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

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

Capture

The MRR Headquarters is Moving

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

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

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

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

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

And… with that… our HQ move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got a Suggestion for a 2020 Private Rail Excursion?

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

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

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

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

South Shore Line Programs Continue Over Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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