Trails & Rails Summer Season Ends- Winter Season Preps

The Summer 2014 season of the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago Union Station, Illinois and La Plata, Missouri has concluded, with the final program taking place on Train #4 on the morning of Thursday, September 25, 2014.


Trails & Rails volunteer Eugene “Brownie” Ehlers takes time away from his program to pose for a photo with one of our group’s favorite dining car stewards, Kimberly.

Between mid-May and mid-September of this year, our group of 32 Chicago-based APRHF/National Park Service volunteers presented a total of 78 interpretive programs on the train between Chicago and La Plata, MO, sharing the history of Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri in the upper level of the Sightseer Lounge Car. Volunteers cover such topics themes as American history, geology, geography, and agriculture during their narration and interactions with passengers. Guides also do a junior ranger program for children of all ages and provide the National Park Passport Stamp for the Southwest Chief.


Trails & Rails volunteer Kathy Bruecker concentrates on all of the sites along the way to give a great program for passengers.

In December 2012, the APRHF entered into an agreement with Amtrak, the National Park Service, and Texas A&M University to form a new Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, MO. The debut program took place on May 18, 2013, with Trails & Rails veteran Robert Tabern serving as the Chicago Coordinator and APRHF President Bob Cox serving as the La Plata Coordinator.


La Plata, Missouri is the smallest town in the country to have a Trails & Rails program originating or terminating in it; however it became a reality thanks to the support of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation and the Depot Inn & Suites.

Here are our group’s Trails & Rails statistics for federal fiscal year 2014 (which runs between October 1, 2013 and September 30, 2014 and covers our Winter 2013 and Summer 2014 seasons):

NUMBER OF PROGRAMS PRESENTED: 106  (28 Winter 2013 season // 78 Summer 2014 season)

PASSENGERS PARTICIPATING: 25,466  (4,512 Winter 2013 season // 20,954 Summer 2014 season)

NUMBER OF ACTIVE VOLUNTEERS: 32  (29 guides // 3 trainees)



(* = based on the federal contractor wage of $22.55/hour)


Assistant Chicago Coordinator Kandace Tabern enjoys coming to La Plata, Missouri as part of Trails & Rails. Kandace has put in more than 300 volunteer hours during Fiscal Year 2014 making the handout bags volunteer use and filling out their rail passes.

During federal fiscal year 2014, there were a total of seven off-site outreach presentations made for the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program as well. Volunteer/Chicago Coordinator Emeritus  James Carr visited four senior centers in the Chicago area and explained to residents about the program and APRHF and showed them pictures of some of the sites along the route.  Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern and Chicago Assistant Coordinator Kandace Tabern presented information about Trails & Rails to the residents of La Plata, MO during a “Santa Train” event that was held at the Amtrak depot in December 2013. In addition, Trails & Rails volunteers staffed information booths both in Chicago and La Plata during National Train Day on May 10, 2014.

Federal fiscal year 2014 was the second year of operation for our program, however the first time we incorporated a winter season into our schedule. Some of our guides were initially skeptical on how a winter season could work, considering it gets dark on the westbound trip a few hours out of Chicago due to the early sunset time. However, after agreeing to give it a try, both Coordinators Tabern and Cox received extremely positive feedback about being on the train in November and December. Guides told us while they have to wrap-up narration a few hours out of Chicago, they enjoy a “more relaxed” program and use the “after dark” hours on the train to be creative and talk with passengers, sometimes doing trivia contests about national parks or spending more time talking and interacting with passengers,  more than they would have the chance to in the summer when the train is at its’ full capacity. Guides also felt not having such a long gap of being off the train helped their skills to stay fresh on the landmarks, etc. of the route.


Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern presented Shea, one of our favorite conductors on the Southwest Chief, a certificate of appreciation during the last trip of the season.

The APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief also took the lead in planning and organizing the 2014 safety training class for Trails & Rails volunteers based in Chicago; it was held on April 2, 2014. Currently, Chicago Coordinator Robert Tabern and guide Kerry Denson serve as the only safety trainers for the Chicago Trails & Rails crew base. Volunteers in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Trails & Rails program also attend our training, as they currently have no one in their group currently willing to be a safety trainer.  Denson also traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana to attend the National Trails & Rails meeting in March 2014; he provided a full report back to Chicago Coordinator Tabern, who was unable to attend.

Finally, at the recommendation of National Coordinator Jim Miculka, our group adopted a more comprehensive training program for trainees in federal fiscal year 2014. This involved adding additional levels of training before an trainee becomes signed off to be a guide. Under this revision, a trainee in our program must now not only go through the safety/orientation class before becoming a guide – but must also do a minimum of one training trip to Galesburg with the Chicago Coordinator, one training trip to La Plata with the Chicago Coordinator, and two trips with other experienced guides, AND be evaluated on all four trips before being signed off as a full guide and receiving their ID card and uniform. The management of our program feels this is a good revision suggested by the National Coordinator.


APRHF Trails & Rails volunteers Frank and Ruth Maxwell played Santa and Mrs. Claus on the train in December 2013 for several children who were traveling over the holiday week.

While no formal APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails programs will be presented on the Southwest Chief until the Winter 2014 season begins on November 11, 2014, things never come to a complete stop for the group at any time of the year. On Wednesday, October 1, 2014, volunteers will gather in suburban Chicago for their annual  dinner. Certificates are presented and a movie highlighting the season will be presented to volunteers. There will also be on-board training trips that will take place for two new trainees during the month of October. Trainees often perform on-board training trips during off-season months as it is often too difficult to try and do this kind of work when the regular Trails & Rails season is underway and the train is at capacity.


Chicago Assistant Coordinator Kandace Tabern swears in the last junior ranger of the APRHF Trails & Rails Summer 2014 season aboard Train #4 on September 25, 2014.

Mark your calendars and get your tickets now for the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails Winter 2014 season. Guides will be on Train #3 between Chicago and La Plata, MO on TUESDAYS and THURSDAYS. Guides will be on Train #4 between La Plata, MO and Chicago on WEDNESDAYS and FRIDAYS. The Winter 2014 season runs from November 11, 2014 to December 31, 2014, with the exception of Christmas week when no guides will be available to conduct programs.

Finally, applications are still being accepted for people interested in joining Trails & Rails during the 2015 seasons. Applications must be received no later than October 31, 2014. For more information about the program or to have an application e-mailed to you, please contact Chicago Coordinator, Robert Tabern, at

Another blog update will be posted here in a few weeks to give you a preview of what we have planned for our Winter 2014 Trails & Rails season. Stay tuned to APRHF.ORG for the latest information!  Also, make sure you “like” our Trails & Rails group on Facebook!



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