one another. We will take you on a quick tour of what this railroad park has to offer and why it is so popular among railfans from all across the country.

IMPORTANT NOTE: This is a pre-taped program that will be posted at the above time. You must “like” the Midwest Rail Rangers Facebook page in order to watch this program

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #23 — COVID-19 Statement & Schedule Update 3 — May 4, 2020


An important update from the Midwest Rail Rangers about our upcoming onboard educational programs

May 4, 2020

Dear Friends and Supporters,

The Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors and our Interpretive Guides hope everyone is doing as well as possible in these extremely difficult times. Even though we can’t be together on the train right now sharing fun programs about history and nature with you… we feel that it is important to still stay in touch from time-to-time. We hope you agree. That way when that day comes that we can be together again… we will be ready and have our upcoming dates up on your calendar.

Our Board of Directors held an important virtual meeting over the weekend to address when it might be possible to safely resume our onboard educational programs — and below is what we have come up with. Note these are our current plans, are very tentative, and will be subject to further changes/additional cancellations. Please know making decisions such as these are very difficult. We have to balance the fact that some things are opening up in a few of the states across the Midwest that we serve… while other states (such as Illinois and Wisconsin) still have “stay at home” orders in place even past Memorial Day… limiting non-essential travel. We also take all of our partners’ suggestions and opinions into high consideration — keeping the health of our Guides and those of you who attend our programs as always the #1 priority. And even if all orders are lifted… we still need to figure exactly out how to perform our quality onboard educational programs in whatever the “new normal” will be — including giving talks with face masks on and not being able to pass props around or get up and close with our passengers like we enjoyed.

With that said… the MRRC Board voted to suspend all public events through Friday, June 26, 2020. This includes South Shore Line programs, Wisconsin Great Northern Sky Parlour Programs, 20th Century Railroad Club Programs, programs aboard all private rail excursions and all outreach events.

In addition, please note the following onboard educational programs scheduled beyond Friday, June 26th, 2020 are also cancelled:

** Saturday, June 27th, 2020

20th Century Railroad Club Amtrak Charter to Galesburg, IL and Peoria, IL

This past weekend the 20th Century Railroad Club and the Midwest Rail Rangers were informed that the organizers of Galesburg Railroad Days have decided to cancel their annual event. This will result in this charter being cancelled.

** Saturday, June 27th, 2020

Private Car Trip “Hollywood Beach” to Galesburg, IL and Quincy, IL

This past weekend the Midwest Rail Rangers and Keith White, owner of the Hollywood Beach, were informed that the organizers of Galesburg Railroad Days have decided to cancel their annual event. This will result in this private rail trip being cancelled.

** Sunday, November 1, 2020 & Monday, November 2, 2020

20th Century Railroad Club South Shore Charter to South Bend, IN & Studebaker

This trip has been cancelled due to the re-scheduling of an Amtrak charter to St. Louis, MO the same month.

Our current schedule is updated both on our websit ( and below.

This is no doubt something we… nor anyone else… expected to happen this year. These are unprecedented times and there will no doubt be some additional cancellations.

We have had many people ask us over the past couple of months what they can do to help support the Midwest Rail Rangers and our partners during this time. One of the best things you can do right now is — if you think you are going to feel comfortable traveling this fall — would be to book one or more of the three remaining 20th Century Railroad Club excursions in 2020 that we hope to be on. This includes an excursion to Northwest Wisconsin/Minnesota in September… Springfield, Illinois in October… or St. Louis, Missouri in November. These trips need a minimum number of travelers on them — several month out — to make sure a profit can be had and these trips can run. Trips cancelled due to the virus is one thing… but we would hate to see the three trips that remain on the calendar cancelled too because not enough people have booked. This is a great way you can help support us and the 20th Century Railroad Club… who has been one of our amazing partners over the years taking you on fun and exciting trips.
For those who may not feel comortable traveling, you can always support the Midwest Rail Rangers by going on a virtual train trip — by purchasing one of our route guide books, e-books, or MP3 podcasts. They, and other items, are available, right now at our online store —-

Please continue to monitor our website, e-newsletters, Facebook and Twitter pages for more information and updates, as needed. (Some decisions, especially those made by our partner railroads are out of our Board’s hands — and will be updated as we get them.)

We wish you and your family well. If you have any questions about this, feel free to send an e-mail to us at:


Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

Robert Tabern, President

Bob Neil, Vice President

Dave Poole, Treasurer

Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #19 — 2020 20th Century Club Trips; Rail Rangers Opens Physical Store — February 15, 2020

Rail Rangers to Partner with 20th Century RR Club for Five Trips Across the Upper Midwest in 2020

We are super excited to announce that the Midwest Rail Rangers will be partnering once again with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago to bring you a total of 5 new trip options for the 2020 season. The 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago has been the premiere club to join if you are a rail fan in the Chicagoland, Northwest Indiana, or Southeast Wisconsin area since the early 1970’s. The group has put together hundreds trips over the years… and the Midwest Rail Rangers have been their proud partners for the past three or four years, providing narration on their railroad and motorcoach tours.

So, let’s get to the “good stuff” —- what do we have planned for you this year?

May 15-17, 2020:  St. Louis Adventure Trip – this will include round-trip on Amtrak in coach from Chicago and a tour of exciting sites around St. Louis, MO, including the National Transportation Museum and a step-on guided tour of the city.  You will also have the chance to see the St. Louis Gateway Arch, now part of the Gateway National Park. Rail Rangers Guide Bruce Stahl provides narration on the train from Chicago to St. Louis.

June 27, 2020:   Galesburg Railroad Days & Peoria  –  the 20th Century Railroad Club is once again offering Chicagoans the chance to ride out to the Annual Galesburg Railroad Days Festival together in their own private coach car on Amtrak’s Carl Sandburg Train. Enjoy the day taking in the train show or even perhaps a yard tour in Galesburg. New this year — you also have the option of spending the day in Peoria instead. Rail Rangers Guides Fred Glure and Dave Poole provide narration to Galesburg.

September 12-15, 2020: PREMIERE TRIP OF 2020 — Join the 20th Century Railroad Trip and the Midwest Rail Rangers for an unforgettable 4 day, 3 night tour of the best tourist railroads of Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. We will ride a total of four trains together — including the Sky Parlour (former Amtrak Pacific Parlour Car) at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad and their Elegant Dinner Train. Stops also include the Osceola Railroad, Duluth Railroad Museum, North Shore Scenic Railroad, and a step-on tour of Wisconsin Amish Country and Duluth. Choose the optional upgrade and sleep 2 nights aboard a sleeping car in Spooner, WI at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad. Midwest Rail Rangers Vice President Robert Neil is your tour director;  Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern and Educational Coordinator Kandace Tabern serve as your host at the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad and during your time in Northern Wisconsin.

October 10-11, 2020 – Many people who live in the Chicago area have never been to Central Illinois to see the iconic Abraham Lincoln sites… or maybe it’s been awhile since you have been there and you want to go back?  The 20th Century Railroad Club will ride with the Rail Rangers round-trip from Chicago to Springfield this fall to see the major highlights such as the Lincoln Farm and Tomb. Rail Rangers Guide Robert Neil shares narration on the train from Chicago to Springfield.

November 1-2, 2020 – Enjoy the beautiful late season fall colors of Northwest Indiana when the 20th Century Railroad Club hits the rails on the South Shore Line through the Indiana Dunes National Park and out to South Bend, Indiana. The highlight of this overnight trip will be a visit to the historic Studebaker Museum. Rail Rangers Guide Dave Poole provides narration for the group on the South Shore.

Tickets for the first two trips are currently on sale — and we expect the three other trips to go on sale in late February or early March. For more information about each trip — and for links to where you can get pricing and more information and can make you reservations — scroll down in this E-Newsletter to the 20th Century Railroad Club section, please. We look forward to another fun year working with the 20th Century Railroad Club.


The Midwest Rail Rangers Store Opens in Trego, WI

We are super excited to announce the opening of the Midwest Rail Rangers Store @ the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad Depot… located off U.S. Highways 53 & 63… between Spooner an Trego, Wisconsin.

All 11 editions of our Midwestern railroad route guidebooks are now available for sale in the gift shop.. along with our Junior Rail Rangers Book & Badge… and our Wisconsin Great Northern Sky Parlour Car.

Even if you’re looking just to browse through our books — stop on by. There are display copies available for flipping though… and then when you found the route you’re looking for… you can purchase a new wrapped mint condition book.

The Midwest Rail Rangers Store @ the WGNRR Depot is open 7 days a week with the following business hours:

Sunday: 9:00AM – 4:00PM
Monday: 9:00AM – 4:00PM
Tuesday: 9:00AM – 5:30PM
Wednesday: 9:00AM – 5:30PM
Thursday: 9:00AM – 5:30PM
Friday: 10:00AM – 5:30PM
Saturday: 10:00AM – 5:30PM

Your purchase will help support the Midwest Rail Rangers and our 501(c)(3) non-profit mission of providing railroad history programs… and the exciting family-run Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad. We look forward to having a new brick and mortar location and our new business endeavor with the WGNRR.

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #15 — Midwest Rail Rangers Moving Headquarters to Barron, Wisconsin — November 4, 2019

Here is a look at some of the news items that we shared with subscribers of the Midwest Rail Rangers E-Newsletter on Monday, November 4, 2019:


The MRR Headquarters is Moving

Sometimes the most exciting things in life are the unexpected… and that no doubt applied to the Midwest Rail Rangers in 2019… as we gained a major new partner that we were not expecting this time last year… the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad and their Sky Parlour. This new partnership is exciting… and will actually result in our headquarters city moving to Northwest Wisconsin in the coming weeks… so that our Interpretive Guides can have a bigger presence on the car and at the railroad in 2020. (Don’t worry, we will still continue with all of our Chicago-based on-board programs, too!)

Here’s the exciting details and how it all happened:

For a period of time… the Midwest Rail Rangers have maintained historical passenger train websites for people to browse through and enjoy —– such as,, and… among others. One of the individuals who liked reading our websites was the owner of the family-operated Wisconsin Northern Railroad. So, when his organization (based in Trego, Wisconsin) ended up the successful bidder of a former Amtrak Pacific Parlour Car in April 2019… the Midwest Rail Rangers were among the first organizations contacted.

During this past spring and summer… the Midwest Rail Rangers and the Wisconsin Great Northern worked hand-in-hand to develop a fun program that could be presented to passengers on the former Pacific Parlour Car (now called a Sky Parlour Car) — whether people were riding or open houses were held on select weekends. Our first “open house” aboard the Sky Parlour took place on Saturday, October 5, 2019… and was a humungous success with more than 200 people showing up to take a tour through the car — looking at our exhibits of old Santa Fe and Amtrak memorabilia. Some people came from as far away as Eau Claire, the Twin Cities, and Chicago. We were simply in awe how many other people had special memories made aboard this car over the years.

After a successful “dry run” last month… we look forward to expanding and enhancing our partnership with the Wisconsin Great Northern beginning this spring. In addition to our talks two to three weekends per month on the South Shore — educational programs at the Wisconsin Great Northern on the Sky Parlour will be one of the two primary focuses in 2020 for the Midwest Rail Rangers. Expect to find Midwest Rail Rangers Guides at the WGNRR on select weekends between May and November 2020… with our schedule to be release in the coming months.

And… with that… our HQ move.

As the Wisconsin Great Northern’s Sky Parlour will become a significant point of focus for the Midwest Rail Rangers in the new year — our Board of Directors has decided to re-locate our official headquarters city — effective in a few weeks from now. We will be leaving Elm Grove, Wisconsin in the western suburbs of Milwaukee… and moving 300 miles northwest… to put down new stakes in Barron, Wisconsin — located along the historic Soo Line about 90 minutes east/northeast of the Twin Cities. (The town’s depot has even been renovated into a very nice coffee house!)

While our President will be relocating, too, you really won’t notice many changes to our programs. Most of our Interpretive Guides will be remaining down in the Chicagoland area… and yes… we will still be offering just as many programs on the South Shore as we did last year despite the move. We will also be working hard to have our guides be on board as many private rail excursions as possible in 2020. And the real win-win… is we will have a couple of our Interpretive Guides working just down the road from the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad too, now, to offer more regular programs to those of you who live in Northwest Wisconsin and Eastern Minnesota.

The only real change you will notice is our mailing address.

If you need to send us “snail mail”… starting November 8th… please use P.O. Box 184 Barron, WI 54812.

To celebrate our headquarters move… we will have five of our Midwest Rail Rangers docents meeting and greeting passengers at the Wisconsin Great Northern on Saturday, December 7th. Meet us before, during, or after their 11AM and 2PM “Pizza with Santa” train rides (tickets are going fast!)

Our move to Barron, Wisconsin also allows us to have more office space as the Rail Rangers enters its 5th year of operations — and continues to grow our services. We are even hoping to have a small varea (open by May 2020) to greet visitors by appointment. More details on this in our Winter and Spring E-Newsletters ahead on how this is all going to work.

Got a Suggestion for a 2020 Private Rail Excursion?

As just about all of the leaves are now done falling from the trees… and the first snowfall of the year hit some parts of the Midwest on the last day of October… things will begin slowing down a bit for the Midwest Rail Rangers in the months ahead (with the exception of our move!) This isn’t really a bad thing though — as the fall and winter months are typically used as a “time out” to plan out all of the exciting trips for the upcoming year.

After memorable private rail car excursions this spring and summer with Keith White’s “Hollywood Beach”, Zephyr Route tours, and Blue Pine Rail — the Midwest Rail Rangers and our private car partners want to know where you want to go in 2020 in a vintage observation car from the 1950’s or 1960’s. If you have any trip ideas, drop us an e-mail soon at Your feedback is very important in the planning process… and any creative (but practical!) ideas you have will be passed along to the appropriate private rail car owner(s). Trips this year have included such destinations as Chicago, St. Louis, Carbondale, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Lafayette (Indiana), Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities. We hope to offer some new choices in 2020. As you are likely aware… Amtrak has both raised the costs on private car owners to run their car, while also severely limiting destinations and when private cars can run on the back of trains. This has caused many private rail car owners to sell off their cars, permanently park their cars, and/or cut back on the number of excursions offered to the public. Sadly, the Midwest Rail Rangers has also been impacted — with a lot less onboard educational programs offered in 2019 aboard private cars compared to the years past. We expect this trend to continue into 2020… however… know our Board of Directors remain committed to having the private car component be at least part of our overall mission — and we look forward to working with any and all operators bringing private car excursions through the Midwest. The best way to find out about upcoming private railcar trips with Midwest Rail Rangers volunteers aboard is to remain on our e-newsletter list. We hope to begin announcing some new private car trips around February or March 2020… however a lot depends on our private car partners who are responsible for organizing the trips.

Do You Also Have A Suggestion for a 20th Century Railroad Club Trip for 2020? We’re All Ears!

The Midwest Rail Rangers also had another exciting season partnering with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago on their Amtrak coach train/motorcoach charters.The 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago has been the premiere railroad club of Chicago to be a member of since 1971… and we are very proud to have our Interpretive Guides provide narration and the route guides for most of their shorter two and three day trips. In fact, two of our guides were aboard just last weekend with the 20th Century Railroad Club — heading down to Carbondale on the Saluki for a two-day motorcoach tour of the Illinois Ozarks… with stops at a local winery, Shawnee National Forest, and Superman’s hometown of Metropolis. Other trips done earlier this year with the 20th Century included Green Bay, Milwaukee, Detroit, Galesburg, Quincy, and Hannibal. If you have any 2020 trip ideas to pass along to the 20th Century Railroad Club, you can also drop us an e-mail at A few longer week-long trips for 2020 are already posted on the 20th Century’s website. We plan to meet with club officials in the coming weeks and months to hammer out our 2020 trip schedule with them. Stay tuned for some really good stuff! We expect some 20th Century/Rail Rangers partner trips to be announced around February or March 2020… if not sooner!

South Shore Line Programs Continue Over Winter

As we enter “planning mode” with less trips during the winter months ahead — remember our onboard educational trips on the South Shore Line between Downtown Chicago and South Bend, Indiana never have an “off-season”; they operate year-round. We feel this is important because the beautiful scenery of Illinois and Indiana — especially the Indiana Dunes State Park area — is someone that should be enjoyed every month out of the year. Upcoming program dates include November 17, November 30, December 14, December 15, and December 29. We hope to release our January 1-April 30, 2020 schedule around the end of November or beginning of December. We very much appreciate our ongoing partnership with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) and look forward to our third year together in 2020 bringing you onboard educational programs on America’s last interurban railroad. There are some exciting additions coming to our program too in 2020. We can’t release the details quite yet —- but know you will definitely want to plan a trip with the Midwest Rail Rangers on the South Shore come Spring 2020 to learn even more about what’s out your window. Details will be coming soon in the next E-Newsletter.

APRHF Rail Rangers Launch On-Demand Narration with

Since July 2015, Interpretive Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers program have been educating (as well as entertaining!) train passengers about what can be seen out their window. Without a doubt… travelers love learning about the people, places, and history of the various areas they are passing through. It helps pass the time aboard the train for many… and makes one better educated about the country. Perhaps you have caught one of the APRHF Rail Rangers’ “history talks” on a private rail excursion somewhere across the Midwest… or the South Shore Line between Downtown Chicago, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana?

One of the biggest challenges the APRHF Rail Rangers program has faced over the past three-and-a-half years is trying to reach out to as many train passengers as possible with on-board educational programs. Interpretive Guides with the Rail Rangers currently ride the South Shore Line two to three weekends per month year-round… and are on private rail excursions out of Chicago Union Station up to one dozen times per year. However, that barely scratches the surface for the millions of train rides passengers take every year across the Upper Midwest.

But… what if you could take the APRHF Rail Rangers with you whenever you are on a train ride in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and/or Wisconsin?

Well, now you can!

The APRHF Rail Rangers are proud to announce they have researched, written, and recorded 18 different MP3 podcasts for all of the major regional and long-distance passenger train lines across the Midwest.


It doesn’t matter when you take a train ride — you can now purchase and download an MP3 podcast from the APRHF Rail Rangers to learn about the areas you are traveling through. Podcasts are now available for train routes running between Chicago and Milwaukee (Wisconsin), St. Paul-Minneapolis (Minnesota), La Plata (Missouri), Quincy (Illinois), St. Louis (Missouri), Carbondale (Illinois), Indianapolis (Indiana), South Bend Airport (Indiana) on the South Shore Line, and Detroit/Pontiac (Michigan).

All 12 of the APRHF Rail Rangers worked hard and contributed their voices for the MP3 podcasts. For example, purchase and download the MP3 podcast from Chicago to St. Paul (or St. Paul to Chicago) and listen to Interpretive Guides Kathy Bruecker and Steve Snyder telling you about the urban area between Chicago and Milwaukee… the scenic Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin… and the various Mississippi River towns in Minnesota.  Heading between La Plata, MO and Chicago in the future? You will want the Rail Rangers podcast featuring APRHF President Bob Cox and APRHF Treasurer Amy Cox to learn about historical landmarks along the Santa Fe and old CB&Q. APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern and Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern co-host all 18 podcasts. Other contributors include Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides Fred Glure, Joe Kuczynski, Alane Morgan, Robert Neil, Lowell Olberg, and Dave Poole.

The Rail Rangers’ Podcast lengths range from a little over 20 minutes to a little over one hour depending on the route. Separate podcasts have been recorded for each direction of a route, so that passengers will see the appropriate landmarks — as described on being out the right or left hand side windows. All podcasts cost $9.95 each, with all proceeds going to help support the APRHF Rail Rangers program, an affiliate of the 501(c)(3) non-profit American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation.

Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “We are really excited about this new chapter for the APRHF Rail Rangers and think it’s the future of on-board educational programs… as well as a great fundraiser. We really get such positive feedback about our programs — but we also have people approach us and say — wow, I’m going to Carbondale next weekend, I wish you were going to be on our train. Well, now we can!  Just click, download, and bring your ear phones with you — and we will be with you on any train. You can learn about your window regardless if you’re traveling north, south, west, or east out of Chicago.”


APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “We really put a lot of effort into recording these route guide podcasts… it really was a year-long process. First, we cut down the route guide material in our books and e-books that we have sold for a few years now into something that would be around 30-60 minutes in length. We don’t want to talk non-stop during someone’s train journey. Then we had to find time to record with all 12 of our Interpretive Guides… all of whom have a busy schedule. And then finding the time to edit 18 different podcasts was also a challenge. But, we got it done!  We are so happy to be able to share this with passengers. We are the only ones I know who have done train route guide podcasts for all of the major train routes out of Chicago.”

So, are you convinced and want to give the APRHF Rail Rangers brand new podcasts a try?

It’s simple… just head over to and make your purchases!

The whole process is quite simple to use and understand. Each MP3 podcast download costs just $9.95 — and for that — you get 5 copies of the podcast you purchased. You can download one on your phone, laptop, desktop computer, tablet… and still have one download left to perhaps share with a friend or family member perhaps. Each download features the MP3 audio file as well as a PDF index sheet that shows a listing of the towns talked about. Basically, you listen to the story of an upcoming landmark… pause the podcast until you pass the landmark or town… and then listen up for the next story/landmark… and so on.

APRHF President Bob Cox says, “At a recent Board Meeting, we decided that starting in January 2019, is going to offer Pullman Members ($65/year) a 15% discount code for podcasts and route guide e-books… and Engineer Members ($120/year) and above will get a 25% discount code for podcasts and route guide e-books from the APRHF Rail Rangers. It’s going to be yet another perk to look at upgrading your membership!”

Even though route guide books and e-books… and now route guide podcasts… give passengers more options to learn about the various train routes out there — you will still find the friendly faces of the APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides aboard the train too!

Robert Tabern says, “We are not going anywhere!  We will still have our Interpretive Guides on the South Shore Line two to three weekends per month and we are going to still do as many private rail excursions as we can given the new restrictions Amtrak has placed on private car movements earlier this year. Think of the podcasts as a big addition to our program when we are not on the train — but we hope people will come out an experience our live programming too because nothing replaces that one-on-one interaction we can have together on the train.”

And, even though all 18 Midwestern podcasts are done… that doesn’t mean there are not more podcasts coming!

Kandace Tabern explains, “We are going to take a little break now that we have produced podcasts for all of the major Midwestern train routes. However, starting in 2019, look for new podcasts to begin trickling on to the website. We have signed an agreement with author Eva Hoffman of the “Flashing Yellow” Route Guide series — and will begin producing podcasts for some of the routes she has written about. First up, will be for the daylight stretches of the California Zephyr between Chicago and Omaha, Denver to Green River (Utah), and from Winnemucca (Nevada) to San Francisco. We will then move on to the Southwest Chief and other routes. We got a lot more podcast coming!”

Once again, the APRHF Rail Rangers’ podcasts are now for sale at

We have a special deal for those of you who read out APRHF Blog Site, too.  Use code “ENEWS10” at check-out and get an unlimited number of Train Podcasts for 10 percent off. This offer is valid through December 31, 2018.

For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers on-board educational programs, check out or

New APRHF Rail Rangers Podcasts Hope to Fill Onboard Educational Program Void

An article by author Karl Zimmermann in the most recent edition of “Passenger Train Journal” [Vol. 42, No. 2 (2018-2), Issue No. 275] pinpoints the many passenger amenities that Amtrak has decided to cut over the past few months. If you have not yet seen Zimmermann’s piece entitled “Amtrak: Pinching Pennies Again and Again”, it is definitely well worth the read. The main focus of the article deals with cuts that have been made to the popular onboard educational programs on Amtrak known as Trails & Rails. If you are not familiar with Trails & Rails, it is a partnership program between Amtrak and the National Park Service, established in the late 1990’s, that places volunteer docents on various routes all over the country to provide narration to passengers.


You may remember that the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) even co-sponsored a Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between December 2012 and July 2015. That program had over 30 guides who performed twice-weekly round-trips on the train through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri during the summer and winter holiday months. The APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Chief reached out to over 50,000 passengers during the course of its run… and it regularly ranked as one of the top Trails & Rails programs in the country in terms of both positive comments received from passengers and volunteer hours given to Amtrak and the National Park Service.

Unfortunately, even going back almost a decade, budget issues and mis-management plagued Trails & Rails. The extremely popular Chicago-to-Twin Cities Trails & Rails program on the Empire Builder was eliminated in September 2010 when Amtrak and the National Park Service decided to no longer cover the motel costs of volunteers during their layover in Minnesota. Likewise, Amtrak and the National Park Service mandated that the APRHF cover almost all of the costs of the proposed Chicago-La Plata, MO Trails & Rails program, including 100% of the layover expenses, before it was actually allowed to operate. Luckily, at the time, the APRHF had an affiliation with the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, so the program had a generous lodging sponsor. The volunteer guides themselves also made up any funding deficits out of their own pockets.


Despite all of the successes, James E. Miculka, the National Coordinator of Trails & Rails, advised the APRHF Board of Directors in July 2015 that Amtrak and the National Park Service no longer wished to partner with non-profits such as the APRHF to operate its onboard educational programs. The last run of Trails & Rails between Chicago and La Plata, MO took place later that month. Almost three years later… there are still no Chicago-based Trails & Rails programs that operate on long-distance trains. The APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program remained on the rails by quickly re-branding itself as the APRHF Rail Rangers. The independent program, which is managed by the APRHF Board of Directors, continues to be extremely successful by providing onboard educational programs several times per month on the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana… and on occasional private rail excursions across a seven-state region in the Upper Midwest.

APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “Our onboard educational programs are in a much better position now because they are managed directly by the APRHF than when we operated as part of Trails & Rails. There was a lot of red tape and bureaucracy dealing with two government organizations – Amtrak and the National Park Service. It got to a ridiculous point at the end of our runs on the Southwest Chief — Trails & Rails management actually told our guides that they couldn’t talk about a topic unless it was in the ‘approved’ reference manual. Imagine possibly seeing a blue heron or even a bald eagle fly by the train — but you couldn’t talk about it because it wasn’t an ‘approved’ topic! We were extremely limited in what we could do for our fundraising efforts, too, when we were part of Trails & Rails. I remember at one point we went to Mr. Miculka and proposed selling our route guide books on the train to raise money for Trails & Rails, offering to donate all funds made to either Amtrak or the National Park Service… and were told ‘no’! Neither organization behind Trails & Rails, nor its National Coordinator, was willing to think outside of the box… and I think that is why they are in so much trouble now and facing so many cuts. Maybe they wouldn’t have been in such a budget predicament and losing half of their programs if they had more willing to work cooperatively and productively with non-profit partners such as the APRHF, or even for-profit hotels or sponsors, to cover some of the expenses. Seems like they are learning the hard way now and their volunteers and the passengers who can’t attend programs are the ones who are suffering unfortunately.”


Passengers will indeed notice the massive cuts made to Trails & Rails this summer. Two of the three Trails & Rails programs that operated on the Empire Builder have been eliminated; including programs through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. The sole remaining Empire Builder program has been scaled back to run only with-in Washington State… meaning guides will not be on the train going through Glacier National Park. All Trails & Rails programs on the California Zephyr have been eliminated, including the extremely popular route from Denver to Grand Junction. Only one program remains on the Southwest Chief, and that has been scaled back to end in Las Vegas, New Mexico instead of Albuquerque. In fact, with the exception of one program, all Trails & Rails programs that required volunteers to overnight somewhere were either completely eliminated or severely scaled back. Many of the Trails & Rails volunteers we spoke with are upset at both Amtrak and the National Park Service for this decision – and feel that those in charge of Trails & Rails did not do enough to go to bat for keeping docents on the train. Several current Trails & Rails volunteers also made the point that cutting Trails & Rails programs will only result in Amtrak and the National Park Service saving a few pennies per passenger, if that. Volunteers on the remaining routes have been informed that neither Amtrak nor the National Park Service will pick up meal expenses… or even as little as a bottle of soda or water… in return for their time.

The APRHF Rail Rangers definitely sympathize with train passengers who value the opportunity to attend an onboard educational opportunity, but now will not be able to because of the cuts involving Trails & Rails. However, there are some exciting new options that may help fill the void.

APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explains, “We are offering some exciting new options for train travelers who love learning about what is out their window, just in time for summer vacation season. All 12 editions of our Midwestern route guidebooks are now available in e-book format. Some of the books in our ‘Outside the Rails’ series are so detailed that they feature more than one page per mile of information about the route. We have also teamed up with Eva Hoffman, a recently-displaced Trails & Rails guide out of Colorado, to have her popular route guidebooks also available in e-book format. A lot of people have wrote us over the years asking for an e-book option because the traditional hard-bound books sometimes get just too bulky to carry on the train. Eva’s ‘Flashing Yellow Guidebooks’ series cover most of the long-distance routes, while our focus is exclusively on the Midwest. Whatever edition you choose — you will learn so much!”

Train enthusiasts also have another exciting and fun option to learn about their favorite routes in the Upper Midwest. In the just the past few months, the APRHF Rail Rangers have started producing downloadable MP3 podcasts. This means you can listen to expert narration from a Rail Rangers Guide on any train at any time — just don’t forget your earphones. On June 3rd, 2018, the first of six podcasts were made available from the APRHF Rail Rangers… this includes Chicago to Milwaukee, Milwaukee to Chicago, Chicago to St. Paul-Minneapolis, St. Paul-Minneapolis to Chicago, Chicago to South Bend Airport, and South Bend Airport to Chicago.

Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “We are really excited about this podcast project. I love the fact people will be able to listen to our guides virtually on any train at any time. It’s the ultimate self-guiding experience, but it’s like we are along for the ride, too. This is something I really wanted to do for a long time.”


When all is said and done, at least 20 podcasts are planned for release. Next up to be produced will be the routes between Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac, MI. Two additional recording sessions are planned later this summer to cover the Chicago-Quincy, Chicago-La Plata, Chicago-Carbondale, and Chicago-Indianapolis routes. All 12 current APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides are lending their voices to this project.

If the podcasts end up being a success, there is the possibility they become extended to passenger train routes outside of the Midwest; the focus would then likely be on sections of routes that have lost Trails & Rails guides.

E-books and podcasts from the APRHF Rail Rangers are available at or

While onboard educational programs may be taking a hit this summer with cuts made to Trails & Rails, the APRHF Rail Rangers are certainly happy to fill the void as best they can with their route guidebooks, e-books, and podcasts.

Flashing Yellow Guidebooks Now Available in Travel-Friendly E-Book Format

At the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, we have saying… Not knowing what you are seeing out the window on a train ride… is much like watching the Travel Channel with the audio turned off. No one is going to listen to their favorite travel show on mute… so why would you hit the rails and not know what you are seeing out the window? That would just be silly! Imagine all of the cool things that could be passing you by — and you wouldn’t even know it!


To help educate passengers about the people, places, and history passing by, our APRHF Rail Rangers program has produced a total of 11 different railroad route guides that cover most of the passenger rail lines in the Upper Midwest. The book series entitled “Outside the Rails” is designed for passengers traveling between Chicago and Milwaukee, St. Paul, La Plata, Quincy, St. Louis, Carbondale, Indianapolis, and Detroit/Pontiac. The goal in writing and publishing the books was to give passengers a chance to know what they are seeing out the window… even when they don’t have one of the Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides aboard the train. Sit back, relax, open the book… and enjoy your train trip that much more! You will be amazed at how much more fun… and how much faster… a train trip will go when you are learning en route.

Originally, authors Robert and Kandace Tabern started their “Outside the Rails” book series in 2011 as a for-profit company. However, when they were appointed the Executive Director and Chicago Coordinator of the APRHF Rail Rangers program in 2015 — they decided to use all proceeds from book sales to help fund the group that provides educational programs on private rail excursions and the South Shore Line. Money raised from book sales (after the publisher is paid off) goes to fund such things as the handouts given to passengers on the train and at train shows the Rail Rangers attend… new props and informational displays… research trips for new routes… some travel expense reimbursement for volunteers… payment for the Rail Rangers’ websites and promotions… speaker upkeep and replacement… and much more. So, not only are you getting a fun book to learn about a route on your next train trip — you are helping support a wonderful 501(c)(3) non-profit organization who offers guided tours several times per month on various railroad lines.

A few years ago, “Outside the Rails” and the APRHF Rail Rangers decided to team up to cross-promote book series with Colorado-based author Eva Hoffman, who wrote her own series of railroad route guides under the “Flashing Yellow Guidebooks” title. In fact, “Flashing Yellow” served as the original inspiration for “Outside the Rails”! While “Outside the Rails” exclusively focuses on educating passengers about Upper Midwestern train routes, “Flashing Yellow” covers the various long-distance train lines in-depth, from Maine to California. Author Eva Hoffman has written route guidebooks for various Amtrak routes… including the Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Southwest Chief, Coast Starlight, Texas Eagle, Sunset Limited, Northeast Corridor, and Downeaster. Right now there are 16 editions currently available… with books for the City of New Orleans and Capitol Limited coming in the near future.

Up until now, all 11 editions of “Outside the Rails” and 16 editions of “Flashing Yellow” were only available in hard book format. While passengers enjoyed this option and will continue to enjoy this option — we are happy to announce that all books are now available in an e-book PDF format. Yes… instead of carrying around pounds of heavy books… you can simply purchase the books that will cover your route on to your e-reader, laptop, Kindle, tablet, or other device. It will make enjoying the scenery that much lighter and travel-friendly! Many fans of both railroad route guide series have been requesting this for many years, but it wasn’t until recently that we found a reasonably-priced provider to host this service. In addition, there is special software provided by the host that marks the purchaser’s contact information so the PDF files can not be duplicated without it being trace-able back to the purchaser.

Both the traditional books and e-books are available exclusively through MIDWESTRAILS.COM. The purchase price allows the buyer to 5 downloads — so with one purchase — you could theoretically have a copy on your phone, laptop, Kindle, and two different tablets!


As an incentive to purchase the e-book versions, for a limited time, “Outside the Rails” is offering its e-books at 25% off the hard copy version. That is something that is too good to be true for travelers planning their summer vacation.

* = There is no shipping and handling charged and sales taxes are built in to the sale prices of all e-books. Please be aware that our vendor, Sellfy, does charge a 7% handling fee for each book which is not reflected in these prices, but will be charged to the customer at the time of check-out.

The following editions of “Outside the Rails” are now available:

* Chicago to Milwaukee, WI ($15.00*)

* Chicago to St. Paul, MN – Abbreviated ($11.25*)

* Chicago to St. Paul, MN – Expanded ($26.25*)

* Chicago to La Plata, MO – Abbreviated ($7.25*)

* Chicago to La Plata, MO – Expanded ($26.25*)

* Chicago to Quincy, IL ($11.25*)

* Chicago to St. Louis, MO ($15.00*)

* Chicago to Carbondale, IL ($15.00*)

* Chicago to Indianapolis, IN/Riding the Hoosier Rails ($15.00*)

* Chicago to South Bend, IN/South Shore Line ($15.00*)

* Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac, MI ($15.00*)


The following editions of “Flashing Yellow Guidebooks” is now available:

* St. Paul, MN to Glacier Park, MT ($14.00*)

* Glacier Park, MT to Seattle, WA/Portland, OR ($15.00*)

* Chicago, IL to Denver, CO ($10.00*)

* Denver, CO to Salt Lake City, UT ($12.00*)

* Salt Lake City, UT to San Francisco Bay Area, CA ($15.00*)

* Chicago to Kansas City, MO ($8.50*)

* Kansas City, MO to Albuquerque, NM ($14.00*)

* Albuquerque, NM to Los Angeles, CA ($12.00*)

* Chicago to San Antonio, TX ($20.00*)

* New Orleans, LA to San Antonio, TX ($15.00*)

* San Antonio, TX to Los Angeles, CA ($16.00*)

* Sacramento, CA to Los Angeles, CA ($10.00*)

* Seattle, WA to Sacramento, CA ($12.00*)

* New York City to Washington, DC ($14.00*)

* New York City to Boston, MA ($15.00*)

* Boston, MA to Coastal Maine/Downeaster ($8.50*)

We think you’ll agree that these books (and now e-books!) make great gifts for yourself and loved one who will be taking the train.

Thanks in large part to book sales… the APRHF Rail Rangers have been able to self-fund almost all of their expenses. In the three years the program has been operating, no money from the APRHF General Fund has been used for handouts, promotions, and many other expenses. This means money raised from memberships and donations to the General Fund are able to stay in La Plata and help with projects out there such as the Lookout Point Park and Exhibition of Amtrak History.

Get your favorite book OR e-book now at MIDWESTRAILS.COM!

So what’s next? When not actually on the train… The APRHF Rail Rangers will begin working on developing MP3 podcasts for train passengers. More details coming soon! This is a project that will likely take several years to fully complete — but we hope to begin rolling out the podcasts one-by-one… with the first one arriving in late spring or early summer 2018.