APRHF Rail Rangers Launch On-Demand Narration with TrainPodcast.com

Since July 2015, Interpretive Guides with the APRHF Rail Rangers program have been educating (as well as entertaining!) train passengers about what can be seen out their window. Without a doubt… travelers love learning about the people, places, and history of the various areas they are passing through. It helps pass the time aboard the train for many… and makes one better educated about the country. Perhaps you have caught one of the APRHF Rail Rangers’ “history talks” on a private rail excursion somewhere across the Midwest… or the South Shore Line between Downtown Chicago, Illinois and South Bend, Indiana?

One of the biggest challenges the APRHF Rail Rangers program has faced over the past three-and-a-half years is trying to reach out to as many train passengers as possible with on-board educational programs. Interpretive Guides with the Rail Rangers currently ride the South Shore Line two to three weekends per month year-round… and are on private rail excursions out of Chicago Union Station up to one dozen times per year. However, that barely scratches the surface for the millions of train rides passengers take every year across the Upper Midwest.

But… what if you could take the APRHF Rail Rangers with you whenever you are on a train ride in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and/or Wisconsin?

Well, now you can!

The APRHF Rail Rangers are proud to announce they have researched, written, and recorded 18 different MP3 podcasts for all of the major regional and long-distance passenger train lines across the Midwest.

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It doesn’t matter when you take a train ride — you can now purchase and download an MP3 podcast from the APRHF Rail Rangers to learn about the areas you are traveling through. Podcasts are now available for train routes running between Chicago and Milwaukee (Wisconsin), St. Paul-Minneapolis (Minnesota), La Plata (Missouri), Quincy (Illinois), St. Louis (Missouri), Carbondale (Illinois), Indianapolis (Indiana), South Bend Airport (Indiana) on the South Shore Line, and Detroit/Pontiac (Michigan).

All 12 of the APRHF Rail Rangers worked hard and contributed their voices for the MP3 podcasts. For example, purchase and download the MP3 podcast from Chicago to St. Paul (or St. Paul to Chicago) and listen to Interpretive Guides Kathy Bruecker and Steve Snyder telling you about the urban area between Chicago and Milwaukee… the scenic Driftless Region of Southwest Wisconsin… and the various Mississippi River towns in Minnesota.  Heading between La Plata, MO and Chicago in the future? You will want the Rail Rangers podcast featuring APRHF President Bob Cox and APRHF Treasurer Amy Cox to learn about historical landmarks along the Santa Fe and old CB&Q. APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern and Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern co-host all 18 podcasts. Other contributors include Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides Fred Glure, Joe Kuczynski, Alane Morgan, Robert Neil, Lowell Olberg, and Dave Poole.

The Rail Rangers’ Podcast lengths range from a little over 20 minutes to a little over one hour depending on the route. Separate podcasts have been recorded for each direction of a route, so that passengers will see the appropriate landmarks — as described on being out the right or left hand side windows. All podcasts cost $9.95 each, with all proceeds going to help support the APRHF Rail Rangers program, an affiliate of the 501(c)(3) non-profit American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation.

Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “We are really excited about this new chapter for the APRHF Rail Rangers and think it’s the future of on-board educational programs… as well as a great fundraiser. We really get such positive feedback about our programs — but we also have people approach us and say — wow, I’m going to Carbondale next weekend, I wish you were going to be on our train. Well, now we can!  Just click, download, and bring your ear phones with you — and we will be with you on any train. You can learn about your window regardless if you’re traveling north, south, west, or east out of Chicago.”

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APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern says, “We really put a lot of effort into recording these route guide podcasts… it really was a year-long process. First, we cut down the route guide material in our books and e-books that we have sold for a few years now into something that would be around 30-60 minutes in length. We don’t want to talk non-stop during someone’s train journey. Then we had to find time to record with all 12 of our Interpretive Guides… all of whom have a busy schedule. And then finding the time to edit 18 different podcasts was also a challenge. But, we got it done!  We are so happy to be able to share this with passengers. We are the only ones I know who have done train route guide podcasts for all of the major train routes out of Chicago.”

So, are you convinced and want to give the APRHF Rail Rangers brand new podcasts a try?

It’s simple… just head over to www.TrainPodcast.com and make your purchases!

The whole process is quite simple to use and understand. Each MP3 podcast download costs just $9.95 — and for that — you get 5 copies of the podcast you purchased. You can download one on your phone, laptop, desktop computer, tablet… and still have one download left to perhaps share with a friend or family member perhaps. Each download features the MP3 audio file as well as a PDF index sheet that shows a listing of the towns talked about. Basically, you listen to the story of an upcoming landmark… pause the podcast until you pass the landmark or town… and then listen up for the next story/landmark… and so on.

APRHF President Bob Cox says, “At a recent Board Meeting, we decided that starting in January 2019, TrainPodcast.com is going to offer Pullman Members ($65/year) a 15% discount code for podcasts and route guide e-books… and Engineer Members ($120/year) and above will get a 25% discount code for podcasts and route guide e-books from the APRHF Rail Rangers. It’s going to be yet another perk to look at upgrading your membership!”

Even though route guide books and e-books… and now route guide podcasts… give passengers more options to learn about the various train routes out there — you will still find the friendly faces of the APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides aboard the train too!

Robert Tabern says, “We are not going anywhere!  We will still have our Interpretive Guides on the South Shore Line two to three weekends per month and we are going to still do as many private rail excursions as we can given the new restrictions Amtrak has placed on private car movements earlier this year. Think of the podcasts as a big addition to our program when we are not on the train — but we hope people will come out an experience our live programming too because nothing replaces that one-on-one interaction we can have together on the train.”

And, even though all 18 Midwestern podcasts are done… that doesn’t mean there are not more podcasts coming!

Kandace Tabern explains, “We are going to take a little break now that we have produced podcasts for all of the major Midwestern train routes. However, starting in 2019, look for new podcasts to begin trickling on to the website. We have signed an agreement with author Eva Hoffman of the “Flashing Yellow” Route Guide series — and will begin producing podcasts for some of the routes she has written about. First up, will be for the daylight stretches of the California Zephyr between Chicago and Omaha, Denver to Green River (Utah), and from Winnemucca (Nevada) to San Francisco. We will then move on to the Southwest Chief and other routes. We got a lot more podcast coming!”

Once again, the APRHF Rail Rangers’ podcasts are now for sale at www.TrainPodcast.com.

We have a special deal for those of you who read out APRHF Blog Site, too.  Use code “ENEWS10” at check-out and get an unlimited number of Train Podcasts for 10 percent off. This offer is valid through December 31, 2018.

For more information about the APRHF Rail Rangers on-board educational programs, check out www.RailRangers.org or www.DunesTrain.com.

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.

 

 

APRHF Rail Rangers South Shore Line Educational Programs: August – December 2018 Schedule Announced

If you’re looking for something fun to do this summer or fall in the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana area that won’t break your budget… then consider joining the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s (APRHF) Rail Rangers aboard the historic and scenic South Shore Line!  Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides will be presenting onboard educational programs about the people, places, and history that can be seen along the 90-mile train route between Downtown Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. Programs presented in September and October will highlight the brilliant fall colors seen from the train while passing through the Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Those who attend the Rail Rangers’ programs will have a better understanding about the four National Park Service affiliated sites and two Indiana State Parks that are located near the train route, in addition to areas on the South Side of Chicago, the historic steel mill area of Northwest Indiana, and the “bread basket” farming region of La Porte and St. Joseph Counties in Indiana. These educational programs are presented in partnership between the 501(c)(3) non-profit American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD), which operates the South Shore Line train service.

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APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern explained, “Our Interpretive Guides have presented 30 programs over the past year on the South Shore Line… and the reaction from passengers have been extremely positive. You’re on the train for sometimes over two hours if you are going all the way from Chicago to South Bend… so people are very happy to have some fun and educational entertainment for their journey besides their I-pod or phone. We share stories that even seasoned residents of Chicago or Northwest Indiana don’t know about.”

APRHF Secretary Kandace Tabern added, “We have some people who ride the train just to hear our onboard educational programs… sometime they’ll ride the whole round-trip with us from Chicago. Often times, passengers will ride with us to Dune Park… hike around for a few hours… and then catch us back on the westbound return trip. Other times, passengers just catch us by chance not knowing we are on… and are pleasantly surprised they will have a fun history lesson on their trip that morning or afternoon.”

Volunteers from the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation began presenting onboard educational programs for passengers in May 2013; including for two years aboard Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route under the banner of Trails & Rails.  The APRHF Rail Rangers was founded in July 2015 with the mission of presenting onboard educational programs on private rail excursions across the Upper Midwest. Their schedule expanded to doing public programs aboard the South Shore Line in August 2017. The South Shore Line is recognized as one of the last true ‘interurban’ electric railroads left anywhere in the United States.

Rail Rangers Interpretive Guide Kathy Bruecker mentioned, “The South Shore Line has been so supportive of our ‘history talks’ on their trains… they’re so great to work with. Many passengers don’t realize that the railroad has a rich history that dates back over 100 years. The current management of the South Shore really embraces their history… and even though our onboard programs are more about what passengers are seeing out their window than about train history… it’s something people get quite the kick out of. There is one location near Michigan City where travelers can see what the train cars in the 1920’s and 1930’s looked like when we pass by what appears to be a scrap yard.”

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The APRHF Rail Rangers’ eastbound onboard programs will take place on the below dates aboard Train #503, which departs Chicago (Millennium Station) at 8:40am CT and arrives at South Bend (Airport Station) at 12:10PM ET. Meanwhile, westbound onboard educational programs take place on the below dates aboard Train #506, which departs South Bend (Airport Station) at 1:05PM ET and arrives into Chicago (Millennium Station) at 2:39PM CT:

*Saturday, August 11, 2018

*Saturday, August 25, 2018

*Sunday, September 9, 2018

*Saturday, October 20, 2018

*Saturday, November 3, 2018

*Sunday, November 18, 2018

*Saturday, December 15, 2018

*Sunday, December 23, 2018

Passengers have the choice to ride with the APRHF Rail Rangers for the entire round-trip journey, an entire one-way segment, or any portion of the route they want. Narration by the APRHF Rail Rangers is only provided in one designated car of the eight-car train set; often times the ‘Rail Rangers Car’ is located in the center of the train and is designated by yellow signs hung up in the car. There is no additional fee to listen to an APRHF Rail Rangers program above the standard South Shore Line fare/ticket (a round-trip to South Bend costs less than $30!). No reservations are needed or accepted; seating in the ‘Rail Rangers Car’ is on a first come, first serve basis. It is recommended passengers who want to hear the program board at the origin station, that being Chicago Millennium Station for the eastbound program or South Bend Airport Station for the westbound program to have a better chance of getting preferred seating in the ‘Rail Rangers Car’.

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In addition to the public programs being offered this summer and fall, the APRHF Rail Rangers are scheduled to provide at least three onboard educational programs for private groups — this includes on Monday, August 20th for Country Travel DISCOVERIES’ ‘Farmers on the Bum’ Tour Group… Saturday, September 15th for the Duneland Seniors Group… and on Saturday, October 6th for the 20th Century Railroad Club who is planning an outing to the Hesston Steam Museum.

APRHF President Bob Cox adds, “The APRHF Rail Rangers are always available to give special programs for groups too! We have presented onboard educational programs for senior and other travel groups… plus we have provided off-the-train Power Point presentations about the history of the South Shore Line and a look at private rail cars of the Midwest for groups. Just contact us at info@railrangers.org if you want to set something up.”

If you are not able to travel with the APRHF Rail Rangers on any of the above dates, but would like to still learn about the train route… you have three other options. The APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides have written and published a 100+ page railroad route guidebook for the South Shore that passengers can use on their own. “Outside the Rails: A Railroad Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend Airport” is available in both traditional soft-cover book form and  a downloadable e-book PDF version at www.MidwestRails.com.  And brand new… also available at the website… passengers can also enjoy a downloadable MP3 podcast narration of the route. Both an eastbound and westbound version are available. A portion of the proceeds from the books, e-books, and podcasts, go to support the APRHF Rail Rangers’ onboard educational efforts on the South Shore Line.

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You can also meet some of the APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides during the upcoming TrainFest 2018 at the State Fair Park Expo Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Saturday, November 10, 2018 and Sunday, November 11, 2018 from 9:00AM to 5:00PM. Guides will be on hand to answer questions about our programs and will be selling all 11 editions of the railroad route guidebooks they have written for the various railroad routes across the Upper Midwest, plus their popular ‘Junior Rail Rangers’ Kids Activity Book.

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.

New APRHF Rail Rangers Podcasts Hope to Fill Onboard Educational Program Void

An article by author Karl Zimmermann in the most recent edition of “Passenger Train Journal” [Vol. 42, No. 2 (2018-2), Issue No. 275] pinpoints the many passenger amenities that Amtrak has decided to cut over the past few months. If you have not yet seen Zimmermann’s piece entitled “Amtrak: Pinching Pennies Again and Again”, it is definitely well worth the read. The main focus of the article deals with cuts that have been made to the popular onboard educational programs on Amtrak known as Trails & Rails. If you are not familiar with Trails & Rails, it is a partnership program between Amtrak and the National Park Service, established in the late 1990’s, that places volunteer docents on various routes all over the country to provide narration to passengers.

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You may remember that the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) even co-sponsored a Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between December 2012 and July 2015. That program had over 30 guides who performed twice-weekly round-trips on the train through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri during the summer and winter holiday months. The APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Chief reached out to over 50,000 passengers during the course of its run… and it regularly ranked as one of the top Trails & Rails programs in the country in terms of both positive comments received from passengers and volunteer hours given to Amtrak and the National Park Service.

Unfortunately, even going back almost a decade, budget issues and mis-management plagued Trails & Rails. The extremely popular Chicago-to-Twin Cities Trails & Rails program on the Empire Builder was eliminated in September 2010 when Amtrak and the National Park Service decided to no longer cover the motel costs of volunteers during their layover in Minnesota. Likewise, Amtrak and the National Park Service mandated that the APRHF cover almost all of the costs of the proposed Chicago-La Plata, MO Trails & Rails program, including 100% of the layover expenses, before it was actually allowed to operate. Luckily, at the time, the APRHF had an affiliation with the Depot Inn & Suites in La Plata, so the program had a generous lodging sponsor. The volunteer guides themselves also made up any funding deficits out of their own pockets.

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Despite all of the successes, James E. Miculka, the National Coordinator of Trails & Rails, advised the APRHF Board of Directors in July 2015 that Amtrak and the National Park Service no longer wished to partner with non-profits such as the APRHF to operate its onboard educational programs. The last run of Trails & Rails between Chicago and La Plata, MO took place later that month. Almost three years later… there are still no Chicago-based Trails & Rails programs that operate on long-distance trains. The APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program remained on the rails by quickly re-branding itself as the APRHF Rail Rangers. The independent program, which is managed by the APRHF Board of Directors, continues to be extremely successful by providing onboard educational programs several times per month on the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana… and on occasional private rail excursions across a seven-state region in the Upper Midwest.

APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “Our onboard educational programs are in a much better position now because they are managed directly by the APRHF than when we operated as part of Trails & Rails. There was a lot of red tape and bureaucracy dealing with two government organizations – Amtrak and the National Park Service. It got to a ridiculous point at the end of our runs on the Southwest Chief — Trails & Rails management actually told our guides that they couldn’t talk about a topic unless it was in the ‘approved’ reference manual. Imagine possibly seeing a blue heron or even a bald eagle fly by the train — but you couldn’t talk about it because it wasn’t an ‘approved’ topic! We were extremely limited in what we could do for our fundraising efforts, too, when we were part of Trails & Rails. I remember at one point we went to Mr. Miculka and proposed selling our route guide books on the train to raise money for Trails & Rails, offering to donate all funds made to either Amtrak or the National Park Service… and were told ‘no’! Neither organization behind Trails & Rails, nor its National Coordinator, was willing to think outside of the box… and I think that is why they are in so much trouble now and facing so many cuts. Maybe they wouldn’t have been in such a budget predicament and losing half of their programs if they had more willing to work cooperatively and productively with non-profit partners such as the APRHF, or even for-profit hotels or sponsors, to cover some of the expenses. Seems like they are learning the hard way now and their volunteers and the passengers who can’t attend programs are the ones who are suffering unfortunately.”

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Passengers will indeed notice the massive cuts made to Trails & Rails this summer. Two of the three Trails & Rails programs that operated on the Empire Builder have been eliminated; including programs through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. The sole remaining Empire Builder program has been scaled back to run only with-in Washington State… meaning guides will not be on the train going through Glacier National Park. All Trails & Rails programs on the California Zephyr have been eliminated, including the extremely popular route from Denver to Grand Junction. Only one program remains on the Southwest Chief, and that has been scaled back to end in Las Vegas, New Mexico instead of Albuquerque. In fact, with the exception of one program, all Trails & Rails programs that required volunteers to overnight somewhere were either completely eliminated or severely scaled back. Many of the Trails & Rails volunteers we spoke with are upset at both Amtrak and the National Park Service for this decision – and feel that those in charge of Trails & Rails did not do enough to go to bat for keeping docents on the train. Several current Trails & Rails volunteers also made the point that cutting Trails & Rails programs will only result in Amtrak and the National Park Service saving a few pennies per passenger, if that. Volunteers on the remaining routes have been informed that neither Amtrak nor the National Park Service will pick up meal expenses… or even as little as a bottle of soda or water… in return for their time.

The APRHF Rail Rangers definitely sympathize with train passengers who value the opportunity to attend an onboard educational opportunity, but now will not be able to because of the cuts involving Trails & Rails. However, there are some exciting new options that may help fill the void.

APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern explains, “We are offering some exciting new options for train travelers who love learning about what is out their window, just in time for summer vacation season. All 12 editions of our Midwestern route guidebooks are now available in e-book format. Some of the books in our ‘Outside the Rails’ series are so detailed that they feature more than one page per mile of information about the route. We have also teamed up with Eva Hoffman, a recently-displaced Trails & Rails guide out of Colorado, to have her popular route guidebooks also available in e-book format. A lot of people have wrote us over the years asking for an e-book option because the traditional hard-bound books sometimes get just too bulky to carry on the train. Eva’s ‘Flashing Yellow Guidebooks’ series cover most of the long-distance routes, while our focus is exclusively on the Midwest. Whatever edition you choose — you will learn so much!”

Train enthusiasts also have another exciting and fun option to learn about their favorite routes in the Upper Midwest. In the just the past few months, the APRHF Rail Rangers have started producing downloadable MP3 podcasts. This means you can listen to expert narration from a Rail Rangers Guide on any train at any time — just don’t forget your earphones. On June 3rd, 2018, the first of six podcasts were made available from the APRHF Rail Rangers… this includes Chicago to Milwaukee, Milwaukee to Chicago, Chicago to St. Paul-Minneapolis, St. Paul-Minneapolis to Chicago, Chicago to South Bend Airport, and South Bend Airport to Chicago.

Executive Director Robert Tabern explains, “We are really excited about this podcast project. I love the fact people will be able to listen to our guides virtually on any train at any time. It’s the ultimate self-guiding experience, but it’s like we are along for the ride, too. This is something I really wanted to do for a long time.”

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When all is said and done, at least 20 podcasts are planned for release. Next up to be produced will be the routes between Chicago-St. Louis and Chicago-Detroit/Pontiac, MI. Two additional recording sessions are planned later this summer to cover the Chicago-Quincy, Chicago-La Plata, Chicago-Carbondale, and Chicago-Indianapolis routes. All 12 current APRHF Rail Rangers’ Interpretive Guides are lending their voices to this project.

If the podcasts end up being a success, there is the possibility they become extended to passenger train routes outside of the Midwest; the focus would then likely be on sections of routes that have lost Trails & Rails guides.

E-books and podcasts from the APRHF Rail Rangers are available at www.MidwestRails.com or www.TrainPodcast.com.

While onboard educational programs may be taking a hit this summer with cuts made to Trails & Rails, the APRHF Rail Rangers are certainly happy to fill the void as best they can with their route guidebooks, e-books, and podcasts.

Rail Rangers & Ales on June 16, 2018: Milwaukee Food and City Tours Dome Car Trips on the Hiawatha Service

Step right up and get you tickets now for Rails & Ales! The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program is proud to announce that it is partnering with Milwaukee Food & City Tours and Paxrail for three round-trip dome car rides on the Hiawatha between Chicago Union Station and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Amtrak very rarely approves private cars to be added to Hiawatha Service trains, so this is a special experience that you won’t soon forget. Whether you are looking to celebrate Father’s Day weekend…. or simply searching for a unique way to learn about some new favorite places, this trip is for you!

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Travelers will have three different options to choose from on Saturday, June 16th:

Group #1 departs Chicago Union Station at 8:25am CT and rides vintage dome car “Stampede Pass” 85 miles north to Milwaukee on the Hiawatha Service. Interpretive Guide Dave Poole will be aboard the dome car to provide narration and will also sell route guide books written by our organization for those who want a more in-depth knowledge of the route. Arrive at Milwaukee Intermodal Station at 9:39am. During our time in Downtown Milwaukee, we’ll enjoy a sit-down lunch and draft beer at Mader’s Restaurant, then head to two of Milwaukee’s newest craft breweries to hear about the masterminds behind these operations. We’ll visit Third Space Brewing for a choice of pint, and then Urban Harvest Brewery Company for a flight of craft beers. Return to Chicago in style on “Stampede Pass”, departing Milwaukee at 3:00pm and arriving back in Chicago at 4:30pm. Interpretive Guide Dave Poole will also be on the southbound trip to present more trivia and interesting facts about Illinois and Wisconsin.

(THIS TRIP IS SOLD OUT!) Group #2 departs Milwaukee Intermodal Station at 11:00am and rides vintage dome car “Stampede Pass” 85 miles south to Chicago on the Hiawatha Service. Interpretive Guide Dave Poole will be aboard the dome car on the southbound trip to provide narration and will also sell route guide books written by our organization for those who want a more in-depth knowledge of the route. Arrive at Chicago Union Station at 12:29pm. During our time in the Loop, we’ll enjoy a sit-down lunch and choice of draft beer at Haymarket Pub & Brewery, then head to two of Chicago’s most beer centric bars. We’ll stop for a flight of beers showcasing some of the 100+ drafts on tap at First Draft, and then enjoy choice of pint at Kasey’s Tavern. Kasey’s Tavern is Chicago’s second oldest tavern and second oldest liquor license in the city. We’ll then head back to Chicago Union Station for a 5:08pm departure of the “Stampede Pass” for our trip home to Milwaukee. Robert Tabern (Executive Director & Founder of the APRHF Rail Rangers) and Kandace Tabern (Chicago Coordinator & Founder of the APRHF Rail Rangers) will provide additional stories to passengers on the northbound leg of the group. We’ll arrive back in MIlwaukee around 6:40pm.

FB_IMG_1530428455569 Continue reading Rail Rangers & Ales on June 16, 2018: Milwaukee Food and City Tours Dome Car Trips on the Hiawatha Service

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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APRHF Rail Rangers Excursion Brings Passengers to La Plata for Solar Eclipse

What better way to witness the full solar eclipse than to travel most of the way to the viewing location in a historic 1950’s dome car?  That is exactly what approximately 40 passengers did on the weekend of August 19-22, 2017 thanks to a private rail excursion organized by Zephyr Route Tours, the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF)’s Rail Rangers program, and the 20th Century Railroad Club of Chicago.

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Let’s back up a bit and rewind nearly a year. The idea for a train to Missouri for the solar eclipse weekend came about in November 2016 at a planning meeting held in Chicago between Mike Abernethy (owner of Zephyr Route Tours) and various members of the APRHF Rail Rangers.  Zephyr Route and the Rail Rangers did a successful private rail excursion together to La Plata in August 2016 and many passengers were eager to go back and visit the rail-themed town. Since La Plata was less than a two hour drive from the epicenter of the eclipse, it seemed like the perfect theme (or “excuse”!) for a train trip in 2017. Of course, little did we know a year ago how huge the excitement for the eclipse was going to be.

After some initial planning between Zephyr Route and Iowa Pacific to secure full-length ex-AT&SF dome car “Sky View” for the weekend, tickets went on sale to the public in March 2017.  Initial notice of the trip went out to those who were on the APRHF Rail Rangers e-Newsletter list – with those passengers getting first “dibs” on the tickets. After a few weeks, the Chicago Tribune got wind of the trip and published an article about the excursion in their Sunday, April 2, 2017 edition. With-in just hours of the paper coming out and people seeing news of the excursion, all tickets sold out. In fact, we had quite an impressive “waiting list” of several dozen passengers.  (That’s why it’s important to get on the Rail Rangers e-Newsletterl list!  You get first news of upcoming excursions before anyone else does or it runs in the newspapers!)   It was quite humorous how the rush for the tickets went.  APRHF Rail Rangers Executive Director Robert Tabern and his wife APRHF Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern  were actually coming back on the train from an APRHF Board Meeting in La Plata that day and their phone lit up like nothing they had ever seen before.  After about the sixth call in about a 20 minute period, the Taberns had a caller mention they saw “the article” in the Chicago Tribune. They had no idea it was going to be in there and were not prepared for the onslaught of people calling!   But it all worked out and the Rail Rangers and Zephyr Route appreciated the publicity received.

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Many people don’t realize all of the work that goes into planning a private rail excursion. While Mike Abernethy with Zephyr Route was busy planning all of the train logistics with Amtrak and Iowa Pacific, the APRHF’s Rail Rangers were busy planning the special weekend for everyone once they arrived to La Plata. The hardest thing was choosing an eclipse viewing location. Originally, the Rail Rangers were looking at going to Columbia, Missouri, which was the closest point to La Plata that would be in “totality” – or the best viewing for the eclipse. However, they soon heard Columbia was probably not a smart choice. Being right on Interstate 70, it was expected to be flooded with people coming in from the east and west sides of the state. They then looked at St. Joseph — but this also proved to be a bad choice. The town of 50,000 was expecting 500,000 people to visit for the eclipse weekend – ten times its population.  The Rail Rangers were looking for a location that could handle 40 passengers, but also one that was affordable so Zephyr Route didn’t have to increase the cost of the weekend for everyone. Some churches in St. Joseph were charging thousands of dollars to rent out just their parking lots!  The Rail Rangers got lucky and had a friend-of-a-friend recommend a horse and cattle farm called Vintage Hill. When the Rail Rangers called the owner, Jeff, back in the spring – he actually didn’t know anything about the eclipse and said he could open up his farm to the APRHF Rail Rangers eclipse viewing party.  Vintage Hill is a greenhouse and working farm, and they have actually hosted various horse clinics and catered meals before. The Rail Rangers were a little nervous because no one had time to check out this place before the passengers’ arrival – but as you will read about later on – the APRHF couldn’t have picked a more perfect setting to watch the eclipse.

Fast forward to departure day – Saturday, August 19, 2017.  Passengers began arriving around 1:30pm and checking in with Zephyr Route and the 20th Century Railroad Club in the Great Hall.  Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern and Interpretive Guide Dave Poole were busying helping to check people in, while Executive Director Robert Tabern was getting things set up on the car. Robert made sure that the Rail Rangers’ wireless speakers were working and all of the various handouts that were printed up were out and ready for the passengers.  “Sky View”, our private car for the weekend, was attached to the rear of Train #3, the westbound Southwest Chief. Passengers waited until around 2:30pm in the Metropolitan Lounge. That is one of the nice perks that Amtrak allows for private car passengers – they are able to wait in the First Class Lounge in Chicago along with sleeping car and business class passengers.  Finally it was time to board and everyone walked out to the car and found their assigned seats in the upper level of the dome.  One of the cool things about using “Sky View” was that it ran for the Santa Fe on the route that we would be taking today between Chicago and La Plata.  After Cameron, Illinois (about 10 miles west of Galesburg), passengers were riding a historic 1950’s dome car on the original route that it operated on for many years. “Sky View” was one of the original Santa Fe Big Domes. After Santa Fe ended passenger service, the car ran for many years on the Auto Train. It is now owned by Iowa Pacific and used on various charter excursions across the country.

Between Chicago and La Plata, the APRHF Rail Rangers provided narration about the many trackside communities in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.  Some of the stories included the Cherry Mine Disaster of 1909, the historic Hennepin Canal, the Mississippi River, and Fort Madison.  Passengers really enjoyed hearing narration about the route and learning what they were seeing out their window from the APRHF Rail Rangers. As a fundraiser for the Rail Rangers, guides sold copies of “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO”, which Robert and Kandace Tabern wrote a couple of years ago.  Both the expanded 350 page edition of the book (for $35) and the abbreviated 48 page version (for $10) sold very well and helped to pay for some APRHF expenses from the weekend.  Like its parent organization, the APRHF Rail Rangers is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and relies heavily on donations from passengers. All of the interpretive guides who work the excursions volunteer their time and cover their own expenses for the weekend – including getting to Downtown Chicago, parking, and hotel rooms. Anything raised in tips, donations, or from book sales goes toward the upkeep on the speaker system, printing costs for handouts, and for expenses to research new train routes that future excursions will be going on.  A portion of the money raised is also donated to the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s “general fund”, which helps pay for upkeep of Lookout Point Park and the Exhibition of Amtrak History in La Plata.

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Just before crossing the Mississippi River Bridge in Fort Madison, the train came to a stop. Why? Well, the train bridge was open!  Passengers didn’t seem to mind the 20 minute delay here though because passing before us was the “American Queen”, a large passenger boat that travels between St. Paul, Minnesota and New Orleans, Louisiana. Everyone enjoyed seeing the boat cruise down the river and taking pictures, while the Rail Rangers told everyone about the history of the vessel.

Around 8:30pm, the train rolled into the La Plata Amtrak station. It was there everyone’s luggage was quickly off-loaded by the train crew. Unfortunately, La Plata did not currently have a siding where private railcars can be kept and switched on or off trains – so “Sky View” had to continue on to Kansas City. About eight tickets were sold for those wishing to go on and explore Kansas City.  Zephyr Route President Mike Abernethy continued on with them and the dome car to Kansas City, while most passengers got off in La Plata. After a quick welcome from APRHF President Bob Cox and APRHF Treasurer Amy Cox, passengers were loaded into vans and taken over to the Depot Inn and Suites, where they would be spending the next three nights.

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The day before the eclipse – Sunday, August 20, 2017 – was a leisurely laid back day. Passengers had the option of exploring La Plata on their own, or taking one of two optional excursions to sites around Northeast Missouri by motorcoach.  The morning optional excursion was hosted by APRHF President Bob Cox. He took 32 travelers down to Marceline to explore the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. Disney grew up in Marceline and many say “Main Street” at Walt Disney World and Walt Disneyland was replicated from Downtown Marceline.  The museum’s director, Kaye Marlins, gave everyone a guided tour. Kaye grew up in Marceline and was friends actually friends with Disney when she was a little girl.  To add to the excitement, the museum is actually located in the old Santa Fe Depot in town. People loved looking at the various exhibits about Disney’s life when he was raised in Missouri. After about two hours of touring, travelers headed over to Ma Vic’s, a popular local restaurant that opened exclusively for our tour group.

After about a 45 minute rest break back at the Depot Inn and Suites, those who wanted to go on the optional afternoon excursion to Thousand Hills State Park boarded the motorcoach. This side-trip was hosted by APRHF Vice President Robert Tabern and APRHF Secretary Kandace Tabern. Before arriving at the state park outside of Kirksville, the Taberns made an unplanned stop at a new Kraft factory in town – as this is where the Midwest’s “Weinermobile” was kept. Nothing was said to the travelers about this stop because sometimes the Weinermobile travels around to events on weekends. It was there though – and everyone who wanted to had the chance to get off the bus and take a few photos.  From there, it was just a few minutes until we arrived at Thousand Hills State Park.  Ranger Emily and Ranger Jeff boarded the motorcoach and provided a narrated one hour tour of the park. The highlight was a stop-off at the park’s petroglyph shelter. Everyone got to learn about the thousand-year-old rock carvings. To protect them, the petroglyphs are in an enclosed shelter that is normally locked. The Rail Rangers got special permission to have the shelter unlocked so that our travelers could have an up-close look at the drawings.

The group returned to the hotel around 5:30pm on Sunday night and had dinner “on their own”. Many chose to eat at La Pachangas’ or Casey’s; both are with-in walking distance of the Depot Inn and Suites. Having a “free evening” also allowed the Rail Rangers to have a meeting and talk about the rest of the weekend and other business that needed to be attended to.  With the APRHF being headquartered in La Plata but most of the Rail Rangers guides living in Chicagoland area, it’s sometimes hard to get together and meet about things and plan future events.  Everyone headed to bed early in order to get things ready for the big day ahead.

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The alarm went off for the Taberns around 5:30am on Eclipse Day – Monday, August 21, 2017.  Since no one had been to Vintage Hill Farm before to check out their facilities, they decided to drive down and scope things out/help set up about two hours ahead of the motorcoach arriving. There were many rumors that traffic would be very bad anywhere in the “totality” zone, so having two Rail Rangers head down a few hours ahead of time allowed everyone else back in La Plata to know if the motorcoach needed to get an earlier start. As it turned out, traffic wasn’t bad at all!  There were a lot of people staying at the hotels along U.S. 63 in Macon and Moberly on the way down, but there were no traffic jams and no crowds anywhere to be seen. It seemed to just be media hype that there would be bumper-to-bumper traffic on highways in Missouri on the morning of the eclipse. The Taberns arrived at Vintage Hill around 8:30am, with the motorcoach trailing behind and arriving around 10:30am.  As previously mentioned, Vintage Hill is primarily a greenhouse facility that has thousands of plants for sale. They also raise horses and Scottish Highland Cattle (the hairy kind that look like they have a bad comb-over!).  They have a beautiful barn which has hosted meals and corporate events before.  Vintage Hill actually donated use of their facilities to the APRHF Rail Rangers for the eclipse weekend. Before lunch the passengers bought plants and talked to the parrot at the greenhouse.  Lunch was on just before the eclipse started with everyone sitting at one long table in the center of the barn. The food and atmosphere was wonderful.

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One thing no one could control was the weather, of course. On the ride down and most of the time  setting up, the skies were clear and it looked like we were going to have clear skies for viewing of the eclipse. Unfortunately, just as the motorcoach arrived around 10:30am, skies began to cloud over.  People were concerned they were not able to see anything. In fact, it was very cloudy for the entire time the eclipse was starting to form. Amazingly just two minutes before totality, the skies broke and everyone was treated to an amazing show in the sky. It didn’t get quite as dark as Midnight, but the darkness was on-par with sunset. In fact, since everyone were near the top of a hill, we could see what appears to be a sunset in every direction.  Just as remarkable were the cattle at the Vintage Hill Farm. Since they thought it was evening they started coming in from their pastures. They stopped in their tracks at the time of the eclipse and as it began to brighten up again, they went back out in their fields.

One of the real treats of this trip was having a scientist ride with us who was able to explain the details of what was going on with the eclipse.  While the APRHF and the Rail Rangers focused on planning the excursion activities and providing narration on the train between Chicago and La Plata, Timm Bottini was with the passengers for the weekend also. He is friends with Zephyr Route President Mike Abernethy and lives in the west suburbs of Chicago.  Timm brought a special solar eclipse telescope and pair of binoculars with him which helped everyone at Vintage Hill experience the eclipse a lot more. Not only did Timm provided the basics to everyone about the eclipse they could get an up-close view of the event with his astronomical devices. Timm’s wife Lori also rode along and enjoyed the weekend with us.

The travelers ended up staying a little longer at Vintage Hill than expected because skies cleared up to see the eclipse recede… because of the cloudy skies we were not really able to see it build.  Everyone boarded the motorcoach and left Vintage Hill around 2:30 p.m. that afternoon.  It was about two hours back to La Plata.

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Earlier, it was mentioned that the one thing one couldn’t really control was the weather – and that also put a damper on the Farewell BBQ Cookout Dinner that the Rail Rangers had planned for their travelers at Lookout Point Park. For those of you who are not familiar with Lookout Point Park, its main feature is a heated cabin and deck where people can watch the trains pass by the on the BNSF main line between Chicago and Los Angeles. The Rail Rangers planned to cook hot dogs and hamburgers.  As all were approaching La Plata, a line of heavy thunderstorms began to fire up. APRHF President Bob Cox quickly made the decision to cancel the BBQ and order in some pizzas from Domino’s in Kirksville instead.  Even though the night didn’t have the same atmosphere as the BBQ cookout at the overlook, everyone still enjoyed each others company with the impromptu pizza party hosted in the conference room at the Depot Inn & Suites.

The good news is a few hours after the pizza party started, the skies cleared which allowed those who wanted to brave the wet pathway to head down to the overlook at Lookout Point Park. About a dozen or so passengers ventured out with us along with the Coxs and Taberns. In a period of about 20 minutes, people at the lookout saw 5 freight trains and the westbound Southwest Chief, Train #3, pass through town.  Most travelers had never been to La Plata before and were quite impressed with the amount of trains that passed through town, the speed of the freight trains, and the large amount of people getting on at the station. By about 8:00 pm Monday night, it appeared the eastbound train the next morning would still be ontime, so a lot of travelers headed to bed early.

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Monday night into Tuesday morning, August 21, 2017, ended up being a stormy one. La Plata saw some good thunderstorms during the evening, but the Kansas City area saw the bulk of the rain. Portions of the city saw as much as eight inches of rain and many roads were closed. While the eastbound Southwest Chief was able to make it through okay, it did lose about three hours due to Flash Flood Warnings.

In order to kill time until the eastbound Southwest Chief would be arriving, passengers were allowed to sleep in a little later than normal at the hotel. Amy Cox, APRHF Treasurer and Amtrak station caretaker, also was able to provide a brief depot tour to passengers while they waited. She told everyone stories of the trains that passed through La Plata in the 1950’s and how, if you a climb a hidden latter, you are able to see some of the original walls of the depot.  Many passengers were impressed that one can actually see some of the names of the original trains burned into the background of the arrival board still.

Good things come to those who wait – and that was the case with our return home on the eastbound Southwest Chief on Tuesday morning. Not only was the second engine back the #822 40th Anniversary Engine… two other private cars were on the back of the train, too. These treats, along with 38 passengers boarding “Sky View” to return to Chicago ended up providing quite the scene at the La Plata Amtrak station. It will definitely be a day to remember.

 

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Because of the delayed departure, lunch was served almost immediately. Since passengers were traveling on the same route that they did on Saturday afternoon, the Rail Rangers used the time to answer passengers questions and provided a more one-on-one interaction and experience. Some stories that were missed on Saturday were shared with passengers.

A special treat for the two of us was getting an invite back to the two other private railcars on the back of the train  by their owner Patrick Henry of Patrick Henry Creative Promotions. The Taberns had seen the cars many times, but this was the first time they got an invite back from Mr. Henry and the first time we got to ride on the cars.  The first car was a sleeper used by crew and guests. The second (and last) car was probably the nicest private car we have ever experienced. It featured both a dome car with very luxurious seating, a beautiful ‘living room’ area, a nice bar area, a meeting table area, and the crown jewel – a rare open ended platform car.  Mr. Henry was traveling to Chicago and then on to Denver with a friend. He invited the Taberns to ride any portion of the route back to Chicago on the open platform that they wanted. They chose to ride from Galesburg to Princeton to pass some of the rural landscapes of Illinois – and then again from Naperville into Chicago.  Riding “The Racetrack” and passing numerous Metra commuter trains (who we were fighting “upstream”) was a real treat – especially for Robert who grew up in Chicago and would often railfan on the BNSF as a boy. We also got to finally see Mark Hinsdale – who operates a web camera for railfans known as “MH Tower” – near the Western Avenue stop on the BNSF. He was out to see the anniversary engine and three private cars on the back of the Southwest Chief.  Upon arriving into Chicago, the Taberns thanked Mr. Henry for his hospitality and gave him a copy of our large “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO” route guidebook. Their hope is that he will leave it on the car and use it whenever he is traveling between Chicago and Kansas City and has passengers who want to know the landmarks of the route.

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The Rail Rangers guides quickly made it back to “Sky View” just before pulling into Chicago and thanked everyone for riding on this amazing four day private rail excursion to Missouri to witness the solar eclipse. And, there it was – by 6:10pm on Tuesday the Rail Rangers’ passengers parted ways with everyone.

This trip will be something that will remain in many people’s memories for the rest of their lives. Having such a beautiful setting to enjoy the 2017 Eclipse was amazing!  Having the clouds break just moments before totality was going to happen added to the drama of the day.  Getting the chance to ride 600 miles on a private railcar between Chicago and La Plata was also unforgettable. Most of the travelers had ridden nothing better than Metra before and were amazed at just how luxurious a private rail excursion could end up being.  Getting the chance to make new friends and future passengers was also the icing on the cake.

For more information about the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation’s Rail Rangers program, check out their website at www.RailRangers.org.  Two more private rail excursions are planned for this year for the Rail Rangers — including an October private rail trip between Chicago and St. Paul (unfortunately it is sold out now!) and a kids’ steam train charter in St. Paul in December. The Rail Rangers’ private rail schedule for 2018 is expected to be released around February 2018.  In the meantime, you can also check out the Rail Rangers in action two to three Saturday per month on the South Shore Line between Chicago-Millennium Station and South Bend Airport, Indiana. Learn about Chicago, the historic steel mill area of Northwest Indiana, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, and the rural farmlands of La Porte and St. Joseph County, Indiana. The Rail Rangers have set up a South Shore-specific website at www.DunesTrain.com. And of course, you can purchase the Rail Rangers’ “Outside the Rails” railroad route guidebooks for self-guided rail trips through www.MidwestRails.com.

You can also get in touch with the APRHF Rail Rangers by e-mailing: info@railrangers.org.

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.