Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #10: New Private Car Trips Added for “Hollywood Beach” Private Car in September

First, we would like to thank everyone who joined our “Roundhouse E-Newsletter List” during this weekend’s private car rides on the “Hollywood Beach” to Carbondale (Saturday) and/or St. Louis (Sunday). We hope everyone had a good time and enjoyed our commentary about all of the interesting landmarks along the route. We are glad to have you added to “The Roundhouse”. Whenever we get word one of our partners will be having a newly announced private rail excursion — we sent out a notice — much like this one so that you can be among the first people to get tickets. Don’t be left at the gate! We have had trips that sold out in just a matter of hours of going on sale. And don’t worry, we will NEVER sell, trade, or spam you. “The Roundhouse” is sent out by our Board of Directors one to three times a month to keep you updated on upcoming trips and our upcoming coach charters and other outreach events.

For the rest of you… Have you ever wonder what it would have been like to travel like a true ‘rail baron’ of the 1940’s or 1950’s? Well, now you have the rare opportunity to do just that — and in your own backyard — thanks to an upcoming series of excursions aboard a historic rail car sponsored by the Midwest Rail Rangers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization.

The Midwest Rail Rangers will be partnering with the owner of “Hollywood Beach”, a historic 1956 railroad passenger car, to give riders three rare opportunities of seeing what First Class travel was all about during the “Golden Age” of railroading. For those who remember this time period… a ride on the “Hollywood Beach” private car will no doubt bring back many memories of riding in the lap of luxury. For those who were perhaps maybe too young to experience this on a regular rail line… you also are definitely still invited aboard to see how much more comfortable and refined rail travel was “back in the day”. The large picture windows and overhead curved glass windows of the car make “Hollywood Beach” one of the most panoramic single level cars ever constructed. It’s perfect for enjoying the picturesque Illinois countryside in the late summer and early fall seasons.

The first excursion being offered takes place between Chicago and Kansas City on Sunday, September 15th via Naperville, Mendota, Princeton, Galesburg, Fort Madison (Iowa), and La Plata (Missouri). The train departs Chicago Union Station at 3:00pm and arrives in Kansas City around 10:00pm. Interpretive Guides from the Midwest Rail Rangers will be aboard for most of the journey providing interesting stories about the trackside towns the train is passing through. For example, did you know one of the deadliest coal mining disasters in American history took place near the train line at Cherry, Illinois? Plus… just how muddy is the Mississippi River? And where can you still see remnants of an original 1926 highway tucked away in a farmer’s field? All of those questions and more will be answered during the Midwest Rail Rangers’ fun and educational narration program for passengers. There will plenty of time for Q&A, too! Travelers will also enjoy meal and drink service for the duration of their 450-mile-long ride.

“Hollywood Beach” will also operate an eastbound private rail trip between Kansas City and Chicago on Saturday, September 21st… however no narration will be provided on this date. This trip departs Kansas City Union Station around 7:30am and is scheduled to arrive into Chicago Union Station around 3:30pm.

The final excursion available to passengers this season will take place on Sunday, September 22nd, when “Hollywood Beach” operates between Chicago and St. Louis (via Summit, Joliet, Dwight, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville, and Alton). Passengers will depart Chicago Union Station at 9:25am and arrive into St. Louis Gateway Station at 3:00pm. Interpretive Guides from the Midwest Rail Rangers will also be aboard this trip to share stories about the historic Illinois & Michigan Canal, Route 66, Illinois’ Coal Country, and Abraham Lincoln’s legacy. This unforgettable 284-mile-long journey will also feature meal service and beverages as part of the tour package being offered.

“Hollywood Beach” was one of just three Sun Lounge cars built in 1956 for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad. It was constructed with five double bedroom sleeping car rooms and a lounge for the exclusive use of First Class passengers aboard the railroad’s flagship “Silver Meteor” train, which operated between New York City and Miami. This was a popular train route taken by many celebrities and other rich socialites of the time looking to escape to the beaches and warmth of the Sunshine State. Even though it was designed to operate strictly on the east coast, “Hollywood Beach” definitely had a Midwest connection – as it was built by the Pullman-Standard Company, which got its start on the south side of Chicago. The car was later re-named “Sun Ray” and saw service with the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad. After operating on various Amtrak into the 1980’s, the car was sold off and has been owned by various private individuals. Keith White, the current owner, has spent a lot of time and energy to restore “Hollywood Beach” to its former beauty and is looking forward to welcoming you aboard — along with the Midwest Rail Rangers who provide the educational component of the trips.

Tickets for all three excursions mentioned above are currently on-sale, with limited space left on each trip. Both the Chicago-Kansas City excursion on September 15th and the Kansas City-Chicago excursion on Saturday, September 21st are $299 per-person one-way. The Chicago-St. Louis excursion on Sunday, September 22nd is $249 per-person one-way. This is a very special experience and we expect tickets to sell very fast. For more information, or to make your reservation, please contact Keith White at (708) 446-1269 or e-mail onecniccat@prodigy.net – please mention the Midwest Rail Rangers to get the discounted prices offered in this article.

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #9: Our First Private Car Trip of 2019 This Weekend; Additional Private Car Dates to be Announced Monday!

Check that beautiful photo of “Hollywood Beach” out!  Our private car ride this weekend is attached to Amtrak and ready to rock this weekend… this photo is just an hour or so old from the yards in St. Louis where the car will be “dead-heading” up from this afternoon!

We are happy to report that this upcoming weekend the Midwest Rail Rangers will be participating in our first private rail excursion of 2019 with our new partner — Keith White, owner of “Hollywood Beach”. This beautiful car, built in 1956, was once part of the Seaboard Air Line’s New York to Florida Service. It was later owned by the Seaboard Coast Line and Amtrak. This weekend’s excursions between Chicago and Southern Illinois did sell out very quickly… however, if some of you have free time and will be out and about with your camera this weekend… we would certainly appreciate your photos of the car in service.

The first of three excursions departs Chicago on Amtrak Train #391 on Saturday (June 7) at 8:15am and heads south into Carbondale, Illinois at 1:45pm.

Meanwhile, the northbound trip on this line will operate the same afternoon (Saturday, June 7) on Amtrak Train #392; departing Carbondale just after 4:00pm and arriving into Chicago just before 10:00pm.

Stops to photograph the car on the first two trips mentioned above include Homewood, Kankakee, Gilman, Rantoul, Champaign-Urbana, Mattoon, Effingham, Centralia, and DuQuoin.

The following day (Sunday, June 8) “Hollywood Beach” will be on Amtrak Train #303, doing a one-way positioning move from Chicago to St. Louis.  The train departs Chicago at 9:25am and arrives into St. Louis at 3:00pm. Intermediate station stops will be in Summit, Joliet, Dwight, Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, Springfield, Carlinville, and Alton. Please e-mail your photographs to the Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors at board@railrangers.org.

If you didn’t get your chance to book tickets on “Hollywood Beach” for this weekend’s trips – stay tuned!  An announcement of additional trips will be coming out via a special Rail Rangers Roundhouse E-Newsletter on Tuesday morning (June 11th).  Please check your e-mail inbox for dates, details, and prices!  Just like this trip —- a limited number of seats will be made available and expect whatever inventory there is to sell out in a manner of weeks.  Remember, those one our E-Newsletter list get first crack at tickets. We will not post anything publically for a few days after the notice of the new trip dates go out to you. Encourage your friends who may be interested to sign up for the E-Newsletter through our website… www.railrangers.org.

A limited number of tickets are also available for our other planned private rail excursion —- this takes place October 4-6, 2019  between Chicago and the Twin Cities and is presented in partnership with Zephyr Route Tours and features a full dome car.  Please contact Mike Abernethy at zephyr360@att.net or (360) 542-3607 for details on this “fall colors” trip through Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Roundhouse Newsletter Edition #5: Midwest Rail Rangers to Become Independent 501(c)(3) Non-Profit on March 10, 2019; No Longer Affiliated with APRHF

The Midwest Rail Rangers Board of Directors is excited to announce that the on-going transition of our organization into an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit will finally be complete, as of Sunday, March 10, 2019.

Looking back, our formal on-board educational efforts launched more than six years ago. Between December 2012 and July 2015, our group of volunteers provided on-board educational programs to more than 50,000 passengers on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train through portions of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. During that time period, we were affiliated with Trails & Rails… an organization run up by the National Park Service that oversaw narration on numerous Amtrak train routes across the United States. Our local Trails & Rails group was additionally co-sponsored by the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) in La Plata, Missouri, which helped to fund hotel rooms for our Chicago-based Interpretive Guides during their layovers.

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In July 2015, Trails & Rails management decided they no longer wanted to partner with private non-profit organizations, such as the APRHF. This resulted in the Chicago-to-La Plata, MO Trails & Rails program ending, but almost immediately re-launching itself as the APRHF Rail Rangers. The original sole focus of the APRHF Rail Rangers was to provide on-board educational programs aboard private rail excursions. Numerous private railcar owners saw the value of having experienced Interpretive Guides aboard their excursions… including Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route Tours, American Rail Excursions, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Paxrail, and the 20th Century Railroad Club. Our group of Interpretive Guides had very busy schedule almost right off the bat… narrating on private rail trips across seven states in the Upper Midwest. The APRHF Rail Rangers continued to grow in recent years… with Interpretive Guides providing on-board educational programs on public rail trips too, including Iowa Pacific’s Hoosier State (November 2016 to February 2017) and the South Shore Line (August 2017 to Current)… giving off-the-train historical power point presentations/talks… and adding PDF e-books and MP3 podcasts to the collection of railroad route guides for sale.

The APRHF Board of Directors and leadership with-in the Rail Rangers reached an agreement in December 2018 that called for the Rail Rangers to be spun off into its own independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The transition process commenced on December 23, 2018 with the newly re-named Midwest Rail Rangers becoming a temporary chapter of the APRHF. This allowed the Rail Rangers to remain non-for-profit, while obtaining its own general liability insurance policy and tax-exempt status with the IRS and State of Wisconsin.

Both of these tasks and all other necessary paperwork have been completed, and the Midwest Rail Rangers will break all affiliations with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation on March 10, 2019… including its temporary “chapter status”.

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Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern explains, “There are many reasons why leaving the APRHF at this time is a necessary step for the continued growth of the Midwest Rail Rangers. Instead of having a headquarters in rural Northeast Missouri, a location more than 300 miles away from most of our activities…. our new organization is incorporated in Elm Grove, Wisconsin, a vibrant western suburb of Milwaukee. This will help our marketing and communications going forward, as our new headquarters city is situated much closer to where most of our private rail trips, public rail trips, and outreach events take place… in addition to being much closer to where most of our Interpretive Guides actually reside.”

The Midwest Rail Rangers will now be overseen by a new pro-active hands-on Board of Directors made up of our own Interpretive Guides who will meet multiple times per year to make sure things are headed in the right direction for our group.

Finally, our supporters can now be assured that all of their tax-deductible donations will stay completely with-in the Rail Rangers program and will be used for on-board educational programs… instead of funneled into other projects that often had very little to do directly with railroad history and on-board education.

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Tabern adds, “We have a bright future… and to that we owe our thanks for our increasing numbers of supporters who know that ‘not knowing what you are seeing out your window, is like watching the Travel Channel with the audio turned off’!  We are glad you have stuck with us through a lot of changes.”

All on-board educational programs scheduled for 2019 will continue as scheduled… including a handful of private rail excursions, five Amtrak coach charters with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago, and nearly one dozen outreach events.  In fact, the Midwest Rail Rangers is in final negotiations stages with the South Shore Line/NICTD for a new contract that would secure on-board educational programs would continue through atleast March 2021. Plus, there is work to a secure a big new partnership agreement when it comes to the South Shore Line programs!   (Stay tuned for more on these soon!)

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TO HELP US BUILD UP A RESERVE FUND FOR OUR NEW 501(C)(3) NON-PROFIT ORGANIZATION, PLEASE HEAD TO RAILRANGERS.ORG AND CLICK ON THE “MAKE A DONATION” BUTTON ON THE UPPER LEFT-HAND SIDE OF THE SCREEN.  ALL DONATIONS ARE NOW TAX-DEDUCTIBLE AS OUR NON-PROFIT STATUS HAS BEEN APPROVED BY THE IRS!   DONATIONS OF $20 OR MORE WILL RECEIVE A SPECIAL “THANK YOU” GIFT.

 

Update on Ticket Availability for 2017 Rail Rangers Excursions

We wanted to take a quick moment and let everyone know that tickets for both of the APRHF Rail Rangers’ Premier Private Rail Excursions have now “sold out”… and only a wait list is available. This includes the August 19-22, 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse Trip between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri (with a motorcoach extension down to Boonville, MO for eclipse viewing) … and the October 13-15, 2017 Fall Colors Trip between Chicago and St. Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota (with an optional motorcoach tour of the Twin Cities). These are considered our two “premiere” trips of the year because our APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides hand-crafted the itineraries for passengers on these trips along with our partners at Zephyr Route Tours of St. Charles, Illinois. We saw heavier than expected demand for these trips after newspaper articles recently appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Milwaukee Journal promoting these excursions. Unfortunately, due to the limited number of available private railcars kept in Chicago and the cost/logistics  involved of adding extra cars, these excursions will be kept to just one full-length dome on the Missouri trip and two stainless steel ex-California Zephyr observation cars on the Minnesota trip. If you are still interested in being put on the wait list for either of these trips, you can contact Zephyr Route Tours at (630) 542-3607. Zephyr Route handles the ticketing for these trips, while the APRHF Rail Rangers provides the narration, coordinates off-train itineraries, and designed route guide sheets and guidebooks.

Due to the heavy demand we experienced from passengers this year, the APRHF Rail Rangers are very tentatively planning to work with Zephyr Route Tours again in 2018 to offer similar versions of these “premiere” trips. A spring or summer trip by private rail to La Plata, Missouri will likely focus on an Amish weekend experience – with a visit to Jamesport, Missouri, the largest Amish settlement west of the Mississippi River. A fall colors trip to Minnesota will also be likely in early or mid-October 2018.

So how can you be among the first to get tickets for our partners’ excursions so you are not left on the waiting list in the future?  There are two simple ways to get priority access to ticketing to our “premiere” trips!  The APRHF Rail Rangers offers an E-newsletter service that provides updates on trips and news about our group. Those on our E-newsletter service are among the first people to know about upcoming private rail excursions that will feature our Interpretive Guides aboard. To be added, head over to the Rail Rangers’ website at www.railrangers.org. Click on the tab that says “Contact” and scroll down to where it says “Insiders E-newsletter”. Click on this link and then fill out and submit the form. We do not sell e-mail addresses to anyone and only send one e-mail every month or so to keep you updated on our excursions and outreach events — no spam guaranteed. We also encourage those interested in the APRHF Rail Rangers to “like us” on Facebook as sometimes we post special news about our excursions there.  Our Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.com/railrangers. New trip announcements will be posted to these two locations first before they are released to any newspapers, media outlets, or other advertising sources.

If you are still looking to take a trip with the APRHF Rail Rangers this summer or fall, we do have several options available that still have tickets available. Here is a look at those trips:

SATURDAY, JUNE 24, 2017:  The APRHF Rail Rangers is partnering with Zephyr Route Tours to offer passengers a “taste” of what a private rail excursions is all about. This day-time roundtrip in a full-length dome car allows passengers to travel between the Chicago area (Chicago, La Grange Road, or Naperville) and either Galesburg, Illinois or Hannibal, Missouri. Passengers heading to Galesburg will get approximately seven hour of free time at the annual Galesburg Railroad Days Festival before heading back to Chicago. Passengers heading to Hannibal, MO will de-train in Quincy, Illinois and head to Mark Twain’s hometown by motorcoach for about four hours of free time. Hannibal passengers can also take an optional riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River. More information can be found on our website, www.railrangers.org.

SATURDAY, JUNE 24, 2017: In a test partnership with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago, an APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guide will be aboard a chartered Amtrak coach car between Chicago and Galesburg, Illinois. This day-time round-trip will take passengers from Chicago to Galesburg, Illinois and back. Travelers will get approximately seven hours to have a self-guided experience at the annual Galesburg Railroad Days Festival. There’s a lot to do there… including a train show, tours of the BNSF Hump Yard, and Carnival-style games and food. More information can be found on our website, www.railrangers.org.

SATURDAY, JULY 8, 2017: Learn about such interesting topics as the Gateway Arch and Geyser, Abraham Lincoln, Route 66, and the Illinois & Michigan Canal while traveling with the APRHF Rail Rangers between St. Louis, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois. Guides will be aboard this excursion organized by our friends at American Rail Excursions. Ride aboard an observation car while enjoying the Illinois countryside in this post-Independence Day trip. You won’t want to miss out. Even seasoned Illinois residents will learn something from our onboard educational program. More information can be found on our website, www.railrangers.org.

SUNDAY, JULY 9, 2017: Ride more than 400 miles on the ol’ Milwaukee Road as our friends at American Rail Excursions sponsor this trip between Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities. You will get to experience the hustle and bustle of the Chicago and Milwaukee area, the rolling hills through Central Wisconsin, and more than 100 miles along the Mississippi River in Minnesota… all while having expert APRHF Rail Rangers guides aboard your train. If you were not able to get tickets to the Fall Colors 2017 trip, this is an excellent choice to ride as it’s on the same route. More information can be found on our website, www.railrangers.org.

SATURDAY, JULY 15, 2017: Join APRHF Rail Rangers guides aboard the return trip (see above) from St. Paul, MN to Chicago; sponsored by American Rail Excursions.

SUNDAY, JULY 16, 2017: Join APRHF Rail Rangers guides aboard the return trip (see above) from Chicago to St. Louis, MO; sponsored by American Rail Excursions.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 2, 2017: All aboard for the North Pole Express!  Head up to St. Paul Union Depot in Minnesota as APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides volunteer on the Friends of the 261 North Pole Express train. This is quickly becoming an annual tradition in the Twin Cities. While there will be multiple departures on weekends in December, this is the only date that members from our group will be aboard to meet and greet with visitors.

ADDITIONAL DATES: We expect possibly between one and three new excursions to still be announced for 2017. Stay tuned to our E-newsletter service and Facebook page for updates!  (We will also post information here on aprhf.org, however those on our E-newsletter and Facebook get first notice of excursions)

PUBLIC RAIL TRIPS: As you likely know by now, our public programs on the Hoosier State Train between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois came to an end on February 26, 2017. This occurred because our partner, Iowa Pacific Holdings, ceased providing the on-board services for this train on February 28th. After discussion with the Indiana Department of Transportation, we learned that we would have to stop providing our programs because the new provider, Amtrak, did not want our services for their passengers. Many of our Interpretive Guides felt having a public rail program in addition to our private rail excursions was a huge asset. Because of this, we have been in heavy negotiations with another public rail provider to begin our onboard educational programs. If things move along in a positive direction, we hope to make an announcement soon about this effort; guides could be on the train as early as the first week in August 2017 if things pan out.

As you can see, things are going immensely well for the APRHF Rail Rangers as we will begin our third year of operations on July 20, 2017. We appreciate the support of all of our fans, as well as the support of our private rail partners – Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route, American Rail Excursions, Paxrail, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, Iowa Pacific, and the 20th Century Railroad Club (test partnership).

 

Tickets on Sale Now for Solar Eclipse Private Rail Excursion to La Plata in August 2017

Tickets are now on sale (and going very quick!) for a private rail excursion to La Plata, Missouri ahead of this summer’s total solar eclipse. This four-day, three-night guided journey will take place between Saturday, August 19, 2017 and Tuesday, August 22, 2017. It is being organized by Zephyr Route Tours of St. Charles, Illinois, in conjunction with the 501(c)(3) non-profit American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program. The 20th Century Railroad Club out of Chicago, a test partner with the Rail Rangers, is also selling tickets on this excursion as a fundraiser for their organization. Why drive hundreds of miles to Southern Illinois or Central Missouri to see the eclipse on a boring interstate highway stopping all the time for gas and food — when you can travel in style and enjoy a vintage 1950′s full-length dome car en route sipping champagne!

Passengers will begin their trip on the afternoon of Saturday, August 19, 2017, by boarding a full-length dome car that will be positioned on the back of Amtrak’s Southwest Chief.  Boarding takes place at the following times and locations: Chicago (3:00pm), Naperville (3:35pm), Mendota (4:24pm), Princeton (4:46pm), Galesburg (5:38pm), or Fort Madison (6:42pm). A full dinner will be served to all passengers aboard the train regardless of origin point. Live narration will be provided by the APRHF Rail Rangers en route so you’ll know exactly what you are seeing our your window. Upon arrival in La Plata, MO (estimated at 7:51pm), a brief orientation will be given by APRHF President Bob Cox and transportation will be provided to the Depot Inn & Suites, where you will be spending the next three evenings.  (Dinner on the train is included in the package price this evening).

Enjoy a leisurely “Sunday in the Country” on Sunday, August 20, 2017, spending time exploring Northeast Missouri’s scenic rolling hills at your own pace – or join the APRHF Rail Rangers for guided motorcoach tours of the area.  After a complimentary continental breakfast at the Depot Inn, the optional morning guided tour will be hosted by APRHF President Bob Cox and his wife Amy. The Cox’s will take everyone down to Marceline, Missouri for a tour of Walt Disney’s Boyhood Home and Farm. This is where Walt is said to have gotten his inspiration for many of his cartoons and movies. Plus, the Main Street of Marceline is said to have a striking resemblance to that of Disneyland.  The Disney Museum is located in the old Santa Fe Marceline Train Depot! Finally, enjoy a tasty lunch at a quaint hometown diner in Marceline before returning back to La Plata. The afternoon optional tour on Sunday will be hosted by APRHF Vice-President Elect Robert Tabern and his wife Kandace. They’ll hit the road and take travelers up to scenic Thousand Hills State Park outside of Kirksville. Enjoy a guided tour around the beautiful lake and up to a shelter that contains petroglyphs left by Native Americans more than 1,000 years ago!  Regardless of what you do, everyone is invited to a home-cooked BBQ at Lookout Point Park — as we enjoy our burgers, hot dogs, and some train-watching together.  (Breakfast and dinner included in package price as well as admission to Disney Museum and Thousand Hills State Park, lunch is at your own cost).

There’s no rest for the weary as we rise early on Monday, August 21, 2017. After a complimentary continental breakfast at the Depot Inn and Suites, we are off to either Columbia or St. Joseph, Missouri to watch the solar eclipse!  Both Columbia and St. Joseph are in the very narrow zone of the 100% eclipse — so yes — you will get to experience total darkness. The plan is to head to Columbia, however we may head to St. Joseph instead if sky conditions are better at that location. This summer’s “Great American Total Solar Eclipse” will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina, along a stretch of land about 70 miles wide. People who descend upon this “path of totality” for the big event (like you will be if you book this tour!) are in for an unforgettable experience, said eclipse expert Jay Pasachoff, an astronomer at Williams College in Massachusetts. “It’s a tremendous opportunity,” Pasachoff told Space.com. “It’s a chance to see the universe change around you.”  A total solar eclipse last darkened soil on the U.S. mainland on Feb. 26, 1979. But August 2017 will mark the first time in 99 years that such an event is “readily available to people from coast to coast,” Pasachoff said.  We’ll return to La Plata after the eclipse so you can experience dinner on-your-own, and see of the sites around the hotel – including the APRHF’s Exhibition of Amtrak History. (Breakfast and solar glasses included to watch eclipse, lunch and dinner on your own)

On Tuesday, August 22, 2017, enjoy your last continental breakfast at the Depot Inn and Suites… and then you’re off to the La Plata Amtrak Station for a guided tour by APRHF President Bob Cox and his wife Amy, who also serve as the main caretakers for the station. We’ll take you in areas normally “off limits” to the public, including the old Santa Fe ticket office and baggage handling areas. Relive the glory days of the Santa Fe and see what the APRHF is doing to keep this beautiful station in tip-top shape!  Finally, it will be time to head home and enjoy another 300-mile ride in a historic 1950′s dome car attached to the rear of the eastbound Southwest Chief.  Board in La Plata at 9:55am  and de-train at your station of choice, including: Fort Madison (11:08am), Galesburg (12:08pm), Princeton (12:58pm), Mendota (1:19pm), Naperville (2:42pm), or Chicago (3:15pm).  (Please note the eastbound train does come from Los Angeles and can sometimes experience significant delays — so just don’t plan anything back in Chicago or flight out of O’Hare of Midway Airports that night!)  (Breakfast and on-board lunch included in this package)

And yes, now the pricing details. Tickets are available by contacting Mr. Mike Abernethy, President of Zephyr Route Tours. He can be reached by e-mail at zephyr360@att.net or by phone from (630) 542-3607 (please call daily 10AM to 9PM CT only). We are only selling 40 seats for this trip — so book now!  We expect this trip to sell out very quickly now that we are getting media attention from several newspapers in Illinois and Missouri. Pricing is $799 per person double hotel occupancy or $969 for single hotel occupancy.

APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “When we were pricing this trip with Zephyr Route… we wanted to keep the cost to travelers reasonable so that a working couple could take a long weekend and get out in the country and have fun together and meet new and fun people — and of course see a total solar eclipse for maybe the only time in their life.  $799 is an amazing price!  Round-trip coach on Amtrak from Chicago to La Plata can be as much as $250. Three nights at the Depot Inn retails for almost $400 with tax and everything. And any other hotel in the solar-eclipse region is going to be a lot more than that!  Don’t forget you get 6 meals too included in the package too — including 2 meals in the dome car and a home-grilled out BBQ dinner along the tracks put on by the APRHF.”

APRHF Vice-President Elect and Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “This is going to be  a trip you’ll want to go on and remember for the rest of your life — for sure.  Everyone who came to La Plata for last year’s private rail excursion had such an amazing time… and almost all commented on how they would like to come back again soon. This year, we are really going “all out”  — extending the trip by one night, and then of course, the whole solar eclipse is a major selling point. The last total solar eclipse to hit the Midwest was in 1994. That was 23 years ago. The next solar eclipses won’t come until 2024 and then 2045. This is not something you can just sit on the sidelines for and say, “egh, I’ll do it next year”. We only are selling 40 seats and those are going quick.”

In conjunction with this trip, the APRHF Rail Rangers have released a 350-page railroad route guidebook for the train route between Chicago and La Plata. “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO” details interesting facts about all of the trackside towns seen along the way. Copies are available for $35 (+ S&H) through the website www.midwestrails.com. This serves as a major fundraiser for the non-profit APRHF Rail Rangers program.

Again, ticketing for this excursion is being handled by Zephyr Route Tours; they should be the main point of contact. For questions about the optional daytrip tours, motorcoach to Columbia to see the eclipse, or onboard educational programs being offered, please contact APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern at info@railrangers.org or by calling (847) 271-1979.

Rail Rangers Announce New February and March 2017 Hoosier Rails Trip Schedule

The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program will continue providing onboard educational programs for passengers on the Hoosier Train between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois on select Sunday mornings through February and March 2017. For no additional cost besides a regular coach or business class ticket, passengers can enjoy learning about some of the important historical and natural sites along the route through Northwest Indiana and Northeast Illinois. In November 2016, the Indiana Department of Transportation and Ed Ellis, President of Iowa Pacific Holdings, reached an agreement with the APRHF Rail Rangers to provide four months worth of onboard educational programs for passengers. The agreement is also co-sponsored by the Hilton Garden Inn and Campus Inn hotels in West Lafayette, Indiana, which provide the lodging needs for Chicago-based guides during their layover in Lafayette, Indiana.

Upcoming programs on Train #851 include the following Sunday mornings: January 29, February 5, February 19, February 26, March 5, March 19, and March 26. Programs take place between approximately 7:30am Eastern Time and 10:00am Central Time in the upper level of the business class dome car and in the table area of one coach car, however guides roam the entire train several times between Lafayette and Chicago.

Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “We have been really excited the past couple of months to bring our onboard educational programs to passengers on the Hoosier Train. Normally Rail Rangers only provides our service to passengers on private rail excursions. It’s nice to expand beyond that role and interact with passengers on a regularly scheduled public train. Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation have been amazing to work with the past year to get things up and going. It’s nice to work with two organizations who are proud of Indiana’s rich history and beauty — and aren’t afraid to have us share that knowledge with passengers who are interested in learning it. I don’t know if our program expanding to a public train like this could have been possible anywhere else in the Midwest right now.”

Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern adds, “This is really a very cool win-win partnership for everyone. I say ‘win-win’ because we are volunteering our time and talents to enhance the train experience for passengers. Having our group of ten interpretive guides providing programs comes at zero cost to both the railroad and the State of Indiana. That’s important in this time of budget cuts and financial restraint. The Rail Rangers also don’t have any major expenses in the whole agreement either thanks to the Hilton Garden Inn and Campus Inn agreeing to provide rooms in exchange for having their logos on our printed handouts, route guides, and our website. In fact, we are raising money for local food banks thanks to the sale of our route guidebooks on the train. We have sold over a dozen copies so far!”

On Sunday, January 8th, Bob and Amy Cox, the President and Vice-President of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, traveled from La Plata, Missouri to pay a special visit to Indiana to observe the Rail Rangers in action. The Coxs, along with their daughter Karri, rode along on the Hoosier Train from Lafayette to Chicago, observing three interpretive guides in action… and even getting in on the fun by narrating a few of their favorite stories.

APRHF President Bob Cox says, “I was really impressed with everything I saw. The program is very laid back and that is what I like. If people want to listen to the narration they can sit in the half of the dome car with the speaker in it — if they don’t — they can sit in the other half. It makes everyone happy. But honestly most everyone we met enjoyed hearing about Indiana from the Rail Rangers. People were shocked to know that a lot of important things happened, and happen, along the train route. The rail line goes feet from the Battle of Tippecanoe site, you pass through the historic railroad town of Monon, and you cross the beautiful Kankakee River, which has been designated recently as a National Water Trail by the National Park Service, and you go right by where they make the buns for White Castle cheeseburgers. A great mix of knowledge about Indiana. People came up to me and thanked the APRHF for having our guides on and said they wanted to come back and ride again and hear more stories.”

Come out and ride with the Rail Rangers on one of our seven remaining trips on the Hoosier Train! Again, the dates are: January 29, February 5, February 19, February 26, March 5, March 19, and March 26.
So… what’s next for the Rail Rangers on the Hoosier Train? In early March, the Rail Rangers are expected to have a meeting with its interpretive guides, INDOT, Iowa Pacific, and its two hotel sponsors in West Lafayette to see if there is enough interest in making the program a permanent feature starting around April 1st. If all parties agree, programs are expected to be presented between two and three Sunday mornings per month.

Lead Interpretive Guide Robert Neil says, “Things have been running smoothly so far — we have found our niche now that all of our guides have been trained. We provide a fun and laid-back atmosphere for passengers. We like when people come up to our table full of props and begin to ask questions. Even passengers who would rather snooze most of the trip are grateful to have us aboard because as they wake up between Dyer and Chicago, they want one of our Downtown Chicago maps and have questions about how they should plan their day in the Windy City. We are there for hat kind of service too.”

Meanwhile, the Rail Rangers are also working with their five other private car partners to come up with a schedule of 2017 private rail trips; some trips are expected to be announced as early as next month. The Rail Rangers will have guides on-hand at the Mad City Train Show in Madison, Wisconsin on February 18th and 19th to talk about upcoming trips. Likewise, guides will have a table at the Chicagoland Railroad Memorabilia Show on Sunday, April 2nd in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.

For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers, check out www.railrangers.org. Our Hoosier Train specific website can be found at www.hoosiertrain.com. To purchase a copy of the Rail Rangers’ Indianapolis to Chicago route guidebook, you can check out www.chicagorails.com.

Rail Rangers Look Back at 2016 Trips; Look Forward to Planning New 2017 Excursions

It’s hard to believe that Christmas 2016 has come and gone already, and in less than 24 hours from now, we will be ringing in a new year – 2017. This is the perfect time for the APRHF Rail Rangers to take you on a brief look back through some of the exciting excursions and events that we have been part of this year, while giving you an exclusive sneak peek at some of the exciting projects that are in the works for next year. Sit back, relax, and enjoy this flashback of what was Rail Rangers: 2016.

Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “We are really grateful to our five private rail car partners for their support this year. We would not have had such a successful year if it wasn’t for our partners at the Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route, American Rail Excursions, the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, and Paxrail. We have gotten a lot of compliments from the owners and passengers about the services our Interpretive Guides were able to provide for passengers. Often times, private car owners are so busy with planning the details of an excursions – from budgeting, to ticket sales, to planning out food service needs – that things like quality narration and detailed route guidebooks fall by the wayside. We are honored they chose us to fill the void.”

Kandace Tabern, Chicago Coordinator for Rail Rangers adds, “We provide all of these services at no cost what-so-ever to the private car owners and operators thanks to our 501(c)(3) non-profit status and affiliation with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation. No other organization in the country that I am aware of can say that and does what we do. In fact, we have raised over $1,100 for our private rail car partners during the course of 2016 through the sales of our route guidebooks. It’s a pretty cool thing we have going on here.”

The APRHF Rail Rangers program was founded on July 20, 2015 and is solely managed by the APRHF Board of Directors, APRHF President/La Plata Coordinator Bob Cox, and Executive Director Robert Tabern. Prior to that, the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation partnered with Amtrak and the National Park Service to sponsor a Trails & Rails program that operated on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO. When the National Park Service decided to end the partnership agreement, the APRHF formed the Rail Rangers to continue its mission of providing onboard educational programs for passengers and to reach beyond the organization’s headquarters city of La Plata.

Below is a brief re-cap of what we have offered passengers with each of our partners:

FRIENDS OF THE 261 – MINNEAPOLIS, MN

The Friends of the 261 is the ONLY partner of the APRHF Rail Rangers that regularly operates with a steam locomotive… making their organization very unique and special for passengers who are lucky enough to get tickets on their excursions. The Rail Rangers partnered with the Friends of the 261 on six different occasions during the course of this year. In June 2016, Interpretive Guides provided narration for passengers in Premium Class on a steam excursion that took place between Minneapolis Junction and Duluth, MN. In October 2016, the Rail Rangers provided narration on the Friends of the 261 steam excursion between Minneapolis and Glencoe, MN. This trip took place on a rare-mileage line owned by the Twin Cities & Western Railroad.

Interpretive Guides put away their microphones and put on their Santa hats and covered shifts on four different dates in December 2016 for the Friends of the 261’s popular North Pole Express trips. In addition, the Rail Rangers sold very detailed and custom-made rail route guidebooks on the Duluth and Glencoe excursions this year. These route guide sales raised more than $1,000.00 for the Friends of the 261… which will be used towards preservation of the Milwaukee Road steam locomotive and fleet of heritage passenger cars. We look forward to see where the 261 will be taking us in 2017 — and look forward to have our guides as their 4th Annual North Pole Express Train in December 2017. For more information about the Friends of the 261, check out their website, located at http://www.261.com.

ZEPHYR ROUTE – ST. CHARLES, IL

Zephyr Route, based in St. Charles, Illinois (outside of Chicago), is the ONLY partner of the APRHF Rail Rangers that works directly with us to help plan out some of their excursions. The company is overseen by President Mike Abernethy. Numbers wise, Zephyr Route is also the most frequent partner of the Rail Rangers!

Our year with Zephyr Route kicked off in April 2016 with a round-trip to St. Louis, Missouri in dome car “Sky View”; our Interpretive Guides told passengers stories about the I&M Canal, Route 66, and President Abraham Lincoln. Our next trip with Zephyr Route was on their annual “Train to Twain” event during the fourth weekend in June 2016 that took passengers on dome car “Prairie View” to Galesburg, Quincy, and Hannibal, MO, as part of a daytrip. We hit the rails again with Zephyr Route in September 2016 — bringing a group of 11 passengers to La Plata, Missouri for the first time in the town’s history! Travelers got to enjoy a visit to Amish Country, Walt Disney’s Hometown, and a cookout on the deck at Lookout Point Park in La Plata. Our final trip of the year with Zephyr Route took place in mid-October 2017, as we took passengers over 800 miles between Chicago and the Twin Cities to enjoy the fall foliage of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

Rail Rangers has had several meetings with Zephyr Route already and has a tentative schedule of ATLEAST four private railcar excursions for 2017… including yes… a repeat trip to La Plata, MO thrown in during August 2017. We are working on finalizing the details and hope to release it to the public by February… if not sooner. For more information about Zephyr Route, check out http://www.zephyrroute.com.

AMERICAN RAIL EXCURSIONS – MADISON, IL

We began a new partnership this year with American Rail Excursions, based on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River near St. Louis, MO. American Rail Excursions runs a handful of private car charters every year and has an excellent reputation for their customer service. In June 2016, Interpretive Guides Joe Kuczynski and Dave Poole this the rails to narrate for passengers between Chicago and Kansas City, MO. Some of the stories they shared included the railroad history of Galesburg, the deadly mine fire at Cherry Hill, Illinois, and about the Mississippi River town of Fort Madison, Iowa. The duo passed through the APRHF Headquarters city of La Plata before rolling into Kansas City Union Station.

This was part of an excursion that brought passengers through the famed “Iron Triangle” of Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City. We appreciate the change to work with Roger Roger Verbeeren at American Rail Excursions and look forward to being on more of his trips in 2017. For more information, check out http://www.americantraintrips.com.

FRIENDS OF THE CUMBRES AND TOLTEC SCENIC RAILROAD – CHAMA, NEW MEXICO

The Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad was another new partner for the APRHF Rail Rangers in 2016 that worked out very well. The Rail Rangers worked with Tim Tennant, President of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, to provide narration for passengers on a private railcar trip between Chicago and Los Angeles. Guides rode the first 300 miles of the journey from Union Station to La Plata, Missouri, providing tales of the towns along the route through Illinois, the “toe” of Iowa, and far Northeast Missouri.

The Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad chartered private railcar “Montana” which provided passengers the unique experience of riding the BNSF line through Iowa and Missouri at speeds of 90 miles per hour on an open platform. Despite being based in New Mexico and primarily doing charters along the West Coast, we hope to work with the Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec whenever they roll through the Midwest again… hopefully in 2017. For more information, check out http://www.cumbrestoltec.org.

PAXRAIL – CHICAGO, IL

An exciting new partnership came about in the late half of 2016 with a veteran-owned company called Paxrail; it is based in the north suburbs of Chicago. Trips are organized by owner Jim Evanson and feature ex-Northern Pacific half-dome “Stampede Pass”.

Even though the main mission of Paxrail is to sell its trips to groups, the APRHF Rail Rangers has teamed up with Paxrail to provide narration for passengers on several of its public excursions on the Hiawatha between Chicago and Milwaukee. Interpretive Guides were on select departures in July 2016 and again in October 2016 to tell passengers about the 85-mile stretch of rail through Glenview, Sturtevant, and Milwaukee Airport. Passengers got quite a kick about learning about the sauerkraut farms in Racine County and the “secret” of identifying the state line between Illinois and Wisconsin from the train. “Stampede Pass” has been in service down at the French Lick Scenic Railroad the past couple of months and will be getting some work done over the winter. But, tentative plans are to return it to the rails between Chicago and Milwaukee this summer and fall. Rail Rangers looks forward to working more Paxrail trips come mid-to-late 2017! Stay tuned. For more information, check out http://www.paxrail.com.

APRHF RAIL RANGERS: RIDING THE HOOSIER RAILS – LAFAYETTE, IN to CHICAGO, IL

While we are working on our schedule for 2017 private rail excursions, the APRHF Rail Rangers continue participating in a four month pilot project with Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation. Interpretive Guides with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program will be aboard the Hoosier Train on select Sunday morning departures to present “rolling” educational programs about Indiana’s people, places, industry, and history. Programs take place between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago Union Station. Passengers will have the opportunity to learn about such things as the Battle of Tippecanoe (the train passes right by the battlefield!), agriculture and industry, geology, famous Hoosier ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Orville Redenbacher, and interesting facts about the dozens of trackside towns along the route such as Rensselaer, Monon, Reynolds, and Dyer. We will also see two units of the National Park Service from the train — the Kankakee River National Water Trail and Pullman National Monument.

This program is being presented in cooperation with Iowa Pacific Railroad and the Indiana Department of Transportation. Two other sponsors in the Rail Rangers’ efforts to educate passengers include the Hilton Garden Inn – Wabash Landing and the Campus Inn. Both of these West Lafayette, Indiana hotels are helping with lodging needs for Chicago-based Interpretive Guides during their layover on Saturday evenings in Indiana. The first APRHF Rail Rangers “Riding the Hoosier Rails” program took place on Sunday, November 27, 2016 on northbound Train #851. An abbreviated second program took place on Sunday, December 11, 2016. If you missed our inaugural run on the Hoosier — no need to worry! More programs are coming up soon. In fact, we will be on the train TOMORROW and EVERY Sunday in January 2017 — including January 1, January 8, January 15, January 22, and January 29th. The schedule for February and March 2017 will be released soon. Interpretive Guides board in Lafayette, IN at approximately 7:30am EST and continue talking with passengers through the approximate 10:00am CST arrival into Chicago’s Union Station. There is no additional cost for the Rail Rangers program beyond the normal train fare. Passengers traveling in both standard coach and the business class dome car will have the opportunity to interact with the Guides. To hear the full narration and to get the best views of the passing scenery from the dome car, a business class ticket is highly recommended (and you get a breakfast cooked fresh aboard the train, too!). For more information and other upcoming dates (as they are announced) you are encouraged to check www.hoosierrails.org. Some Indianapolis departures may be added in early 2017 when special events warrant. As part of its agreement with Iowa Pacific, the APRHF Rail Rangers are also releasing a brand new 110-page route guidebook for the train route between Indianapolis and Chicago. “Riding the Hoosier Rails: A Route Guide From Indianapolis to Chicago” features a distinct collection of fun, educational, and interesting stories about the communities along the route, history of the Monon Railroad, and background information about the heritage passenger rail cars used on Iowa Pacific’s train. This book was written by two members of the APRHF Rail Rangers team earlier this summer when they were researching the train route. A route guidebook will come in handy on days when there are no Interpretive Guides on the train, or by passengers who are looking for more in-depth stories than the Rail Rangers have time to share between Lafayette and Chicago.

Executive Director Tabern summed things up by saying, “We have a lot of exciting things to look forward to with both the APRHF in general and the Rail Rangers ahead in 2017. This is why people should become members of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and support the Rail Rangers by purchasing our route guidebooks. We expect to have around 10 private car trips on our schedule next year… and if the Hoosier Train program is extended beyond just our test runs, then we will have guides riding between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago atleast two weekends every month year-round. We already have contracts to be at MadCity Rail in Madison, Wisconsin in February 2017 and at Trainfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in November 2017. It doesn’t get much more exciting than this. We are so happy to be the outreach arm of the APRHF.”

APRHF Rail Rangers Continue Hoosier Train Program Through March 2017: Come Ride With Us!

In case you haven’t heard, this week marks an exciting new chapter for the APRHF’s Rail Rangers program. For the first time since the outreach affiliate of the APRHF was created in July 2015, Interpretive Guides with the Rail Rangers are presenting on-board educational programs on a public train. Iowa Pacific Holdings and the Indiana Department of Transportation reached an agreement with the APRHF earlier this summer that allows programs to be presented on the northbound Hoosier State train on select Sunday mornings. Guides board the train in Lafayette, Indiana around 7:30am Eastern Time and present their program for approximately 3.5 hours, until arriving at Chicago Union Station around 10:00am Central Time. The first trip took place on Sunday, November 27th, 2016 and featured Executive Director Robert Tabern, Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, Lead Interpretive Guide/Trainer Robert Neil, and Interpretive Guide Kathy Bruecker.

When one thinks of traveling through Indiana, corn and soybean fields probably come to mind. While there is plenty of that to see from the train — there is a lot more out there than most people realize when they stop and take time to learn about the communities they are traveling through.

Rail Rangers Executive Robert Tabern says, “We are really excited to be on the Hoosier Train. INDOT and Iowa Pacific have been great to work with up until this point, and I think their passengers are going to be the real winners. There are a lot of amazing stories out there that haven’t been told until now for passengers on this route. For example, the train goes literally feet from the Battle of Tippecanoe Site outside of Lafayette, Indiana. Many people may look out their window and see a historical marker, monument, and fence and not even know what they are looking at. We are going to be on board the train to help fill in the gaps. We will be there to explain to people that this was one of the most important battles in the Indian Wars of the Early 1810’s.”

It’s not just history that the Rail Rangers will be sharing with passengers on the Hoosier. Passengers now have some assistance spotting wildlife, too, from their windows.

Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explains, “Near Renssealer, Indiana, the train route crosses one of the most important migration areas for Sandhill Cranes anywhere in the entire country. In the spring, passengers will see these magnificent birds heading north to either Wisconsin or Michigan… and in the fall, they will stop over here in Indiana on their way back down to Florida where they winter. Jasper County is an important stop-over point for Sandhill Cranes because this is where the large flocks break down into smaller groups — and then head on the east side of Lake Michigan or on the west side. You can often spot these birds with their large wingspans ‘dancing’ in farmers fields in the early morning hours.”

A week before the Rail Rangers gave their first presentation, most of the guides participated in a driving research trip of the route that included a stop at the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area near Medaryville, Indiana, where they witnessed more than 20,000 Sandhill Cranes preparing to overnight in a field.

Even if passenger don’t see any Sandhill Cranes from the window of the train — they will likely get a chuckle out of the stuffed animal Sandhill Crane some of the Guides carry with them; it was affectionately nicknamed “Killer” by a passenger.
If it’s Indiana industry and famous people you are interested in – then riding with the APRHF Rail Rangers will also satisfy that curiosity, too.

Interpretive Guide Dave Poole mentioned, “One of the landmarks that we are going to tell passengers about is a large plant that people can seen from the train while passing through Reynolds, Indiana. I have been here several times with the company I work for. Workers with this company will go in and recover iron ore tailings from old mines in Northern Minnesota and ship them here to Indiana by rail. Workers at this plant will create pellets that are then shipped down to Kentucky or Ohio to power steel mills.”

Magnetation, Inc., the company that Poole was talking about, has actually given the Rail Rangers a sampling of the tailings and pellets to show passengers on the train. These items are just part of the larger Interactive Visitor Center that will travel with the Rail Rangers on many of their upcoming departures.

Other industry seen from the train includes many old pump houses on the south side of Chicago and a factory on the east side of Renssealer, Indiana that makes all of the buns for White Castle Restaurants.

There are also a lot of other interesting landmarks that passengers can learn about when traveling with the Rail Rangers on the Hoosier. Passengers found it interesting they were traveling through or close-to two units of the National Park Service on their journey between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago. Near Shelby, Indiana, the train crosses the Kankakee River National Water Trail, designated a NPS-affiliated site in March 2016. Passengers with a good eye can also see the main administration building of the Pullman Factory; it was designated a National Historical Site by President Barack Obama in February 2015.

So how can you participate in an APRHF Rail Rangers program on the Hoosier State? The process is quite simple. First, head over to our new website at http://www.hoosierrails.org and click on the “Upcoming Events” tab to see what dates we are scheduled to be on the train. Right now, the program will be presented approximately two to three times a month (on average) through the end of March 2017. All programs will be presented on select Sunday mornings on Train #851. Our next program will be abbreviated (due to most guides committed to an event in Minnesota) with one guide and no narration on Sunday, December 11, 2016. Our programs will re-start in full force in January 2017, as we present onboard programs EVERY Sunday morning in January 2017 — including January 1st, January 8th, January 15th, January 22nd, and January 29th. February and March trip dates will be added soon. Don’t hesitate getting your tickets, as the agreement between the APRHF and INDOT and Iowa Pacific only runs through March 26, 2017. There is a chance the program could become a permanent fixture on the train, if enough positive feedback is received from passengers.

The real beauty of the program is that there is no additional cost to participate in the Rail Rangers program on the Hoosier State; the only thing you have to pay for is the cost of either your coach or Business Class ticket. Ticket prices can be as low as $1.00! The APRHF Rail Rangers highly recommends that passengers purchase Business Class tickets – as that guarantees you a seat in the Upper Level of the historic 1950’s dome car used on the train, full access to hear our narration, and even a breakfast meal cooked fresh aboard the train by Iowa Pacific crews. Coach passengers can still interact with Guides and have their questions answered about the route. The APRHF is providing various free handouts for passengers too, including a map of Downtown Chicago, a one-page route guidesheet, an Indiana state map, a membership brochure about the APRHF, information about National Park Service sites in the area, and an order form for rail route guidebooks.

So how is the program funded? The biggest expense is overnight lodging for the Chicago-based volunteers down in Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday evenings ahead of them catching the train back north on Sunday mornings. Through a sponsorship agreement, the Hilton Garden Inn and Campus Inn Motel in West Lafayette, Indiana have agreed to cover the rooms for our guides during the test period, and possibly beyond. Other expenses are covered by the sale of a 100-page route guidebook that covers the route; it is entitled “Riding the Hoosier Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Indianapolis, IN to Chicago”. It is available for sale on the train on select departures and from a new website that the Rail Rangers just launched — http://www.railbook.org. Also for sale on this site is 8 other railroad route guidebooks written by the Taberns, the official APRHF Junior Rail Rangers Book written by Kandace Tabern and Karri Cox, and other “Flashing Yellow” Route Guidebooks for various long-distance routes written by Dr. Eva Hoffman.

The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation began its efforts to provide onboard educational programs in December 2012 when it established a partnership agreement with Amtrak and the National Park Service to create a new Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago, Illinois and La Plata, Missouri. Between May 2013 and July 2015, this program reached out to over 50,000 passengers and received national recognition for being #1 in volunteer hours amongst all non-daily Trails & Rails programs in the country. When Trails & Rails decided to end the program, the APRHF stepped in and created the Rail Rangers program on July 20, 2015. Since then, the APRHF Rail Rangers have established partnerships with five owners/operators of private railcars and have presented programs in 6 different Midwestern States. While the focus of the APRHF Rail Rangers will remain on providing programs in private railcars, we welcome the chance to reach out to passengers on a public train like the Hoosier. Since all of the railcars on the Hoosier were built during the 1950’s and 1960’s, providing programs on them fits in well with the overall APRHF mission of spreading awareness of railroad history.

APRHF Rail Rangers: Riding the Hoosier Rails Program Launches November 27, 2016

APRHF President Bob Cox and Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern are pleased to announce an expansion of the APRHF Rail Rangers program, which will commence in about four weeks from now.

On select Sunday morning departures, Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides will now be aboard the Hoosier Train from Lafayette, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois presenting “rolling” educational programs about Indiana’s people, places, industry, and history. Both coach and business class passengers will have the opportunity to learn about such things as the Battle of Tippecanoe (the train passes right by the battlefield!), agriculture and industry, geology, famous Hoosier ranging from Abraham Lincoln to Orville Redenbacher, and interesting facts about the dozens of trackside towns along the route such as Rensselaer, Monon, and Dyer.

The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit railroad history organization based in La Plata, Missouri. It partnered with Amtrak and the National Park Service to provide a similar service for long-distance train passengers in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri for three years (2012-2015) called Trails & Rails. The Rail Rangers program, which is now solely managed by the APRHF, was established in July 2015; since then its’ Interpretive Guides have been providing onboard programs for private rail car excursions across six different Midwestern states.

Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explains, “Providing our interpretive programs to passengers on a public train is a small departure from what we have been doing with the APRHF Rail Rangers up until this point. While our organization’s focus is going to remain on doing private rail excursions, we look forward to returning to a public train a few times a month and getting to interact with passengers on a more frequent basis. I really look forward to expanding our Junior Rail Rangers program.”

Doing regularly scheduled programs on the Hoosier Train will mean Interpretive Guides will be able to present programs year-round. Traditionally November through April were “quiet months” for the Rail Rangers because private rail excursions during the winter in the Upper Midwest are rare to non-existent.

APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “We are really excited to partner with both Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation to provide our services for passengers. In addition to some light narration about the towns we pass through, our Interpretive Guides are going to have free route handout sheets for everyone and maps of Downtown Chicago. People who don’t want to pay higher prices for a private rail excursion now get to be part of the Rail Rangers family and see what we are all about.”

Two other sponsors in the Rail Rangers’ efforts to educate passengers include the Hilton Garden Inn – Wabash Landing and the Campus Inn. Both of these West Lafayette, Indiana hotels are helping with lodging needs for Chicago-based Interpretive Guides during their layover in Indiana. This program would have simply not been possible without support from the Hilton Garden Inn and Campus Inn.

The inaugural APRHF Rail Rangers “Riding the Hoosier Rails” program will take place on Sunday, November 27, 2016 on northbound Train #851. Interpretive Guides will board in Lafayette, Indiana at approximately 7:30am Eastern Standard Time and continue interacting with passengers through the approximate 10:00am Central Time arrival into Chicago’s Union Station. There is no additional cost for the Rail Rangers program beyond the normal train fares. Passengers traveling in both standard coach and the business class dome car will have the opportunity to interact with the Guides.

Following the inaugural run, interpretive programs will take place as often as possible depending on special events, anticipated train ridership, and Interpretive Guide and hotel availability. The APRHF Rail Rangers have posted their schedule for the next three months. Programs are expected to take place between Lafayette and Chicago on the following dates: November 27, 2016; December 10, 2016; January 1, 2017, January 8, 2017, January 15, 2017; January 22, 2017; and January 29, 2017. Programs dates are subject to change, delay, or cancellation. Any updates to the schedule can be found on the APRHF Rail Rangers website at www.railrangers.org or the new website launched this weekend that is specific to the Rail Rangers “Riding the Hoosier Rails” efforts, www.hoosierrails.org.

The idea behind having APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides on select departures of the Hoosier Train came about in June 2016 when Iowa Pacific’s President Ed Ellis rode on a Zephyr Route private rail excursion between La Grange Road and Galesburg, Illinois. (Iowa Pacific operates the Hoosier Train). Mr. Ellis was so impressed with the narration being provided by the Rail Rangers that he collaborated with the APRHF to design a specific onboard program for his train. The Indiana Department of Transportation was also very enthusiastic about the project and quickly gave their approval. Research about the route and training for guides took place during the months of September and October, including most of the Guides driving the route and meeting local historians along the route.

As part of its agreement with Iowa Pacific, the APRHF Rail Rangers are also releasing a brand new 110-page route guidebook for the train route between Indianapolis and Chicago. “Riding the Hoosier Rails: A Route Guide From Indianapolis to Chicago” features a distinct collection of fun, educational, and interesting stories about the communities along the route, history of the Monon Railroad, and background information about the heritage passenger rail cars used on Iowa Pacific’s train. This book was written by two members of the APRHF Rail Rangers team earlier this summer when they were researching the train route. A route guidebook will come in handy on days when there are no Interpretive Guides on the train, or by passengers who are looking for more in-depth stories than the Rail Rangers have time to share between Lafayette and Chicago. Copies of the “Riding the Hoosier Rails: A Route Guide From Indianapolis to Chicago” book are $20, and will be available from APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides during select outreach events. They are also available to be ordered online at www.outsidetherails.com.

Some train departures with APRHF Rail Rangers management aboard will also feature a brand new “Passport to Your National Parks” cancellation stamp for the Rail Rangers route between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago, Illinois. Those who are interested in riding when the stamp is aboard the train can check the APRHF Rail Rangers website. Click on the “Upcoming Events” tab. Any event that has a small Passport Stamp icon next to it means the Lafayette to Chicago stamp, along with our six other ones, will be available for collectors.

The APRHF Rail Rangers “Riding the Hoosier Rails” program will operate through March 26, 2017. At that time, the future and frequency of the program will be determined.

APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern concluded, “I am exciting to see where things will go. I really hope this becomes a permanent fixture on the train between Lafayette and Chicago at least a couple of times a month once the test period ends. I used to live in Fort Wayne, Indiana for a couple of years… and I am glad to be sharing that Hoosier Hospitality with passengers. As they say, there IS more than corn in Indiana.”

Rail Rangers Brings Private Railcar Passengers to La Plata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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