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.
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.
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).
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.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!