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Welcome Aboard, Rail Rangers!

Welcome Aboard, Rail Rangers!

Introducing the APRHF's Newest Program

By Robert & Kandace Tabern, Email:

Published: July 20, 2015

A look at the new APRHF "Rail Rangers" logo that was unveiled on July 20, 2015
(Graphic designed by Robert Tabern & Bob Cox)

On the morning of Monday, July 20, 2015, American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) President Bob Cox and Vice-President Amy Cox officially announced the launch of a brand new program. Rail Rangers is a special long-term outreach effort that will be directed primarily at individuals and groups that own and operate private railroad cars, in addition to organizations planning private or public rail charters, railroad museums, and other similar venues. By simply contacting the APRHF and advising they are interested in the new Rail Rangers program, a rail car owner or group organizer can now make all the arrangements necessary to have experienced, educated docents aboard their train car to present an informative, but yet entertaining, interpretive program.

(From left to right) Amy Cox, Bob Cox, Robert Tabern & Kandace Tabern celebrate the launch of the new APRHF Rail Rangers program
(Photo by Karri Cox)

Newly-appointed Rail Rangers Executive Director and Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern explains, "Of course, almost everyone loves to go on a train ride - especially in a private rail car from the 1940's or 1950's. But, how many of the passengers on these excursions really know what they are seeing out their window? It's almost like watching the Travel Channel with the audio turned off. You're not going to get quite as much out of your ride without having live guides on-board that passengers can interact with. That's where we will come in. The APRHF Rail Rangers program will work with private car owners to custom-design a First Class program in the style and format that they want for their passengers." Possible options can include custom-designed route guide sheets or booklets and other handouts, live guides aboard the train to provide narration, route guide book sales, travel trivia contests with prizes, and even special activities for children.

Robert and Kandace Tabern have been appointed the new Chicago Coordinators of the APRHF Rail Rangers program
(Photo by Kathy Bruecker)

While the formal affiliation with the APRHF and group name were just announced, the actual concept behind the Rail Rangers program isn't new by any means. Since October 2010, Robert has been entertaining and informing passengers on select Friends of the 261 excursions with his unique brand of narration, route guides, trivia, and wit. The Friends of the 261 is based at Minneapolis Junction, Minnesota, and operates Milwaukee Road steam locomotive #261, and more than a dozen private rail cars, including the Milwaukee Road Skytop Cedar Rapids and Super Dome #53. Previous Friends of the 261 trips that have featured Robert's interpretive programs have included the following: Fall Colors Excursions from Minneapolis to La Crescent, MN and Boylston, WI (October 2010), Train Festival Excursion from Davenport to Homestead Wye, IA (July 2011), Fall Colors Excursion from Minneapolis to Boylston, WI (October 2011), National Train Day Excursion from Minneapolis to Chicago (May 2012), Fall Colors Excursion from Minneapolis to La Crescent, MN (October 2012), "Return of the 261" Excursion to Duluth, MN (May 2013), Fall Colors Excursion to Willmar, MN (October 2013), and the Windy City I Excursion from Chicago to Milwaukee (May 2015).

Robert Tabern spends time autographing his "Outside the Rails" book for two passengers on an October 2012 Friends of the 261 Excursion
(Photo by Bob & Amy Cox)

After getting married to Kandace (Owings) Tabern in 2012, the couple has worked as a well-matched on-board team; Robert is often found in the upper level of the dome car pointing out landmarks to Premium Class passengers, while Kandace roams the rest of the train and gears her presentations and hands-on activities more toward the children and teens who are riding. In late 2013, Kandace even developed a very popular children's activity book and "junior conductor" program for the Friends of the 261; she is hoping to do something similar later this year or in early 2016 for the APRHF's new Rail Rangers program. Kandace, who has recently been appointed Assistant Chicago Coordinator of the APRHF Rail Rangers program, says, "Over the spring and into the summer now, we had been looking closely at what we do so well on Friends of the 261 excursions, and, with the APRHF's help and involvement, now hope to expand this outreach to more rail charters across the Midwest, and possibly even in other areas of the country. That would be really great to engage more passengers and educate them about all of the sites you can see from the train, but might not otherwise know about, if you didn't have a pair of live and local guides helping out on the train."

Rail Rangers Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern entertains a dome car full of passengers
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

The APRHF Rail Rangers program will develop a "Junior Ranger" program for children; expect a launch of this in Fall 2015
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Along with Robert and Kandace, APRHF President Bob Cox and Vice-President Amy Cox will have a direct role in co-managing the new Rail Rangers program, serving as the organization's La Plata Coordinator and Assistant Coordinator, respectively. Bob explains, "The APRHF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve and promote the role that passenger rail played in the building of this nation. We feel that the mission of the Rail Rangers program fits right in line with what we have been doing out here the past couple of years. After much consideration, we are going to try an outreach program to private car owners. Amy and I will be managing a lot of the logistics with the private rail car owners and working with them on planning out upcoming trips. This will be a great way to meet more private car owners and also share with them what we are doing out here in and around La Plata." In addition to sponsoring Rail Rangers, the APRHF has been key in supporting such other projects as the Let's Talk Trains Internet Radio Show, the Silver Rails Events Center, the Silver Rails Gallery and Memorial Library, the Exhibition of Amtrak History, and on-going maintenance and upkeep at the current Amtrak station in La Plata, MO.

(From left to right) Kandace Tabern, Robert Tabern, Bob Cox & Amy Cox celebrate the launch of the new APRHF Rail Rangers program
(Photo by Karri Cox)

APRHF Rail Rangers will reach out to private car passengers, like the woman pictured here watching the sunset in Illinois from a dome car
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Thew decision for the APRHF to throw its support behind the new Rail Rangers program also comes out of the immense success the organization had from creating and co-sponsoring a Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago Union Station and La Plata, MO. From December 3, 2012 through July 19, 2015, this partnership between Amtrak, the National Park Service, Texas A&M University's Department of Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences, and the APRHF, featured 32 Chicago-based Trails & Rails volunteers, who provided educational programs to more than 50,000 Amtrak passengers traveling through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri. Robert and Kandace served as Trails & Rails' Chicago Coordinators, while Bob and Amy served as Trails & Rails' La Plata Coordinators. The APRHF contributed more than $25,000 in goods and services towards the program over three years, including being the primary partner to fund overnight accommodations for Trails & Rails volunteers in La Plata, and providing funding for the use of a new wireless speaker system by volunteers. Despite being the least funded of all Trails & Rails groups in the country, Chicago to La Plata Southwest Chief volunteers always came in at number one in the country in terms of volunteer hours for non-daily Trails & Rails programs; it also had one of the strongest social media and outreach presences. In early June 2015, Trails & Rails National Coordinator and National Park Service Ranger James Miculka, based in College Station, Texas, advised that he felt having the APRHF continue on as a co-sponsor of Trails & Rails presented a "conflict of interest" for him and the National Park Service. Despite the APRHF pointing out how everyone, especially passengers, benefited from the partnership, Jim refused to change his stance. The last APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO took place on the weekend of July 18-19, 2015. Sadly, the program is now in a "suspended status" and is no longer offering on-board educational opportunities to passengers on the Southwest Chief. This decision also leaves Chicago completely without a Trails & Rails program on a long-distance train; the remaining Trails & Rails program, sponsored by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, operates on a short 62-mile stretch of the Wolverine and Blue Water between Chicago and  New Buffalo, Michigan. The National Park Service, nor Amtrak, will not have any affiliations with the new Rail Rangers program; it will solely be operated by the APRHF, in agreement with private rail car owners.

Kathy Bruecker is just one of the 32 displaced Chicago to La Plata, MO Trails & Rails guides, after National Park Service Ranger and Trails & Rails National Coordinator Jim Miculka decided to ends the NPS' partnership with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation
(Photo by Robert Tabern)

Despite the very recent loss of a Trails & Rails program between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri, the future already extremely bright for APRHF's brand new Rail Rangers program. Robert explains, "We are looking forward to working with private car owners to provide new opportunities and a true First Class, but also fun, experience for their passengers. If a private car owner wants route guide sheets or maps -- we'll head out, drive the route, and do the research for them, and have them ready to go at the gate, complete with being there with a smile on our face to answer any questions. If they want us aboard to do live narration and kids' activities -- we and the APRHF have them covered there too.  Personally, I really look forward to the creativity we will have now; we didn't get much of a chance to be creative with the cooky-cutter format and regulations imposed on us by the National Park Service as part of the Trails & Rails umbrella. We also look forward to doing our program on more than just one route."

Rail Rangers Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern provides live narration in the upper level of a private dome car
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

Private rail cars, like the full-length dome car pictured here, will be the setting for future Rail Ranger programs
(Photo by Kandace Tabern)

For now, the APRHF Rail Rangers program, consists only of Robert, Kandace, Bob, and Amy. However, if current demand for interpretive programs increase from private car owners and groups, Rail Rangers and the APRHF will consider holding interviews for new docents. You can learn more about the APRHF Rail Rangers through the organization's brand new website, and follow them on Facebook as the program develops (the links to both sites are below).

Rail Rangers will be co-manged out of La Plata, Missouri and Wadsworth, Illinois
(Photo by Karri Cox)


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