APRHF President and Treasurer Check out the South Shore With the Rail Rangers!!

(This article was written by APRHF President Bob Cox. The Rail Rangers were an outreach affiliate of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation from July 20, 2015 to December 22, 2018).

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“Why are we getting up this early?” was the question when the alarm went off at 5:30 am. Oh yes, it is South Shore train ride day! That made getting up early much more bearable. It was not long before the Chicago Coordinators Robert and Kandace Tabern showed up at the hotel to pick us up and whisk us off to Millennium Station. Not our first visit there, but our first time to actually ride the South Shore. It was also our first time to review the South Shore program that the Rail Rangers do on select weekends. Once we boarded the train, Robert put out the speakers while Kandace got the scripts and props ready and Steve got the microphone ready.

Almost ready for sound check. Check 1, 2, 3… We are ready to go!

It is now time to wait for departure. A few people came right to the car because they read about the program online. One of our newest APRHF members, Keith Thomas, joined us all the way from Milwaukee. He takes a seat and gets ready for his first ride on the South Shore, too.

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All Aboard! And we are off. The Rail Rangers program is announced on the train and passengers are told which car it is in if they want to join. Soon the car was full. Steve is doing the route to South Bend, Indiana this morning.

The route miles are rolling by and people are having a good time listening to the program and reading their handouts.

Beverly Shores station is a flag stop along the route. It boasts a unique style of architecture for this area.

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Before we know it, Michigan City is upon us. This is the Headquarters for the South Shore Railroad. Michigan City is known for having the last street running for an interurban railroad. It sure is fun rolling down the middle of the street. They of course have a yard with equipment and everyone was enjoying spying the caboose. Sorry no picture, mine was blurry.

Here is the old Michigan City station. This area is still served, just a little farther down the road.

There was an ad car in the yard (pic 1). Got a clean view of the pantographs up on some equipment (pic 2). All the South Shore trains originate in Michigan City.

After Michigan City, it is back on the fast track as we roll on to South Bend Airport with a carload of passengers continuing to learn about the route and the neat things that we are passing.

Next up, South Bend Airport. We made it! All passengers detrain and this give us time for some lunch and some conversation with the crew and each other. The food in the airport was good. They had some cool snacks. The Bar Fly is the name of the cafe.

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Lunch is over and it is time to head back to Chicago. Robert and Kandace will be narrating the route back home. A side note is each guide does the route differently, that way you do not hear the same stories both ways.

We had a nice ride back to Chicago and Keith didn’t fall asleep, so I guess we all did good. It was fun visiting with the passengers and listening to the program as we rolled across Illinois and Indiana. All to soon, we were at the bumping post in Millennium Station.

The Rail Rangers are an outreach of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation. They do interpretive narration on private rail car tours and this South Shore program. To go on a trip with them or get your own route guide, check out www.railrangers.org.

 

 

Mark Your Calendars: APRHF Rail Rangers Annouce Summer 2018 South Shore Schedule

This spring and summer will definitely be a busy one for the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program. Volunteer Interpretive Guides with our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization will be presenting more than one dozen on-board educational programs on the South Shore Line between the months of April and August. Get your calendar out and plan to join us for a trip or two! The best part is… there is no extra cost above your regular train ticket to participate. One-way adult fares are $13.50 or less… making it extremely affordable for families to travel and learn about the people, places, and history right outside their window between Chicago and South Bend. There’s no reservations needed either — just hop on and off where you want.

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For the past eight months now, volunteers with the APRHF Rail Rangers have been riding the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana, on select weekend dates, sharing interesting facts with passengers about what they are seeing out their windows. The South South Line is one of the very last electric interurban railroads left anywhere in the United States; it connects Downtown Chicago with communities such as Hammond, Gary, Dune Park, Beverly Shores, Michigan City, Hudson Lake, and South Bend. The train line is quite scenic, passing through (or very close to) four National Park Service units — including the Illinois & Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor, Pullman National Monument, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Kankakee River National Water Trail.

Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “The Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, who runs the South Shore Line, has been incredibly supportive of having APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides aboard. Their management team received such positive feedback from passengers about our programs that our initial six-month test period was extended into 2019 now. We are so glad the NICTD agrees with us — that passengers get so much more out of their rides when they know about the cool things out their window.”

Interpretive Guide Kathy Bruecker, who has narrated on several South Shore Line trips for the APRHF Rail Rangers adds, “I really enjoy telling people about the lesser-known stories along the route. In Michigan City, the route of the South Shore crosses where President Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train passed through on May 1, 1865. Residents of the town turned out by the thousands and built a giant arch to commemorate the slain leader. A bit down the line, there is a small lake that contains jelly fish. People don’t expect that in Indiana. These jelly fish are just about the size of nickles and contain very small stingers. No one really even know how they got there. There are even swamps we pass by in St. Joseph County that contain carnivorous plants. Even regular South Shore Line riders are stunned at some of the things out there they didn’t know about.”

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Passengers can learn about these stories and much more by riding with the APRHF Rail Rangers this coming spring and summer on the South Shore Line.

Interpretive Guides typically ride one round-trip between Chicago-Millennium Station and South Bend-Airport Station two to three Saturdays per month. Eastbound trips leave Downtown Chicago at 8:40am Central Time and arrive in South Bend at 12:10pm Eastern Time. Westbound trips leave South Bend at 1:05pm Eastern Time and return to Downtown Chicago at 2:40pm Central Time. Programs are presented on one car of the train – just look for the yellow Rail Rangers signs to see what car Guides are in. Seating is on a first come, first serve basis… no reservations are taken.

Upcoming Spring/Summer 2018 Program Dates are below:

APRIL: April 7*, April 14 & April 28

MAY: May 5* & May 19

JUNE: June 3* & June 16*

JULY: July 8* & July 14

AUGUST: August 11, August 20* (for a private group), August 25

(Dates with an asterisk indicate our ‘enhanced’ programs that feature our Junior Rail Rangers program and our APRHF Passport Program Cancellation Stamps)

Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “We are really excited about the positive response travelers have had to our programs. We have even got contacted by several private travel groups in the past couple of months that want us to narrate for them. In March, we did a special private program for more than 40 members of the Duneland Seniors organization. At the end of August, we are doing another special private program for Farmers on the Bum, a group of friends from Appleton, Wisconsin who travel together every year somewhere. It’s really cool they heard about the Rail Rangers and want to check out the amazing South Shore Line.”

Passengers who travel on other South Shore Line departures when Interpretive Guides are not aboard, can still learn about the sites out their window through a route guide book written by the Rail Rangers. “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend, IN”, which contains more than 100 pages of information, is available online at MidwestRails.com as both a regular hard copy book ($20) and a downloadable e-book PDF file ($15). We’re told a podcast version is even in the works for later this summer! Proceeds from the sale of route guides go toward funding the APRHF Rail Rangers’ program on the South Shore, including expenses for route guide sheets and other handouts, a wireless speaker system, and the insurance required by the NICTD. A limited number of route guidebooks are sometimes for sale on select South Shore Line excursions, too.

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The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation began its on-board educational programs in 2012, co-sponsoring an Amtrak/National Park Service Trails & Rails route through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. In 2015, the APRHF’s Trails & Rails program transitioned into the APRHF Rail Rangers. The organization’s main focus is providing on-board educational programs on private rail excursions on historic private rail excursions across the Upper Midwest. Public programs on the South Shore launched on August 5, 2017.

For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers, check out their websites, DunesTrain.com and RailRangers.org, or drop their management team an e-mail at info@railrangers.org. You can also connect via Facebook and Twitter.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year from the APRHF Rail Rangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!

Passengers Attend APRHF Rail Rangers’ Inaugural Run on the South Shore Line

This past Saturday (August 5, 2017) marked the inaugural run for the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program on the South Shore Line between Chicago, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana. Dozens of passengers turned out to listen to the new series of live on board educational programs that cover a wide variety of topics, including the downtown and south side neighborhoods of Chicago, the historic steel mill region of Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the “breadbasket” agricultural region of western La Porte and St. Joseph Counties.

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Things got underway with the departure of South Shore Line Train #503 at 8:40am Central Time from Millennium Station. Even though the APRHF Rail Rangers have been involved with dozens of private rail excursions out of Chicago over the past two years, this was the first time that our guides have done a program departing Millennium Station. All other programs have been out of Union Station, which is located about two miles away across the Loop. The original station on the site was constructed by the Illinois Central Railroad in 1856 and was known as ‘Great Central Station’. It changed names to Randolph Street Station, and finally Millennium Station (in 2005). South Shore Line trains operate out of the first level; the second level of platforms below is used by Metra Electric commuter service to University Park, Illinois. South Shore and Metra Electric trains share stations and trackage for the first 14.5 miles of the South Shore’s trip to South Bend, Indiana (until Kensington/115th Street). No long-distance passenger trains use Chicago’s Millennium Station.

At the conductor’s request, our interpretive guides set up the program in the third car back from the front of the train going eastbound (which became the sixth car back going westbound). One of the benefits of doing programs on the South Shore’s eight-car train sets is that one car can easily be designated for narration. Those who want to hear the program can have a seat and enjoy learning about the surrounding landscape. Those who want a more quiet experience and/or don’t care to learn about what is out their window have the ability to move to one of the other cars on the train. Aboard for the first run were APRHF Vice-President/Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, APRHF Secretary/Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Rail Rangers Lead Interpretive Guide Robert Neil. Nearly 80 passengers were in attendance in the Rail Rangers Car both ways to hear the program — several traveled just to hear the narration since the program was advertised in media around Northwest Indiana and South Bend during the week prior.

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While passing through the south side of Chicago, Interpretive Guides pointed out various major landmarks like the Field Museum, Soldier Field, McCormick Place, and the Museum of Science and Industry. All are with-in easy walking distance of the tracks used by the South Shore Line. One of the “lesser known” attractions that caught the attention of a lot of passengers was live narration about Woods Oak Cemetery, located just west of the South Shore Line tracks near 67th Street. More than 4,000 Confederate Civil War Prisoners of War are buried here. They died while being held between 1863 and 1865 at Chicago’s Camp Douglas. It was considered the “Andersonville of the North” and was the largest Prisoner of War Camp operated by the Union Army. Even several life-long Chicagoans on the train admitted that they didn’t know about Camp Douglas or that thousands of Confederate soldiers are buried in a mass grave on the south side of Chicago.

Both rail enthusiasts and those who knew little about railroad history alike enjoyed passing by Pullman National Monument. The South Shore Line travels right by the clock tower and administration building of the old Pullman Factory. George Pullman set up shop here in the late 1800′s to make sleeping cars. The area morphed into a “company town” with its distinctive row houses. The area became a national monument in 2015, with the National Park Service planning a major restoration in the coming years.

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After stopping at Hegewisch (the last station stop in Illinois), passengers began passing through the steel mill and industrial area of Northwest Indiana. Cities along the way include Hammond, East Chicago, and Gary. One highlight was passing through a field of fuel storage tanks. Interpretive Guide Robert Neil explained to everyone that if you added up the capacity from all of the tanks, it would equal 1.3 million gallons. Inside was fuel, jet fuel, and ethanol. Pipelines connect the storage tanks to places as far away as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and far Southwestern Illinois. Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explained how iron ore pellets are brought down from Northern Minnesota on Great Lakes barges to the steel mills in Gary, which sits on the southernmost point on Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, Executive Director Robert Tabern played a clip of the song ‘Gary, Indiana’ from the musical ‘The Music Man’ for everyone over the PA system when we stopped at Gary’s Metro Center station. Gary was also the birthplace of pop singer Micheal Jackson.

The next section of the journey includes passing through the very heart of the Indiana Dunes National Lakehore, a unit of the National Park Service. The park was created in 1966 after the Port of Indiana was built, destroying a large area of sand dunes – some of which were upto 200 feet high. The National Park Service maintains a visitor center, trails, campgrounds, and even horse trails. Four stops on the South Shore Line are in or adjacent to the National Lakeshore, meaning people can use the South Shore to get to the park without having to deal with busy traffic on I-80, I-90, or I-94. Several beaches on Lake Michigan are even with-in walking distance of the train line.

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APRHF Vice President and Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “The APRHF and the Rail Rangers are looking forward to working with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the National Park Service in the future to enhance and further promote our new onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line. We have already signed an agreement that our interpretive programs are officially part of the Indiana Dunes Volunteer-Guided program schedule. All of our volunteer hours will be given to the park… this helps them get more funding for programs and things that need to be done in the park. We have a meeting down in Indiana with park management on October 22nd to figure out how we can even better collaborate on this. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore has wanted to have onboard guides on the South Shore Line for many years, but it wasn’t until the APRHF got involved that we were able to bring all sides together to make something like this to happen.”

 

You may remember that the APRHF previously worked with the National Park Service between 2012 and 2015 when both organizations co-sponsored a Trails & Rails program on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO. When Trails & Rails decided to terminate the Chicago-based Trails & Rails program through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri, the APRHF Rail Rangers was formed to focus on private rail excursions. The Rail Rangers expanded to public rail programs in November 2016 with the start-up of programs on the then-Iowa Pacific operated Hoosier State train between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago. When Amtrak took the route back over in March 2017, the Rail Rangers set their focus on partnering with the South Shore Line. After six month of research and paperwork, the first program launched August 5th.

 

Tabern says, ” Things are a little different in this renewed partnership with the National Park Service. The South Shore has been amazing to work with every step of the way. When we were under the Trails & Rails umbrella, we had to work with Amtrak officials. With the Rail Rangers program on the South Shore, we are going to be working directly one-on-one with the staff at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore to promote our program and better educate our guides about the park they are doing programs about. When we did Trails & Rails, we worked remotely with some ranger 1,000 miles away in Texas. That just didn’t work for us. Also, Rail Rangers and the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation Board of Directors will be maintaining day-to-day operational control over the programs on the South Shore. Amtrak and the National Park Service had the controlling interest in the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief and the ability to end the program. We won’t be giving that up this time around with the Rail Rangers on the South Shore based on what happened with Trails & Rails two years ago.”

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After leaving the Indiana Dunes, the train passes through Michigan City and rural farm landscapes before reaching South Bend. Some of the sites mentioned to passengers include the former Monon Route used for Abraham Lincoln’s Funeral Train, a boarding school that the current Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court attended, a lake that has fresh water jellyfish, and new natural gas power plant being built, and a bog containing insect-eating plants.

The first eastbound program  ended at 12:10pm Eastern Time when the train rolled into the South Bend Airport South Shore Line station. After a 55-minute break, a similar program (except presented in reverse) was given to westbound passengers on Train #506 between South Bend and Chicago. Crowds were even bigger for the run back to Chicago, with many passengers attending a music festival that evening at Grant Park in Chicago.

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If you missed the inaugural run of the Rail Rangers on the South Shore, don’t worry!  More programs will be presented two to three Saturdays per month. Upcoming dates include August 26, September 9, September 23, October 7, October 21, and October 28. Additional dates in November 2017, December 2017, and January 2018 will be announced soon. For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers and our new program on the South Shore Line, contact Executive Director Robert Tabern and our team of Interpretive Guides by e-mailing info@railrangers.org.

APRHF Rail Rangers Begin New Program on the South Shore Line in Illinois and Indiana

Rail passengers who plan to travel between Chicago, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana  are in for a real treat this summer and fall.  Earlier today, APRHF President Bob Cox  announced that  a new agreement has been signed, allowing APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides to present onboard educational programs on South Shore Line trains, beginning next month. The South Shore Line, now owned and operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District,  is one of the last electric interurban train routes left anywhere in the country, spanning 90 miles between Chicago, Gary, Michigan City, and South Bend. Guides will enhance passengers’ journeys by providing live narration about landmarks on the south side of Chicago, the historic steel-making region of Northwest Indiana, the scenic Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the ‘breadbasket’ farm region of LaPorte and St. Joseph County, Indiana. A new 120-page route guidebook will also be offered, along with free handout sheets.

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Interpretive Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers will be available to present programs on the South Shore approximately two to three Saturdays per month, with the first program slated to occur on Saturday, August 5, 2017. Eastbound programs will be on Train #503, which departs Chicago-Millennium Station at 8:40am CT and arrives at the South Bend Airport Station at 12:10PM ET. Westbound programs will be on Train #506, which departs the South Bend Airport Station at 1:05pm ET and arrives back into Chicago-Millennium Station at 2:39PM CT. Those wishing to hear the Rail Rangers’ program have the option of riding the entire round-trip or boarding from any of the intermediate stations stops along the route; that includes Chicago-Van Buren Station, Chicago-Museum Campus/11th Street, Chicago-McCormick Place, Chicago-57th Street, Hegewisch, Hammond, East Chicago, Gary/Chicago Airport, Gary-Metro Center, Miller, Portage/Ogden Dunes, Dune Park, Beverly Shores, Michigan City-11th Street, Michigan City-Carroll Avenue, and Hudson Lake.

Upcoming interpretive program dates through mid-fall 2017 include: August 5, August 26, September 9, September 23, October 21, and October 28. The initial test period between the APRHF and the South Shore Line continues through January 31, 2018. Program dates for November, December, and January will be announced soon. If things go well, Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides hope to become a permanent fixture on the route.

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The APRHF first began presenting educational programs in December 2012 through a partnership with the National Park Service and Amtrak; the result was a new co-sponsored Trails & Rails route through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Volunteer docents were stationed in the lounge car on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train four days per week during the summer to educate passengers about the history and geography of trackside towns on the 300-mile stretch of track between Chicago and La Plata.

APRHF President Bob Cox remembers, “Passengers who were traveling the entire distance between Chicago and Los Angeles, but who had never been to Northeast Missouri, were fascinated with the stories our Trails & Rails guides would share on the train. We would talk about the ghost town of Dumas, which is supposedly haunted following a major train derailment near the Des Moines River in the 1880’s. It’s not even a blip on the state highway map today; I think there is a solitary house you see from the train there. Another one of the favorite stories was about Ella Ewing. She was from the small town of Gorin, and is said to have been the tallest woman ever to live. Ella traveled with the circus and used her money to build a custom-made house for her eight feet, four inch height. People also loved the passing look they got of the old Santa Fe Railroad Hotel in Baring too.”

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The APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails programs between Chicago and La Plata quickly earned national recognition. During the 2013 and 2014 summer seasons, docents reached out to over 50,000 Amtrak passengers. The group’s leaders even wrote a 350-page route guidebook for passengers who wanted more stories than guides had time to share during their five hours aboard; it is entitled, “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO.” (copies available at www.aprhfstore.com).

Despite the incredible accomplishments, Trails & Rails management made the decision to end its partnership with the APRHF in July 2015. This closed the door on the docents’ onboard educational efforts on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief through Northern Missouri. In the weeks that followed, the APRHF’s headquarters was flooded with hundreds of e-mails and phone calls, encouraging volunteer guides to find a new outlet for their onboard programs. Since providing talks on public Amtrak trains was no longer an option, the APRHF’s Board of Directors issued a direct appeal to private railcar owners. These small groups of individuals own and operate collections of historic train cars from the early-to-mid 1900’s that are used primarily for group excursions or private charters. About a half-dozen owners quickly signed on to have APRHF volunteers aboard their trips in the Upper Midwest during 2016. The APRHF decided to brand its new outreach program as ‘Rail Rangers’; it seemed fitting since guides provide historical programs on trains, much like land-based rangers do at state and national parks.

In the past two years since the program began, the APRHF Rail Rangers have participated in nearly two dozen private rail excursions across seven states in the Upper Midwest – Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. Current private rail/excursion partners include Friends of the 261, Zephyr Route, American Rail Excursions, Paxrail, Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, and the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago.

While the primary mission of the Rail Rangers will always remain providing educational programs on private rail excursions, leaders of the group also look forward to opportunities to expand programs to public rail trips too. APRHF Vice-President/Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern says, “Private rail excursions can be pricey; it’s just the nature of the beast. By expanding our educational efforts to public train rides too, we are able to reach out to a whole new group of rail passengers who also want to know what is out their window. Passengers can pay less than $10 for a ticket to hear the Rail Rangers’ program on the South Shore Line and that is pretty cool.”

The Rail Rangers were lucky enough to expand their efforts from just private railcars to also include public trains  about a year ago, thanks in large part to support from Ed Ellis, President of Iowa Pacific Railroad. Mr. Ellis just happened to be riding on the Rail Rangers’ private rail excursion to Galesburg, Illinois in June 2016. Being so impressed with the narration he was hearing, Mr. Ellis approached APRHF Vice-President Robert Tabern about having the organization’s Interpretive Guides ride on the Hoosier State train through Indiana and Illinois. At the time, Iowa Pacific provided the onboard services for the Hoosier. After several months of research and training, educational programs began to take place on select Sunday mornings between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago-Union Station in November 2016.  Iowa Pacific and the Indiana Department of Transportation both received incredible feedback from passengers who were finally able to know what they were seeing out their window during the 120-mile journey. Unfortunately, the “test period” to have Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides aboard the Hoosier was cut short when Iowa Pacific ended its management of train services on February 28, 2017. Amtrak chose not to have educational programs as part of their new service model for the Hoosier State.

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Recognizing that for the Rail Rangers to have a successful future, it must have both a private rail and public rail component, the APRHF Board of Directors began immediately approaching several potential new partners when it looked like the Hoosier program was going to fall through. Rail Rangers’ Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “One of the first companies that we approached about having guides aboard was the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District, or NICTD. From the first phone call we had with their marketing team in March 2017, they have always been very open and supportive of having our Guides on the train. They knew their route, at two-and-a-half hours in length, and going through varied scenery, was a perfect fit for an educational program. They have been one of the best partners we have had!  We really look forward to serving their passengers and being an outreach tool for them to make passengers’ rides that much more enjoyable.”

A formal agreement was signed between the APRHF Rail Rangers and the NICTD  just a few weeks ago. Per the deal, Interpretive Guides will present programs in one designated car of the train on select Saturday morning round-trip departures between Chicago and South Bend. Passengers must be in the “Rail Rangers Car” to hear the live narration, however Rail Rangers’ Guides will roam the whole train several times to answer questions and provide complimentary maps of Downtown Chicago and route guide sheets. Guides will also be selling copies of a 120-page route guidebook on the train; it is specifically designed for the South Shore route. “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend, IN” begins with an introduction about Chicago interurbans from famed railroad author John Kelly. It then launches into a milepost-by-milepost description of the South Shore Line between Chicago-Millennium Station and South Bend Airport. The sale of these guidebooks for just $20 are the most significant source of funding for the Rail Rangers’ program on the South Shore Line. Copies of the book are also available through the Rail Rangers at www.midwestrails.com.

Fans of the National Park Service’s Passport to Your National Parks® program have an added reason to ride with the APRHF Rail Rangers on the South Shore Line. On select trips, special South Shore-specific cancellation stamps will be available to passengers for Pullman National Monument, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the Kankakee River National Water Trail. The train line runs adjacent to Pullman National Monument, right through the heart of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and just a few miles away from the recently-designated Kankakee River National Water Trail. There is a special fourth cancellation just for the program on the South Shore Line that reads “APRHF Rail Rangers” on the top, and “Chicago, IL to South Bend, IN” on the bottom. Those seeking the cancellation stamps must ride on the South Shore Line with the Rail Rangers, as these cancellations will not be available at the parks’ visitor centers.  Cancellations are also available at select outreach events.

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For more information about the Rail Rangers’ new program on the South Shore Line, a new website has been launched. Check out www.southshoreline.org. Of course, the Rail Rangers will maintain their main website, at www.railrangers.org, which covers information on both private and public rail excursions. More information about the program can be obtained by e-mailing the Rail Rangers at info@railrangers.org or by leaving us a voicemail message at (847) 271-1979.