It is really no surprise that Robert Tabern developed an enthusiasm for passenger train travel. After all, his father, Thomas, grew up in Bowling Green, Ohio along the New York Central main line; his mother, Rita, grew up along the busy Evanston Express CTA line in the northern suburbs of Chicago.
Robert was born in August 1979 in Skokie, Illinois, a suburb located about ten miles north of Chicago. He spent his early years living in the Chicagoland area, including Morton Grove and Northbrook. While growing up, every summer included at least one long-distance Amtrak train trip for the Tabern family; some of Robert's fondest memories include getting his own small slumber coach sleeping car room when going to Florida or Washington, D.C. Often times, young Robert would stay up half the night looking out his window at the small towns passing by in the darkness.
While attending Glenbrook North High School, Robert decided to pursue a career in the broadcasting industry. In August 1997, Robert moved 500 miles south, becoming a freshman at Arkansas State University. While there, he worked on-air and behind-the-scenes at a few small radio stations, including KASU-FM (Jonesboro, AR), KDRS-FM (Paragould, AR), and KLQZ-FM (Paragould, AR). Robert also worked as a television news producer, including three years at KAIT-TV, the ABC station in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Shortly after moving to Arkansas, Robert and Kandace met one another; the two dated for about a year and shared an apartment directly across from the Walnut Ridge, AR Amtrak station.
After graduating from Arkansas State University in December 2001, Robert moved to Indiana and served as the morning news producer at WKJG-TV, the then-NBC affiliate in Fort Wayne. Hoping to move even closer to his family in the Chicagoland area, Robert picked up stakes again in February 2003 and headed for Southeast Wisconsin. It was there he continued working in the broadcasting and communications field for over a decade, including time at WDJT-TV, the CBS station in Milwaukee, the City of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and WTMJ-TV, the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee. In 2011, after not speaking for more than 13 years, Robert and Kandace came back into each others lives. Sometimes love is just meant to be! After proposing in the dining car on Amtrak's Empire Builder on January 1, 2012, Robert and Kandace got married later that year; their "rolling" wedding reception was held aboard the Milwaukee Road Super Dome between St. Paul and Chicago.
Today, Robert and Kandace call the Chicagoland area home. Both spend a significant amount of time managing the Midwest Rail Rangers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which provides onboard educational programs to train passengers on the South Shore Line (Chicago to South Bend, IN) and on private railroad excursions. Robert currently serves as President and Executive Director of Midwest Rail Rangers, while Kandace is the group's Chicago Coordinator and Educational Officer. To learn how you can ride along with the Taberns or one of the other Rail Rangers' Interpretive Guides, check out the Midwest Rail Rangers website at www.railrangers.org.
Robert and Kandace are also published authors... having researched, written, and published a series of 11 different railroad route guidebooks, plus e-books, and podcasts. More on that below! When not on the rails, the duo loves to take road trips, explore state parks and caves, and spend time in the great outdoors. Robert and Kandace really enjoy visiting units of the National Park Service -- Robert has been to over 400 of the 418 units of the NPS and Kandace isn't too far behind. They also love country music and attending the Grand Ole Opry whenever possible.
Robert and Kandace co-own a company called "Outside the Rails"; it specializes in railroad route guide books. The idea behind the book series, which now includes 11 titles, can be traced back to early 2007 when Robert began volunteering for a program called Trails & Rails aboard Amtrak's Empire Builder. Trails & Rails is a partnership between the National Park Service and Amtrak; volunteer rangers are placed aboard trains and present educational programs to passengers. Robert noticed that the reference maual for the group was struggling, so he offered to help research the route more in-depth. After spending many weekends driving through Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, Robert had hundereds of pages of notes about the route. He decided to not only use them for Trails & Rails, but also to begin writing his own book about the train route. Even though the National Park Service decided to stop using Chicago-based volunteers on the Empire Builder route in September 2010, Robert continued his book-writing efforts. In March 2011, the original edition of "Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to St. Paul, MN" was published; it was 200 pages long. The following year, Robert released an expanded Second Edition of the book featuring 300 pages of content; it currently sells for $35.00, plus tax and shipping.
In December 2012, the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) reached an agreement with Amtrak and the National Park Service that established a new Trails & Rails program on Amtrak's Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata, Missouri. Robert and Kandace were appointed the organization's Coordinators. Both quickly realized the best way to recruit and train new volunteers would be to provide a top-notch reference manual book. After many weekends driving the route through Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri, it was decided to also publish their notes so that the traveling public could enjoy them too. The original edition of "Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO" was published in March 2013. After two years of additional research, an expanded 350-page edition of the book was released in March 2015; it currently sells for $35.00, plus tax and shipping. During the same time, an abbreviated 40-page edition, that is more travel-friendly, was also released; it currently sells for $10.00, plus tax and shipping. The American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, received a portion of the profits from each book sold. Robert and Kandace served as Chicago Coordinators of Trails & Rails through July 2015, when the National Park Service decided to terminate its partnership with the APRHF.
Besides the two main editions of "Outside the Rails", Robert and Kandace have written several smaller route guide books for rail excursions, including for the Friends of the 261, the Iowa Interstate Railroad, and the Zephyr Route. Kandace also has designed a children's train-themed activity book, which is quite popular. "Outside the Rails" has also teamed up with well-known railroad route guide author Eva Hoffman to offer her expanded selection of books on its website. Click on the banner below to check out the selection of railroad route guide books for sale.
The most recent editions of "Outside the Rails" have focused on covering Amtrak's various Midwestern regional train routes. In late 2015, the Tabern's released a railroad route guidebook for the Chicago to Galesburg/Quincy, Illinois train. The following year, 2016, saw the release of three new guidebooks -- including Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago to Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Indianapolis, Indiana to Chicago. This series of regional Midwestern train route guidebooks was completed in 2017 with the addition of a route guidebook from Chicago to Carbondale, Illinois and Chicago to Detroit/Pontiac, Michigan. The Tabern's most recent route guidebook covers the South Shore Line between Chicago and South Bend Airport, Indiana; this book was created after the Midwest Rail Rangers signed an agreement to provide onboard educational programs on this line beginning in August 2017.
"Outside the Rails" introduced PDF e-book versions into the mix in 2018 to appeal to those passengers who wanted to use a more travel-friendly route guide option. After acquiring www.TrainPodcast.com, a total of 18 podcast route guides were created in 2018 covering the major train routes in the Upper Midwest. Each MP3 file features different voices from the various Midwest Rail Rangers Interpretive Guides.
So what's coming up? Well, in 2019 and 2020 we plan to record additional podcasts for other areas of the country! We are currently producing podcast route guides for the California Zephyr and Southwest Chief between Chicago and California. Stay tuned!
This year (2019) will mark the start of our sixth year writing monthly TrainWeb.com railroad trip reports... boy, does time fly! Between 2010 and 2018, we were members of the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) and got to work along side TrainWeb founders Steve Grande and Barbara Cepinko during their time on the Board of Directors. Who can't love an awesome couple who also loves trains, wine, fast cars, and jazz music! We were honored in 2014 when Steve and Barbara asked us to be 'premiere writers' for TrainWeb.com. Since then, it's been a blast! We have gotten to travel to all 50 states and several foreign countries writing about trains. When the Midwest Rail Rangers spun off from the APRHF into its own organization in December 2018, we agreed to keep writing our trip reports for TrainWeb.com. We both hope we can continue being part of TrainWeb for many years to come -- as the site provides a lot of great information for travelers!