Rail Rangers provide rolling educational lessons

A group known as the Rail Rangers debuted their "Riding the Hoosier Rails" program on Sunday. WLFI/File Photo
A group known as the Rail Rangers debuted their "Riding the Hoosier Rails" program on Sunday. WLFI/File Photo

LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — If you plan on riding the Hoosier State Train in the next few months, you might be in store for a history lesson. This comes as part of a new program that debuted Sunday morning.

Chances are you’ve heard of places such as Brookston, Monon, Rensselaer and Dyer, but do you know the history behind them? Maybe you’re just curious where to find a good pizza in Chicago. All that information and more is now available while taking the train.

A group known as the Rail Rangers are making that all possible by turning the 3½-hour ride on the Hoosier State Train between Lafayette and Chicago into a rolling educational program.

“It’s an opportunity for several things. You can ride trains, have fun and meet people,” interpretive guide Dave Poole said. “We’ve met foreign people, quite a few foreign people, on the trains and it’s a great time.”

Originally known as Trails and Rails, the program dates back 17 years.

In 2012, a nonprofit rail history group known as the American Passengers Rail History Foundation joined the program.

Last summer the group became known as the Rail Rangers, providing onboard programs on private rail cars throughout the Midwest.

Thanks to a new partnership between the Indiana Department of Transportation and the Iowa Pacific Railroad, the program is making its presence in Indiana.

“I’m really excited to be able to tell people more than just, ‘Oh I’m gonna sit and look at cornfields for three hours going to Chicago,” said Rail Rangers executive director Robert Tabern. “Now, we’re here to fill that in and maybe make your time go a little faster and really enjoy learning about the small towns [and] helping you when you get to Chicago.”

Throughout the next few months, interpretive guides will be on board on select Sunday morning departures. The history lessons will come at no additional cost.

During the one-hour leg between Lafayette and Rensselaer on Sunday, passengers got a good dose of knowledge.

“Maybe you see a cornfield or a soybean field out your window, but there’s history behind that — Native Americans lived on that land; there were conflicts between the settlers and Native Americans, like the Battle of Tippecanoe,” Tabern said.

The program isn’t just for adults either.

There is a booklet designed specifically for children. It is full of different activities to do along the way.

“They have plenty of time to complete these little, you know, six pages of activities, and even the guides will be there to help them complete them if they need to,” assistant coordinator Kandace Tabern said.

As far as the program’s future, there are hopes to have the program on even more routes.

“I’m surprised a lot of times when we pull into Chicago at the end of a program, people will break out into applause for the program if they’ve been riding with us for three or four hours and riding along. So it’s rewarding in that respect,” Poole said.

If you’d like more information about the Rail Rangers program and the next time it will be running between Lafayette and Chicago, you can visit its website.