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:

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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 LoungeCars.com, AmtrakDome.com, and PacificParlourCar.com… 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 board@railrangers.org. 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 board@railrangers.org. 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.

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #14: Midwest Rail Rangers Host Parlour Car “Open House” at Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad – October 5, 2019

Well, we have been teasing some big news going on with the Midwest Rail Rangers the past couple of days on our Facebook and Twitter pages… and here is the scoop (but first, a little history!)…

It was 63 years ago this summer that the Santa Fe rolled out its then-brand new fleet of Hi-Level equipment on the famed El Capitan train between Chicago and Los Angeles. Included were six Hi-Level lounge cars that featured panoramic seating on the upper level and the Kachina Coffee Shop on the lower level. These cars would go on to out-live passenger service on the Santa Fe… and on May 1, 1971… were sold off to Amtrak. They continued to be used on the combined El Capitan and Super Chief (and later Southwest Limited). The Hi-Level lounges were so sturdy, reliable, and beloved that they served as the inspiration for Amtrak’s Superliner Sightseer Lounge Cars that began to roll off the assembly line in the early 1980’s… and are still in use on many long-distance trains today. Five of the six former Santa Fe Hi-Level lounges got a second life in 1995, when Amtrak executive Brian Rosenwald came up with a plan to refurbish them and use them as first class lounge car on the Coast Starlight. For the next 23 years, these beautiful cars would be used as a diner/lounge knows as the Pacific Parlour Car. Perhaps you had the chance to ride them through California, Oregon, or Washington State?

Times are no doubt changing at Amtrak… and by February 2018… the company’s new CEO Richard Anderson made the decision to pull all five of the Pacific Parlour Cars out of regular service and sell them off to private individuals through an auction process. One of the successful bidders was the Vreeland Family, who owns and operates the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad outside of Spooner/Trego, Wisconsin (in Washburn County). Yes, through the Vreeland’s hard work and dedication — a former Pacific Parlour Car would be coming here to the Midwest to be preserved! Ex-Amtrak Pacific Parlour Car “Napa Valley” #39972 arrived at the Wisconsin Great Northern on July 11, 2019… and has been used this summer and fall for Sunday wine and cheese trains… re-named as Sky Parlour Car “Namekagon View” (named for a local river that the train passes by).

In fact, the Wisconsin Great Northern is currently THE ONLY place in the entire country that is offering regularly scheduled rides on a former Santa Fe Hi-Level / Pacific Parlour Car. Given how special and rare this car is… the Midwest Rail Rangers has agreed to partner with the Wisconsin Great Northern for a special event on Saturday, October 5th to help promote the history of the car… and for people to come out and experience why this private car is so special.

Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern explains, “Over the past four years now, the two major goals of our non-profit 501(c)(3) organization has been to promote the history of the South Shore Line… where we do regular on-board educational programs on… and then, of course, presenting programs on private railcars all across the Upper Midwest. When we first started up the Rail Rangers in 2015, our team of guides would present between 10 and 15 programs a year on private railcar trips that were run on the back of Amtrak trains. But, because of Amtrak’s new restrictions on private cars and the huge increase in costs for these kind of trips — the number of traditional private car trips has dropped off by around 60 to 70 percent a year that pass through the area. So, our Board has decided we need to look at alternate methods of education on private railcars. We will still do traditional private car trips whenever we can. But this will also mean teaming with organizations such as the Wisconsin Great Northern, who owns some very beautiful private cars. They might not run 79mph on the back of an Amtrak train… but it’s very important people come up and support the organizations like the Wisconsin Great Northern —- who have bought these cars and are preserving them. So we are here today to announce a new test partnership where our Interpretive Guides will be aboard the car.”

So, come out and join the Midwest Rail Rangers on Saturday, October 5, 2019 at the Wisconsin Great Northern. Between 10:00am and 4:00pm, a FREE “Open House” will be held at the railroad’s depot in Trego, Wisconsin… located about 2 hours from the Twin Cities… 5 hours from Milwaukee… and 6.5 hours from Chicago. But yes, it’s worth the drive up! Remember this is the only place in the country you can currently experience one of these special cars. Come and meet with Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern, Educational Officer Kandace Tabern, and Interpretive Guide Bruce Stahl. Besides a tour of the car — there will be over two dozen pieces of historic memorabilia on display from the Rail Rangers collection. A movie about the history of the car will also be shown… and a special new 52 page book about the history of the car will also make its debut (books will be available for purchase in the gift shop — then bring them out to the car to be autographed).

And while you’re there on Saturday, October 5, 2019 for the Sky Parlour Open House — why not go for a ride? Tickets are still available for the 12:00n pizza train plus the 2:00p and 3:00p sightseeing trips. And while the Sky Parlour will be stationary for the Open House… you can come out the following day (Sunday, October 6, 2019) for a ride on the 11:00am wine and cheese train.

For tickets, just head to www.SpoonerTrainRide.com or call Wisconsin Great Northern.

Midwest Rail Rangers President says, “Partnering with the Wisconsin Great Northern to promote their luxurious private railcar that has so much history on both the Santa Fe and Amtrak fits in so well with the Midwest Rail Rangers’ mission. We look forward to the event and hope a lot of people come out to experience the special displays, including a new book and movie that we will be working hard to finish up production on in the next couple of weeks”.

If this event is deemed a success, the Midwest Rail Rangers is hoping to offer multiple days in 2020 that its Interpretive Guides will have a presence on the Sky Parlour at the Wisconsin Great Northern. Stay tuned for more details on that in the months ahead…

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #1: New Name & Look for 2019: APRHF Rail Rangers Become Midwest Rail Rangers

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The following is a important message from APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern and APRHF Secretary Kandace Tabern:

We greet you with some exciting news involving the future of Rail Rangers.

For the past four years, the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) has proudly sponsored the Rail Rangers as one of its outreach affiliates. During that time, the group’s Interpretive Guides have presented dozens of on-board educational programs on private rail excursions across a seven-state region of the Upper Midwest — including traveling through portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. Interpretive Guides have also reached out to thousands of passengers on the South Shore Line with their on-board educational programs that occur two to three times per month year-round between Chicago and South Bend, IN. The Rail Rangers have also enjoyed meeting countless supporters over the years at outreach events such as Trainfest, Mad City Rail, and presentations at local libraries and train clubs. We also appreciate your enthusiasm for our railroad route guide books, PDF e-books, and new MP3 podcasts… along with the Rail Rangers’ new historical passenger railroad website collection, such as AmtrakDome.com and PacificParlourCar.com.

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Based on all of these accomplishments… and more that will be announced soon… a decision has been made by the APRHF Board of Directors that now is the time to spin-off the Rail Rangers into its own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit. We are confident that this decision, which was not taken lightly, will better both groups. The APRHF will be able to narrow its focus to its La Plata, Missouri-centered projects, such as the proposed expansion of Lookout Point Park. Meanwhile, the Rail Rangers will be in a much better position to fine-tune their on-board educational efforts…. which will include expanding the number and quality of its programs. The Rail Rangers will also be able to have direct control over incoming donations and finances.

Please know that the goal of everyone on the APRHF Board, and the future Midwest Rail Rangers Board, will be to ensure a smooth and seamless transition for our private and public rail partners and riders. Our hope is that the casual APRHF and Rail Rangers supporter will not even notice any differences.

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The Rail Rangers will continue to work together with our private/charter rail partners — including the Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Paxrail, Iowa Pacific Holdings, and the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago. The Rail Rangers look forward to having our Interpretive Guides on just as many historic private car trips in the Midwest as we did in past years, if not more-so in 2019.  (We hope to begin announcing some private rail trips soon!) . The Rail Rangers will also continue working with the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) to provide our popular South Shore Line programs multiple times per month year-round. In fact, a new contract will soon be signed extending our educational partnership agreement with NICTD through January 2021! The Rail Rangers will also continue production/research of brand new railroad route guide books, e-books, and podcasts in 2019… and continue to build additional historical websites for your enjoyment.

What will mostly occur during this upcoming transition period will be “behind the scenes”… stuff you likely won’t see… but we wanted to briefly share with you. Effective Saturday, December 22, 2018, the Rail Rangers will become a temporary chapter of the APRHF entitled “The Midwest Rail Rangers Chapter of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation”. This Chapter will remain in place until the paperwork, that was already filed, is approved by the state and federal government for the Rail Rangers to become their own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Once that takes place, the name will legally change to “Midwest Rail Rangers”.  But hey, just call us the Rail Rangers, okay? We’re all friends around here. We anticipate the whole process to be completed during the first quarter of 2019.

The new Midwest Rail Rangers Board will be made up of its current dedicated Coordinators and Guides… including Robert Tabern (President), Robert Neil (Vice President), Dave Poole (Treasurer), Kathy Bruecker (Secretary), and Kandace Tabern (Educational Officer).

We are happy to remind you that all previously announced Rail Rangers on-board educational programs remain on the schedule… including the following 14 dates for the South Shore Line: December 15 and December 23 in 2018 and January 5, January 19, January 26, February 2, February 23, February 24, March 2, March 9, March 23, April 6, April 13, and April 27 in 2019.  The Rail Rangers will also still make their planned appearance at the Mad City Train Show in Madison, Wisconsin on February 9-10, 2019.  We hope to see you out there… it’s going to be a busy winter and spring for us!

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The Rail Rangers will continue to have their memorabilia items on display at the APRHF’s Exhibition of Amtrak History in La Plata, MO for just a few more weeks — so come and see them soon before they get a new home.
It is important to note that donations and membership dues paid to the APRHF will no longer go towards supporting the Rail Rangers programs, effective immediately… but will be used for other projects in La Plata. You can choose to continue supporting the Rail Rangers by donating directly to their organization… additional information and a donation button is located at www.railrangers.org.

This will also be the final posting about the Rail Rangers program here on www.aprhf.org. To follow the Rail Rangers, you will need to head to www.railrangers.org.  You can use the “Contact Us” link on the left side of the page to sign up for the Rail Rangers E-Newsletter, which will continue to give supporters an early look at upcoming trips and events. You can also follow the Rail Rangers on Facebook at www.facebook.com/railrangers.

Finally, in order to focus our full-time attention on the transition to what will be the Midwest Rail Rangers, the two of us will be stepping down from APRHF’s Board of Directors effective Friday, December 21, 2018. It has been a pleasure serving as your Vice President and Secretary for the past two years. We thank the APRHF for their support over the past four years of the Rail Rangers — we’re honored to keep your vision alive. We also wish the APRHF good luck with whatever projects they decide to undertake in the future.  We will continue to write monthly articles for TrainWeb, which is under the leadership of our good friend Steve Grande.

We hope to see you soon… All Aboard with the Rail Rangers!

Thanks,
Robert & Kandace Tabern
APRHF Vice President & Secretary

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Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from the APRHF Rail Rangers

As 2017 comes to a close and you are busy spending today (Christmas Day!) with your friends and family, we at the APRHF Rail Rangers would like to take a minute out of the busy holiday period and thank you for your support this year… and yes… we continue looking forward to serving you with what will likely be a record number of rail excursions with our Interpretive Guides aboard in 2018.

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As we have mentioned in several posts so far… this month we have been celebrating the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s 5th Anniversary of sponsoring on-board educational programs. Prior to this happening, much of the activity of the APRHF focused solely on the various rail-themed venues in La Plata, Missouri, such as the Exhibition of Amtrak History and Lookout Point Park. While this was all well and good, the decision was made in December 2012 by the APRHF Board of Directors to also expand the 501(c)(3) non-profit’s mission beyond the confines of just one city. An agreement was signed on December 3, 2012 with the National Park Service, Amtrak, and Texas A&M University to co-sponsor a Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief through portions of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. We reached out to over 50,000 Amtrak passengers during the course of our 2013, 2014, and 2015 seasons. If you rode the Southwest Chief during this time, you may have seen our volunteers in the Sightseer Lounge Car in their signature green shirts talking about such landmarks as Cherry Mine, the Mississippi River at Fort Madison, or maybe Gorin, Missouri, once home of the world’s tallest woman, Ella Ewing.

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When Trails & Rails decided to end the agreement in July 2015, it was because of YOUR support and YOUR positive calls and e-mails, that the APRHF Board of Directors decided to keep our on-board educational programs “on track” with the formation of the APRHF Rail Rangers program. It was something we would have direct control over and be able to better administer to the wants of our passengers. The rest has been history and amazing almost three years now of having our Interpretive Guides aboard dozens of private rail excursions — and now programs every two weeks or so on the South Shore Line.

APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern says, “Things have worked out so well with the APRHF Rail Rangers thanks to our supporters — especially folks who are APRHF Members. When we started the program back on July 20, 2015, we didn’t know what would happen. Obviously, we didn’t have the funds to organize our own private rail excursions. All we knew was because of Trails & Rails’ exclusive agreement with Amtrak, we have to find some other venue to do our programs. Private rail excursions was about the only route for us to go at the time.”

Succeed the APRHF Rail Rangers did. The organization currently has eight different partnership agreements in place to put its programs on for both public and private rail excursions; these include Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route Tours, American Rail Excursions, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Paxrail, South Shore Line, the National Park Service (Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore), and the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago. This doesn’t even include special short-term partnerships the APRHF Rail Rangers have had to do special programs, like with Iowa Pacific on the Hoosier State and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP).

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APRHF Secretary and Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “We are so happy when we get a round of applause at the end of our programs from passengers. We always have people coming up to us on the train and asking how much more they have to pay to listen to our narration. Or sometimes we have people saying we have the best job in the world to be paid to narrate on trains all day long. It’s at that point, we explain we are part of a volunteer group called the APRHF Rail Rangers. It doesn’t cost you anything more to listen to us — we do it because we want people to be educated on what they are seeing out their window. And even though we DO think we have the best job in the world being part of the APRHF and the Rail Rangers, it’s a volunteer job. We don’t get paid anything for what we do. All of our Interpretive Guides have paid jobs during the week — we just do this on the weekends because we love spending time with all of the grateful passengers. It’s not about us — it’s about giving back and enhancing passengers’ experiences.”

Since the end of 2017 is just a week away, it’s time to look back and look forward.

The year 2017 saw some pretty exciting private rail excursions for the APRHF Rail Rangers. The “premiere” trip of the year took place between August 19-22, 2017, when more than 50 passengers boarded a full-length dome car in Chicago. Our partner for the weekend was Mike Abernathy and Zephyr Route Tours. The destination was the APRHF Headquarters city of La Plata, Missouri. It was there all of the passengers spent two days and three nights. Stops in the area included the Walt Disney Museum in Marceline and a guided tour at Thousand Hills State Park. An unplanned stop to see the Weinermobile in Kirksville was even thrown in there! The real reason people made this trip was to see the Great American Total Solar Eclipse. Instead of fighting crowds and traffic, a special viewing was arranged at a private horse farm near Boonville, Missouri. The clouds broke just in time for everyone to witness the rare phenomenon. We even had Timm Bottoni aboard, who is an expert astronomer from the Chicagoland area to explain what everyone was viewing. It took everyone’s breath away when the horses and cattle began coming back to the barns when they thought it was sunset… but then they turned around and walked back out to the fields after the eclipse happened and it began to get lighter.

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Other private rail excursions in 2017 included trips to St. Louis, Springfield, and the Twin Cities with American Rail Excursions. The Friends of the 261 offered up their annual North Pole Express steam trip earlier this month in Saint Paul, Minnesota — our Interpretive Guides worked seven of the departures in just one day! Zephyr Route also featured trips to Galesburg, Quincy, Hannibal, and the Twin Cities.

Of course another big development in 2017 for the APRHF Rail Rangers happened with our public rail trips. We started the first two months of this year continuing on with our narration aboard the ex-Santa Fe dome car on the Hoosier State on select Sunday mornings between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois. Unfortunately, on March 1, 2017, Amtrak took back over the route from our partner – Iowa Pacific Holdings. Even though the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) got positive reviews about our onboard educational programs, Amtrak decided it did not want our Interpretive Guides aboard. Our last Hoosier State program took lace on Saturday, February 25, 2017. After some re-shuffling, INDOT made the initial contact to get our public program shifted over to the South Shore Line. Our Interpretive Guides spent much of the spring and summer leaning the new route – with the first program launching on Saturday, August 5, 2017. In just five months, a whole new program was developed! That’s pretty good for an all-volunteer group. The South Shore Line received so much positive feedback from passengers, a long-term deal was recently signed with even the National Park Service coming aboard to be a co-sponsor. Again, all of this happens because of YOUR e-mail and YOUR support… including YOU becoming a new APRHF Member or by renewing your membership.

This time of the year is also one to look ahead.

Right now, we continue to work with our private rail partners on 2018 trips. Some of the destinations we may be headed to in the New Year? Well, St. Paul, Duluth, Hannibal, Quincy, Galesburg, Springfield, St. Louis, and many more are in the planning phases. We are not quite ready to announce any dates yet — but we are hoping to have something for you by late February or early March, if not even sometime next month. Stay tuned! Of course, feedback on where you would like to go in a historic dome car or observation car is always welcome. Just drop us an e-mail at railrangers@aprhf.org.

We also are excited to continue our South Shore Line program in 2018. We’ll be going out this Saturday (December 30, 2017) and three times in January 2018 (January 6, January 20, and January 27). We will also be posting our February, March, and April dates on here soon! Check back for a post on this website on New Years’ Day that will list those… we are expecting to do at least seven additional programs during this period. The best part of the South Shore programs are — there are NO reservations. Just hop on when you want on an assigned Rail Rangers dates and enjoy. It’s just $27 round-trip from Chicago to South Bend. You get more than 4 hours worth of narration during that time and a 180 mile train ride.

So, time to get off the ol’ computer and wrap this up… so we can enjoy some time with our families opening presents today! But, once again, THANK YOU for being an APRHF Member and/or supporter of our APRHF Rail Rangers program. If you haven’t already, please give us a “like” on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/railrangers. We are very close to getting 400 “likes”! A little elf told us that there’s even a special Christmas message LIVE from Union Station over there for you to watch now. If you have ridden with the APRHF Rail Rangers, but haven’t taken the full leap of becoming an APRHF Member — we encourage you to do that in the New Year. Memberships start at just $10 per year — that’s like 83 cents per month. We also offer higher membership that will further your experience. For example, for just $65 a month, you get a NARM reciprocal membership deal that also lets you into hundreds of museums across the country for free. You can easily make up that $65 you spend in membership dues with what you save by visiting other museums. All of the money raised goes towards the various APRHF venues in La Plata, but also for supporting the Rail Rangers program — and upkeep on our wireless speaker system, research, and paying for the maps and handouts we give out to passengers for free.

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Rail Rangers November/December 2017 Events: NARP Chicago, Trainfest, South Shore Trips, North Pole Express

November and early December 2017 is shaping up to be another busy period for the APRHF Rail Rangers with special excursions planned for NARP’s 50th Anniversary ‘Rail Nation’ Celebration in Chicago, a memorable weekend at Trainfest in Milwaukee, two special South Shore Line trips that coordinate with the busy Thanksgiving travel season, and the Friends of the 261’s North Pole Express in St. Paul, MN In fact, we have events going on 5 weekends in a row! How about that for staying active in the community?

Let’s provide a quick rundown of what we have going on:

Earlier this week, the APRHF Board of Directors received a phone call from Bruce Becker, NARP’s Vice President of Operations. He inquired if the APRHF Rail Rangers would be able to serve as Interpretive Guides on two special excursions that were being planned for the organization’s ‘Rail Nation’ Event in Chicago on the weekend of November 4th and 5th. Since the APRHF and NARP share some of the same goals of advocating the advancement passenger rail, we were happy to oblige, even with the short notice.

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SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2017 – Dome Car to Milwaukee Roundtrip: Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Lead Interpretive Guide Robert Neil will be presenting an onboard educational program for passengers on the NARP’s “Afternoon Hiawatha” round-trip excursion between Chicago and Milwaukee. Passengers will board at 1:05pm at Chicago Union Station, have a brief 25 minute layover in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and return back to Chicago at 4:39pm. Those who buy tickets for this special excursion will be treated to amazing views of the passing Illinois and Wisconsin countryside aboard the Friends of the 261 “Super Dome #53”, which has been featured on many previous APRHF Rail Rangers journeys. Tickets include round-trip seating in the dome car, the onboard educational program/narration by the APRHF Rail Rangers, a lite lunch (assorted sandwiches, chips, and cookies) and soft drinks, 2 free beers and/or wines, and additional beer or wine available for purchase. Those who purchase tickets for this excursion will be able to take a tour of Chicago Union Station at 11:45am and view various special Amtrak equipment displays — even a new Viewliner II Dining Car is expected to be shown. Come and join the Rail Rangers to learn about such sites as the cabbage fields of Racine County, historic mansions that once lined the tracks around Lake Forest, the Great Rondout Train Robbery, the famous ‘Save Ferris’ water tower in Northbrook, and a historic airbase that several former Presidents served at… plus much more. The Rail Rangers will be selling copies of their Chicago to Milwaukee and Chicago to St. Paul, MN route guidebooks on this trip with a portion of the sales being donated to NARP. As of October 26th, a very limited number of tickets were still available for $149 for registered NARP Rail Nation attendees or $169 for the general public. Ticketing is handled through NARP (Rail Rangers, nor Friends of the 261 is handling ticketing). For more information and a link to get your tickets, please check out their website: https://www.narprail.org/events/rail-nation-chicago/

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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 5, 2017 – South Shore Line to Michigan City Roundtrip: After riding with the APRHF Rail Rangers to Wisconsin on Saturday, why not head the other direction to Indiana on Sunday and really see the whole tri-state area? We will once again be partnering with NARP to present a rare Sunday morning onboard interpretive program on the South Shore Line between Chicago-Millennium Station and Michigan City, Indiana. This excursion departs Chicago-Millenium Station at 10:45am on Train #603, arriving in Michigan City-Carroll Avenue at 12:30pm. After a 20 minute layover, we’ll board westbound Train #506, which leaves Michigan City-Carroll Avenue at 12:52pm and arrive back at Chicago-Millenium Station at 2:39pm. This trip is also presented in partnership with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District/South Shore Line. Narration will be presented going eastbound to Michigan City, with Interpretive Guides roaming the train and answering questions from passengers going westbound. Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Lead Interpretive Guide Robert Neil will once again be your hosts for this special excursion. Travelers will have the option of purchasing on of the Rail Rangers’ 120-page route guidebooks for the South Shore Line, with a portion of each sale being donated to NARP. Travelers who have their Passport To Your National Parks passport books will also want to bring them along, because guides will have a special cancellation stamp for the South Shore for Pullman National Monument, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Kankakee River National Water Trail. Ticketing information for this trip is provided on NARP’s website (the Rail Rangers can not hold seats, nor do we handle any ticketing issues): https://www.narprail.org/events/rail-nation-chicago/

As they say, there is no rest for the weary — as the following weekend the APRHF Rail Rangers will be busy attending their biggest outreach event of the year — at Trainfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Simply put, it’s the largest model train show anywhere in the world. Come out an join us between 9:00AM and 5:00PM on either SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2017 or SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2017. The APRHF Rail Rangers will be making their third appearance in a row at Trainfest to meet with attendees and talk about private rail excursions and their year-round programs on the South Shore Line. As always, the APRHF Rail Rangers will be selling copies of all 11 editions of their route guidebooks and their Junior Rail Rangers program (prices range from $10 to $35). On Saturday afternoon, Junior Ranger Aida Frey, who is 16-years old and has visited 299 National Park Service units will be making an appearance to talk to visitors about taking trains to national parks and be signing copies of her new book. Aida is known as the ‘Sweetheart of the National Park Service’. Members of the National Park Passport Club will also be having a special event at our booth on Saturday afternoon, as they come out to get some new cancellations stamps exclusively available through the Rail Rangers. In addition, APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern and APRHF Secretary Kandace Tabern will be giving special talks at Trainfest for the first time this year. On Saturday, November 11th at 2:00pm, learn about what it takes to write railroad route guidebooks. The Taberns will share some thoughts about what makes a good writer and route guidebook, in addition to sharing some of their funny experiences over the past five years writing their books. On Sunday, November 12th at 1:00pm, the Rail Rangers will hold a special clinic to talk about some of the private cars theyhave rode on in the past three years as part of the program. The special programs are included with your Trainfest admission, but you must pre-register at: https://www.trainfest.com/events/list/?tribe_paged=2&tribe_event_display=list

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This year will feature an expanded set-up for the APRHF that will include SIX tables (versus the usual TWO). One table will be for book sales, two tables will feature model railroad car displays, one table will feature information about how you can earn Junior Ranger badges on trains, and another two table will feature displays about the APRHF Rail Rangers private railcar and South Shore Line trips.

Thanksgiving is quickly approaching, and what better time to ride the South Shore Line to get to Grandma’s house this year? The APRHF Rail Rangers continue to present onboard educational programs aboard the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend. Programs will be presented on SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 18, 2017 and SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 26, 2017. Come out and learn about the interesting things along the 90-mile route… including the buildings of Downtown Chicago, the historic steel-mill area of Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the rural farmscape of La Porte and St. Joseph Counties. Live narration will be provided on one car, with the program being presented at no additional cost beyond your normal South Shore Line fare. Our eastbound programs begin at 8:40am CST at Chicago-Millenium Station and end at 12:10pm EST at South Bend-Airport Station. Our westbound programs begin at 1:05pm EST at South Bend-Airport and end at 2:39pm CST at Chicago-Millenium. Route guides will be available for sale on both of these trips; Passport cancellation stamps will be available on the November 26th trip only. We are offering a special program on Sunday, November 26th, as this is one of the busiest travel days of the year following the Thanksgiving holidays.

And finally, mark your calendar for SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2017, as the APRHF Rail Rangers will once again be working with the Friends of the 261 to staff the North Pole Express in Saint Paul, Minnesota this day. There are multiple departures, including 10:00am, 11:30am, 1:00pm, 3:00pm, 4:30pm, 6:00pm and 7:30pm. As of October 26th when this press release was written, tickets are available for some excursions, however some trips have already sold out. Traditionally, all departures have sold out weeks in advance, so do not wait much longer! APRHF Rail Rangers Robert Tabern, Kandace Tabern, Robert Neil, and Dave Poole will serve as car hosts on this train, welcoming people aboard and building up the anticipation to Santa. This is the largest fundraiser of the year put on by our partner organization, the Friends of the 261, which operates Milwaukee Road Steam Locomotive 261. The Friends of the 261 has been a strong supporter of the APRHF Rail Rangers and one of our original partners – so we enjoy ‘paying back the kindness’ and working this magical holiday train every year. Ticketing is handled exclusively by the Friends of the 261, with tickets available on their website at: https://www.showclix.com/event/north-pole-express-2017

Explore Fall Foliage with the APRHF Rail Rangers

It’s beginning to get colder outside and the leaves on the trees outside are changing from summer green to the brilliant yellows and reds of autumn. That means it’s the perfect time for a train ride before the busy holiday season is here before you know it. And what better way to ride a train than with the APRHF Rail Rangers… where you can learn about the sites outside your window. During the month of October, the APRHF Rail Rangers will be presenting onboard educational programs through no less than four states in the Upper Midwest.

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Three APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides will be aboard the Zephyr Route private rail excursion that will take place between Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities between October 13th and October 15th. Two private cars will be placed on the back of Amtrak’s westbound Empire Builder on Friday, October 13th through Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Passengers will have the entire day on Saturday, October 14th to explore around the Twin Cities, including the Mall of America and other sites. Then, the private cars will be placed back on Amtrak’s eastbound Empire Builder train on Sunday, October 15th for the 410-mile return journey. Those aboard will be treated to beautiful fall colors in the urban Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, through the Driftless Area of Central Wisconsin, and along the Mississippi River in Minnesota. Making the journey will be CB&Q observation cars Silver Lariat and Silver Solarium. This excursion has unfortunately been SOLD OUT for several months now. Be sure to keep watching the Rail Rangers’ website (www.railrangers.org) if you wish to be part of this trip in 2018. We anticipate dates to be chosen and tickets to go on sale around February or March 2018.

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You can still join the APRHF Rail Rangers and enjoy the season’s colors by participating in one of their excursions on the South Shore Line. In case you haven’t heard — the APRHF and the South Shore Line have joined forces to educate passengers about what they are seeing out their window through Chicago and Northwest Indiana. Our Interpretive Guides will be on select weekend departures of the South Shore Line round-trip between Chicago-Millenium Station and South Bend-Airport Station. Upcoming programs are slated for October 6, October 21, November 18, and November 26. Guides leave Chicago on the 8:40am CT train and arrive in South Bend at 12:10pm ET. After a brief layover, guides will present a similar program for westbound passengers on the train that leaves South Bend at 1:05pm ET and arrives back in Chicago at 2:40pm CT. Narration will take place in one designated car (usually towards the middle of the train). The train line between Chicago and South Bend passes through or near four units of the National Park Service — including the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, Pullman National Monument, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Kankakee River National Water Trail. Enjoy varied landscapes during the 2.5 hour train journey — as we move from the skyscrapers of Downtown Chicago to the historic steel-mill region near Gary to the Indiana Dunes and finally the farm lands of La Porte and St. Joseph Counties.

The best part is the program is FREE once your paid the standard fare for your South Shore Line ticket. Seating in the Rail Rangers car is on a first come, first serve basis only; we are not able to reserve seats for people in advance.

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Finally, an APRHF Rail Ranger guide will be aboard the 20th Century Railroad Club’s Amtrak coach charter between Chicago and Springfield, Illinois on Saturday, November 11th. Learn about such interesting landmarks as Route 66, coal mining in Illinois, and our 16th President Abraham Lincoln. More details on this trip, including possible ticket availability, can be found on the 20th Century Railroad Club’s website at www.20thcentury.org.

You can also mark your calendars for two special outreach programs that will also take place during this time period. Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers will be giving a one-hour presentation at the Morton Grove Public Library in suburban Chicago at 11:00am on Saturday, October 21st. Learn how the Rail Rangers was formed, the connection between railroads and our national parks, plus more about our route guidebook series. Then, join us on Saturday, November 11th or Sunday, November 12th at Train Fest 2017 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. APRHF Rail Rangers volunteers will be on hand to talk with you about private railcars and out railroad route guidebooks. Special guests this year include APRHF President Bob Cox and APRHF Treasurer Amy Cox who will be bringing the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s layout to Trainfest for the first time. Be sure to check out www.trainfest.com for more details. You can even register to attend two special lectures being put on by APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern and APRHF Secretary Kandace Tabern. The duo will speak on November 11th at 2:00pm about writing railroad route guidebooks and on November 12th at 1:00pm about private railcars that have made recent appearances in the Midwest. You must pre-register for these clinics on the Trainfest website.

It’s a busy October and November for the Rail Rangers — and we hope you can be part of our fall!

And don’t forget — we will be getting together in late November with several of our private rail partners to discuss 2018 trip ideas. If you have a great idea for a destination — drop us an e-mail at info@railrangers.org before November 20th.

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