Join the APRHF Rail Rangers on Saturday, September 22nd for a Dome Car Ride: Chicago to Quincy, IL Roundtrip in a Day

The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program will once again be teaming up with Zephyr Route Tours to present an onboard educational program for passengers aboard a historic 1950’s dome car round-trip between Chicago and Quincy, Illinois. Mark your calendar for Saturday, September 22nd, 2018. With Amtrak putting more and more restrictions on private car movements earlier this year — this is something that you should take full advantage of while you still can!

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The excursion’s feature car will be the Milwaukee Road Super Dome #53, one of the ‘premium class’ cars owned by the Friends of the 261 organization. “A new outlook on happy travel” boosted the Milwaukee Road, with their first end-to-end dome cars built for any railroad. Built for the Milwaukee Road by Pullman Standard in 1952 as Super Dome 53, it is one of 10 ever built and is the heaviest passenger car ever built, weighing in at 104 tons. With over 85 feet of glass to look out on either side, you are sure to not miss a thing during the 500-mile trek across the nation’s breadbasket.

The journey departs Chicago Union Station shortly after 7:30am and returns just before 10:00pm. In the afternoon, passengers will have approximately three to four hours to enjoy the sights and sounds of Mark Twain’s Hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. A motorcoach transfer from Quincy to Hannibal is included in the package price; a riverboat ride on the Mississippi River is available for an extra $18 (highly recommended!). While on the train, enjoy freshly prepared meals each way.

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On the westbound journey, you’ll learn interesting stories about everything passing by outside your window from APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern, APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern, and Interpretive Guide Dave Poole. Landmarks include the BNSF “Racetrack” through the Western Suburbs of Chicago, Aurora, the filming site of “Superman: Man of Steel” in Plano, the Cherry Mine Disaster (we’ll even bring a prop along!), the two “high bridges” west of Princeton, Galesburg, Macomb, a beautifully restored grain mill, and much more! We’ll even point out the hidden spot where you can actually see camels in a pen along the tracks. The APRHF Rail Rangers will even have a limited supply of their Chicago to Quincy, IL railroad route guidebooks available onboard for a $15 donation to our 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your support helps pays for the research, handouts, and other costs of doing our programs. Enjoy casual conversation and one-on-one interactions with Interpretive Guide Poole on the eastbound trip.

Passengers may board the excursion in Downtown Chicago at Union Station (departure 7:37am, return 9:51pm), in the western suburbs at Naperville (departure 8:12am, return 9:03am), or out in Princeton (departure 9:23am, return 7:48pm). Please inquire with Zephyr Route directly about the possibilities of accessing the excursion at other stops along the route.

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Price is $349 per person for Chicago and Naperville bookings; $199 for Princeton, IL bookings. For more information and to purchase your tickets, contact Zephyr Route tours directly at zephyr360@att.net or (630) 542-3607.

APRHF Rail Rangers’ Spring & Summer 2018 Private Rail Schedule: Illinois, Missouri, Michigan & More…

The APRHF Rail Rangers have been working hard with their private rail partners over the last few months to design memorable excursions once again in 2018. Tickets are on sale now for all three of these trips – so here is a sneak peek:

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CHICAGO TO ST. LOUIS, MO: Join APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guide Dave Poole on Friday, April 27, 2018 for a trip on the old Alton Route between Chicago and St. Louis, MO. This trip is organized by Zephyr Route Tours and will feature a private full-length dome car. The train departs Chicago Union Station at 9:25am and arrives into St. Louis Gateway Station at 3:00pm. Dave will narrate about interesting landmarks such as the I&M Canal, Route 66, the Lincoln sites of Central Illinois, and the Gateway Geyser and St. Louis Arch. You’ll enjoy the 284-mile-long trip in style with meals prepared freshly aboard the train. While narration will only be provided on the southbound leg, this trip is part of a three-day package offered by Zephyr Route tours, who you will need to purchase tickets through. Travelers will have all day to explore St. Louis before returning home on Sunday, April 29, 2018. The per person fare of $749 from Chicago includes deluxe roundtrip travel on board the restored dome car (with Rail Rangers narration one way), meals and beverages aboard the train, and transfers to/from the hotel with two nights lodging. Lower fares may be available from Bloomington and Springfield (subject to availability). An optional trolley tour of St. Louis will be offered during the weekend for an extra cost. Those interested in making reservations should contact Zephyr Route Tours directly at (630) 542-3607, or zephyr360@att.net.

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CHICAGO TO KALAMAZOO, MI: Join APRHF Rail Rangers Interpretive Guide Fred Glure on Saturday, May 5, 2018 for a trip through the south side of Chicago, the historic steel-mill region of Northwest Indiana, and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore en route to Kalamazoo, Michigan. APRHF Rail Rangers will be teaming up with the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago for a weekend trip between Chicago and Kalamazoo, Michigan. Passengers depart Chicago at 7:20am CT and arrive in Kalamazoo, MI just before Noon ET. This is a charter of an Amtrak coach car and will feature either Amfleet or Horizon equipment. Fred will provide commentary about the route through Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan and will have free APRHF Rail Rangers route guide sheet handouts for all of the passengers. From Kalamazoo, passengers will head to Holland, Michigan for a special Tulip Time presentation. Note the APRHF Rail Rangers are only providing narration one-way from Chicago to Kalamazoo on May 5th… however, this trip package has travelers overnight-ing in Michigan and returning on Sunday, May 6, 2018. The price is $329 per person double occupancy for the weekend package. Those interested should contact the 20th Century Railroad Club directly to purchase their tickets at trips@20thcentury.org or (312) 829-4500.

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CHICAGO TO GALESBURG, ILLINOIS/QUINCY, ILLINOIS/HANNIBAL, MISSOURI: APRHF Rail Rangers will also be teaming up with Zephyr Route Tours for a day-trip between Chicago and Hannibal, Missouri on Saturday, June 23, 2018. Passengers depart Chicago at 7:35am and have the option of either riding in a full-length restored dome car to Galesburg (approximate 10:15am arrival) or Quincy (approximate Noon arrival). Those going to Galesburg will have seven hours to spend at the annual Galesburg Railroad Days event. Those going to Quincy will head to Hannibal, Missouri via motorcoach for an afternoon of fun that can include exploring Mark Twain’s hometown, or possibly taking a riverboat ride on the Mississippi River (additional fee). Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern and Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern will be on the westbound journey to narrate and hand out free route guide sheets. Interpretive Guides Robert Neil and Dave Poole will be on the eastbound trip back to Chicago to point out additional landmarks. Learn about sites such as the busy BNSF “Racetrack”, Cicero and Al Capone, the Cherry Mine Disaster, the “high bridges” west of Princeton, Illinois, and the camel farm. Yes — there really are camels visible from the train between Galesburg and Quincy. Will you have a sharp enough eye to spot them?Those interested in making reservations should contact Zephyr Route Tours directly at (630) 542-3607, or zephyr360@att.net. The price is JUST $199.00; this includes the train ride and meals aboard the train, plus round-trip motorcoach between Quincy and Hannibal. This is a GREAT opportunity for those interested in seeing what a private railcar trip is all about!

UPDATE: ABOVE TRIP IS NOW “SOLD OUT”… PLEASE CALL TO BE PLACED ON A WAITING LIST

If you can’t make any of these trips — don’t worry! Additional private railcar trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota are expected to be announced soon for later in the summer and/or early fall. Be sure to be among the first to get notice of these trips by signing up for the APRHF Rail Rangers’ e-newsletter through their website, www.railrangers.org.

Remember, the APRHF Rail Rangers also offer their onboard educational programs two to three times per month on the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, For a complete schedule head to www.railrangers.org or www.dunestrain.com. Programs depart Chicago at 8:40am CT and arrive South Bend at 12:10pm ET… then depart South Bend at 1:05pm and arrive back in Chicago around 2:40pm CT. Roundtrip fares on the South Shore are $27 or less. Rail Rangers’ programs take place in one car on the train and seating is strictly on a first come, first serve basis. We are usually towards the center of the train — just look for our bright yellow signs and Interpretive Guides in black uniforms sitting forward the middle of the car.

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Upcoming program dates for the South Shore are: March 10 (narrating for a private group Dune Park – South Bend R/T), March 24, April 7, April 14, April 28, May 5, June 2, June 16, August 20 (narrating for another private group – One way Chicago to South Bend). Additional summer dates will be released next month.

For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers, contact APRHF Vice President/Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern at info@railrangers.org.

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!

Explore Fall Foliage with the APRHF Rail Rangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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