Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #38 – 11/21/2021: Midwest Rail Rangers Announce Winter/Spring 2021-22 South Shore Schedule

Sunday, November 21, 2021

The Midwest Rail Rangers Board and Interpretive Guides would like to wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!  We are VERY thankful for all of you who attend our programs, buy our railroad route guide books, and make donations to keep us rolling. We are also thankful to our wonderful partners such as the 20th Century Railroad Club, Indiana Dunes State Park, NICTD/South Shore Line, Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, Zephyr Route Tours, Paxrail, Friends of the 261, and our many other private rail groups that we have and will continue to work with.

This year we are EXTRA thankful to have been able to resume our onboard educational programs after quite a long hiatus during the start of COVID-19.  Last year at this time, we didn’t know if or when we would be able to see you again. However, we got rolling mid-year… returning to an outreach event in Green Bay over the summer… resuming several South Shore Line trips per month starting in July… having a series of private car trips between St. Louis and Kansas City – also in July… and going on two trips with the 20th Century Railroad Club in September and October.

2022 plans for the Midwest Rail Rangers are already in the works… and we look forward to a lot of exciting adventures together.

Over the upcoming winter… our popular onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line will be our focus.

Join us on any of these dates:

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Thursday trips will operate roundtrip on the South Shore  Line between Chicago and Michigan City, Indiana.  Saturday trips will operate on the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. More details below and on our website.  Hope to see you enjoying the Indiana Dunes by train this winter!

AND… We look forward to seeing everyone on Saturday, December 4th at the Friends of the 261 North Pole Express Train in St. Paul, Minnesota! We will have Midwest Rail Rangers Guides on their 10:00AM, 11:30AM, and 1:00PM departures serving as car hosts. We did receive some calls about this… and want to report that all tickets for this day are SOLD OUT already.  But, we look forward to seeing all of those who were lucky enough to get tickets.

ALSO… Are you or someone you know planning an Amtrak trip in 2022? Please consider purchasing one of our railroad route guidebooks as a Christmas gift! Information is below. This way you can “take us with you”… knowing about everything outside your window. We have traditional book formats for most Amtrak long distance routes… as well as e-books.  Some sections even have MP3 podcasts available. Details below. Not only will you have a fun and unique gift… but your purchase helps to support the Midwest Rail Rangers.

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #37 – 10/10/2021: Midwest Rail Rangers Indiana Dunes Open House on October 20th

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Midwest Rail Rangers have presented year-round onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line since August 2017. Interpretive Guides give talks to passengers about the history of the south side of Chicago, the historic steel-making region of Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Dunes State and National Park, and the rural farming region of La Porte and St. Joseph County. Since June 2019, our programs have also been an official interpretive program of Indiana Dunes State Park, too.

And now… we will be hosting our very first “open house” event at Indiana Dunes State Park… and you’re invited.

Midwest Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides will be presenting a newly designed slide show about the Midwest Rail Rangers program on Wednesday, October 20, 2021 at both 2:00pm and 5:30pm. The programs are designed for both the general public who are interested in learning about what we do on the South Shore Line… as well as for those who might be interested in becoming one of our Interpretive Guide Trainees.

Our “open house” for Midwest Rail Rangers on the South Shore Line will take place at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center located at the far north end of Indiana State Highway 49.

In addition to the “open house” on October 20th, you can join the Midwest Rail Rangers for programs aboard the South Shore Line on October 16, October 21, November 4, and November 13. Programs on October 16 and November 13 will operate between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. Programs on October 21 and November 4 will operate between Chicago and Michigan City, Indiana. Program times and details are posted below, and can be found online on our website:  www.DunesTrain.com

We look forward to seeing you at our “open house” or on the train.

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #35 – 8/26/2021: Ride for free with the Midwest Rail Rangers on Eastbound Weekday Trips on the South Shore – Sept 1 to Oct 31, 2021

Thursday, August 26, 2021 The Midwest Rail Rangers will continue to be busy this summer and fall by providing onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line. And now… YOU can ride with us for free. Here’s how: To show appreciation for passengers continuing to utilize the South Shore Line throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and welcome those who are new or just returning, the SSL announces all weekday (Monday through Friday) eastbound trips will be free throughout the months of September and October 2021. The eastbound free rides will begin Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021 and last through Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, excluding weekends. Passengers should simply board applicable weekday eastbound trains with no ticket purchase needed. Riders will be responsible for paying all applicable fares on weekend trips and weekday westbound trips. This means every regularly scheduled Thursday EASTBOUND Midwest Rail Rangers onboard educational program is free during the months of September and October. If you have never come out to see what we are all about… here is your chance. We think you will enjoy what we do… and that our narration will add a lot more to your train ride. Upcoming program dates on the South Shore Line include August 29, September 2, and September 19. Additional dates (now listed through the end of November 2021) are listed on our website… just head to www.railrangers.org and click on the “upcoming programs” tab.
If you are looking to make some memories this fall… consider a ride with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago. They are celebrating 50 years of organizing charters and special trips.  The Midwest Rail Rangers have been a partner of the 20th Century Railroad Club since our founding in 2015, with our Interpretive Guides riding along on most of their excursions. The 20th Century Railroad Club is currently taking reservations for the following day-trip excursions: SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2021ELKHART & SOUTH BEND TRAINS & CARSClick here for the trip planner and how to make reservations SATURDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2021SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOISClick here for the trip planner and how to make reservations Please consider purchasing a ticket and supporting our partners at the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago.
Sincerely,Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors Robert Tabern – PresidentBob Neil – Vice-PresidentDave Poole – TreasurerKathy Bruecker – SecretaryKandace Tabern – Educational Officer Interpretive Guides:Fred Glure, Joe Kuczynski, Lowell Olberg, Steve Snyder & Bruce Stahl 

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #34 – 7/31/2021: Return to South Shore ‘A Success’ & 20th Century Trips ‘Back on Track’

In-person educational programs conducted by the Midwest Rail Rangers aboard South Shore Line trains were “suspended” for a long fifteen-and-a-half months due to the COVID-19 Pandemic… but now, we are back!

Our first program took place on Thursday, July 1, 2021… with three of the five Board Members serving as Guides to make sure things went smoothly. A second program with Interpretive Guide Bruce Stahl as narrator, took place last weekend, also without any glitches.

Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern says, “We are very excited to be back on the South Shore Line and interacting with passengers once again. Things are not quite back to ‘normal’ – we must continue to wear masks when on trains and at the stations through at least September 13, 2021 – however being able to share all of the history and nature out the window… even with a mask on… is a wonderful thing. We really missed everyone… and based off the first two trips we have done in July… the riders have missed us too. We had several people who came out just to ride with us and hear our in-person programming. A mom and daughter drove down from Traverse City, Michigan on our July 1st trip. We will continue to present our programs in a safe and professional manner, as we always have done since partnering with the South Shore Line back in mid-2017.”

Two to three times per month, year-round, Interpretive Guides with the Midwest Rail Rangers will be riding onboard select trains between Chicago’s Millennium Station and South Bend, Indiana’s Airport Station. Topics discussed include anything from Chicago trivia to the historic steel-making area of Northwest Indiana, Indiana Dunes State and National Parks, and even information about the rural “breadbasket of America”, when passing through western LaPorte and St. Joseph Counties.

In addition to increased safety protocols, two other noticeable administrative changes are now in place. The Midwest Rail Rangers programs on the South Shore are now official interpretive programs of the Indiana Dunes State Park. During the Pandemic-induced pause, a formal deal was struck between the Midwest Rail Rangers Corporation and Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources. This is a true win-win for both organizations. Also, Thursdays have been added as a date where programs may take place on off-peak trains. This is something the Board had lobbied for, knowing not everyone is off only on just weekends, when programming had previously been offered. This move also makes it easier for volunteers who are free on weekdays, but not on Saturdays and Sundays due to their employment or other concerns.

A listing of our upcoming onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line are included in this news letter and are posted at www.railrangers.org.

We have more “good news” to share with you this afternoon, too… as the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago, one of our closest partners, will return to doing a handful of daytrips this summer and fall. Since 2016, the Midwest Rail Rangers has provided our Interpretive Guides as “car hosts” for some of their excursions on Amtrak charters.

Reservations are NOW being taken for their first trip back… this will be a day-trip on Saturday, September 15, 2021 from Chicago to SW Michigan and NW Indiana. Passengers will get to ride both Amtrak and the South Shore Line… while visiting the National New York Central Museum in Elkhart, Indiana and also the Studebaker National Museum in South Bend, Indiana. Box lunch included, too!

For more information click THIS LINK! Much like Midwest Rail Rangers and most 501(c)(3) non-profits around the country, the 20th Century Railroad Club was hit hard by the lack of funding received during the pandemic. Trip revenue is very important to the future of our organization and theirs. Please consider taking this wonderful day trip. An additional day trip to Springfield, Illinois with the 20th Century Railroad Club is planned for October. If all goes well, the 20th Century Railroad Club plans to resume is normal schedule of offering overnight excursions, come 2022.

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #33 – 6/21/2021: Rail Rangers Return to In-Person Onboard Educational Programs

Monday, June 21, 2021

We at the Midwest Rail Rangers have some very exciting news to share with you… our in-person onboard educational programs are FINALLY returning!

Writing that sentence is something all of us on the Board of Directors have wanted to share for a very long time now. It is something we are excited sharing with you… as much as the announcement about the formation of our group that was made in July 2015… or the announcement we would be becoming our own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in December 2018.

When the pandemic started, our in-person programs were going to be suspended for just 21 days… and everything was going to pass. Then, it was a month… then it was months. Every single month we carried on, never knowing when the thing was going to end because we were never really warned when the thing was going to begin. During that time, we found new ways to do things, we found new ways to reach our passengers (Rail Rangers on the Road virtual programs), we found new ways to communicate with you… and we found new ways to live as human beings. 

While we don’t know if the world will go back to “normal” tomorrow (our Guides will still have to wear masks when doing programs at least through September and we know not everyone feels comfortable traveling now)… we do indeed know the world is striving for a certain sense of normalcy… and we hope the return of our in-person programming will be part of that for you.

Our popular onboard educational programs will resume on the South Shore, effective Thursday, July 1st.  Additional program dates are shown below — we plan two to three trips per months. Our complete schedule of programs through November 30th are available on the Midwest Rail Rangers website. We will be doing programs on select Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Our Board and partners decided to add a weekday (aboard off-peak trains) into the mix for those who work on weekends, but want to hear our programming.

Our first onboard educational program aboard a private rail excursion will take place on Friday, July 23rd. Tickets are still available for the weekend round-trip between St. Louis, Missouri and Kansas City, Missouri. Additional private car trips through the summer and fall are also listed below. The Midwest Rail Rangers was founded in 2015 with the intention of providing narration aboard private rail trips.

Our partnership with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago to do onboard educational programs on Amtrak charters will resume this fall. One trip is scheduled for September 2021 and another trip is scheduled for October 2021; details are listed below. We look forward to putting together custom trips in 2022. This is the 20th Century’s 50th Anniversary Season.

Our outreach events will also kick-up in earnest starting next month. Robert Tabern, Director of Passenger Development for the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad (and President of the Midwest Rail Rangers) will be going on a multi-stop book signing tour for the book he co-wrote, “Mark Twain Zephyr: History, Restoration & Re-birth”. The book was written for the Wisconsin Great Northern Railroad, with photographs and other assistance provided by the Midwest Rail Rangers. Stops include: Galesburg, IL; Burlington, IA; Mount Pleasant, IA; Fort Madison, IA; Keokuk, IA; Canton, MO; Quincy, IL; Louisiana, MO; Hannibal, MO; and St. Louis, MO.  Dates and times are posted on our website.

We want to thank you for your continued support during the very difficult time the past 15 months were. We hope our “Rail Rangers on the Road” virtual programming that we did was enjoyable and maybe in a small way helped you through everything. For now, we look forward to seeing you back on the rails whenever you are comfortable traveling again.

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

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Dear Friends and Supporters,

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

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

SOUTH SHORE LINE PROGRAMS

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

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

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

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

WISCONSIN GREAT NORTHERN RAILROAD PROGRAMS

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

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

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

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

PRIVATE RAIL EXCURSIONS

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

AMTRAK CHARTERS ON THE 20TH CENTURY RAILROAD CLUB

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

OUTREACH EVENTS & DONATIONS

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

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

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

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

VIRTUAL PROGRAMS

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

Sincerely,

Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

Robert Tabern, President

Bob Neil, Vice President

Dave Poole, Treasurer

Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer

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

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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 (http://www.railrangers.org) 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 www.MarkTwainZephyr.com. Memorabilia relating to the CB&Q and Zephyrs is also welcome. E-mail board@railrangers.org 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 http://www.AmtrakDome.com. 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.

          Sincerely,

          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… www.railrangers.org. 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!

          Sincerely,

          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

 

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VIRTUAL EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS TO KEEP MIDWEST RAIL RANGERS 2020 SEASON ROLLING

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 (www.RailRangers.org) 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 board@RailRangers.org. 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.

Sincerely,

Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

Robert Tabern, President

Bob Neil, Vice President

Dave Poole, Treasurer

Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer

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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!

IMPORTANT NOTE: THIS PROGRAM WILL BE PRESENTED ON OUR FACEBOOK LIVE ONLY — BE SURE TO “LIKE” OUR FACEBOOK PAGE TO WATCH THIS PROGRAM.

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

FACING COVID-19 TOGETHER:

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 (www.RailRangers.org) 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 —- www.MidwestRails.com.

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: board@railrangers.org.

Sincerely,

Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors

Robert Tabern, President

Bob Neil, Vice President

Dave Poole, Treasurer

Kathy Bruecker, Secretary

Kandace Tabern, Educational Officer