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Midwest Rail Rangers & 20th Century RR Club Fall 2019 Charter to Carbondale, IL

Join the Midwest Rail Rangers for a Fall Colors Coach Charter

A Article by the Midwest Rail Rangers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization presenting onboard educational programs on the South Shore Line and private rail excursions across the Midwest



Robert Tabern - President, Midwest Rail Rangers &
Kandace Tabern - Educational Officer, Midwest Rail Rangers

Published: April 25, 2019

Even though we are still waiting for the official start of summer (did I mention we're supposed to get 4-8" of snow here in the Upper Midwest this weekend?)... it's time to plan ahead and think about joining us for that fun fall train get-away weekend trip!  The 20th Century Railroad Club and the Midwest Rail Rangers are joining together once again to bring you an exciting train and motorcoach journey to Southern Illinois. We decided on the destination for our 2019 Fall Excursion after getting feedback from our past travelers --- many of whom lived in the Chicagoland area their entire lives, but have never ventured into the southern slice of their home state. Well, it's time to check your calendar... sign up... and see the beautiful hills and rolling farmsteads of the 'Land of Lincoln'.

Our journey together will begin at Chicago Union Station on Saturday, October 26, 2019, as we depart on the southbound Saluki at 8:15am.

Author Kandace Tabern prepares to board the southbound Saluki... Amtrak Train #391

Get some great views of Downtown Chicago and the Amtrak Yards as we go onto the St. Charles Air Line

For about the first 20 miles, our Amtrak line (owned by CN) parallels the Metra Electric Line and South Shore Line tracks

Kandace Tabern enjoys the views of suburban Homewood, Illinois

For the next 309 miles, you will be treated to on-going narration from the Midwest Rail Rangers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization who provides on-board educational programs to passengers on public trains and private rail excursions. You will learn interesting stories from Midwest Rail Rangers' Interpretive Guides about many of the trackside towns that we pass though... including Homewood, Kankakee, Gilman, Rantoul, Champaign-Urbana, Mattoon, Effingham, Centralia, and Du Quoin.  Learn about a now-defunct U.S. Air Force Base... established in Illinois just after America entered World War II.  What are some of Illinois' top crops that you see from the train beginning to sprout? And what track-side town was nicknamed "The Bagel Capital of the World" and why?  Those answers and more come from our Midwest Rail Rangers' presentation!

Another big draw to this trip is riding a historic rail line... the "back bone" of the historic Illinois Central's mainline between Chicago and Carbondale, Memphis, and New Orleans for many decades, in fact!  In the early 1900's, the Illinois Central's premier train on the Chicago-New Orleans route was the Chicago and New Orleans Limited. On February 4, 1911, the Illinois Central renamed this train the Panama Limited in honor of the anticipated opening of the Panama Canal. The train included a St. Louis, Missouri section that connected at Carbondale. The train was first-class only north of Memphis, Tennesseee. It carried through sleepers for Hot Springs, Arkansas, and San Antonion, Texas. It made the journey in 25 hours. In 1912, the train was replaced with an steel, all electric consist. The Illinois Central relaunched the train on November 15, 1916, with new equipment and a new schedule: 23 hours from Chicago to New Orleans. The new train carried sleeping cars only for its entire route. Its old equipment and schedule became a new train, the Louisiane. The Great Depression led the Illinois Central to discontinue the luxurious Panama Limited between May 1932 and December 1934. When it returned, it had new air-conditioned equipment and an improved 20-hour schedule between Chicago and New Orleans.  The Panama Limited was streamlined in 1942, during World War II. The Illinois Central had ordered two lightweight sets of equipment prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor; after an appeal the War Production Board allowed their delivery. The first diesel/electric-powered streamliner run of the Panama Limited was on May 3, 1942 on an 18-hour schedule. On hand for the first run was Janie Jones, the widow of famed engineer Casey Jones. The Panama Limited carried a new orange and brown paint scheme which later became standard on Illinois Central passenger trains. The Panama Limited maintained a high level of service through the 1950's and 1960's. In October 1967, the Illinois Central added coaches to the train; it became part of the Amtrak system on May 1, 1971. Amtrak changed the train's name to the City of New Orleans (which still operates on the line we'll be riding!) in February 1981, hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the Arlo Guthrie song of the same name.

Beautiful farmscapes can be enjoyed from your coach car for the 308-mile-long journey from Chicago to Carbondale

The Kankakee, Illinois Amtrak Station

Author Robert Tabern enjoys the views of Champaign, Illinois

Mattoon, Illinois' Historic Amtrak Station

Centralia, IL Amtrak Station

After riding the old I.C., we arrive in Carbondale at 1:45pm... and will board a modern motorcoach and head for the Blue Sky Vineyard. Anchored at the eastern end of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, Blue Sky Vineyard offers award-winning Illinois wines and provides breathtaking views of the Shawnee National Forest. Designed with Tuscan-inspired decor including stucco walls, hand-hewn beams, Portuguese tiles and beautifully carved doors, Blue Sky Vineyards knows that you will enjoy the carefree elegance of the winery while savoring a glass of their hand-crafted wine. All tour participants will be treated to a complimentary wine tasting and everyone will also be able to keep their wine glass as a memento of this special trip.  Even if you aren't a wine drinker, you will enjoy your time here... as staff will be leading everyone on a tour of the facility to explain the wine-making process.  Following the winery, we will take a one-hour scenic drive over to Harrisburg.... where you will spend the evening at the Quality Inn Hotel.

On the morning of Sunday, October 27, 2019, rise and shine as we have breakfast and re-board the motorcoach for another action packed day with the 20th Century Railroad Club and the Midwest Rail Rangers. We will get the day started right as we visit the Garden of the Gods and participate in a 1/4-mile guided hike on the park's Observation Trail with a U.S. Forest Ranger from the Shawnee National Forest. Learn about all of the plants and animals that call Southern Illinois home while enjoying some beautiful views of the forest and sandstone rock formations. After that... we are off to Superman's Hometown of Metropolis, Illinois... where you will enjoy a couple of hours of "free time" to explore the sites and grab lunch on your own. Everything is pretty much with-in walking distance here... including the 15-foot painted bronze statue of Superman which sits in front of the county courthouse, and a statue of Noel Neill's Lois Lane from "The Adventures of Superman", which is just a few blocks away. Also consider a stroll over to the Super Museum... which houses more than 70,000 pieces of Superman memorabilia... or perhaps walk to the end of Ferry Street and press your luck at the Harrah's Casino for a few... or just kick back and relax watching the many river barges go up and down the scenic Ohio River.  Whatever you want to do is a great idea by us!

After our time in Metropolis, we will head back to Carbondale and board Amtrak's northbound Illini train, which departs at 4:15pm. Enjoy informal conversations with Midwest Rail Rangers' Interpretive Guides to learn even more about the people, places, and history passing by outside your window. Things will come to a close when we arrive back into Chicago at a scheduled time of 9:45pm.

The Midwest Rail Rangers will point out some of the histroic Illinois Central coaling towers that are still along the route

Arriving in Carbondale, IL

'The end of the line' -- after a few hours in Carbondale we will return home to Chicago

What a weekend!  And the best part is you can join us for the very reasonable price of $339 per person (double occupancy) or $379 per person (single occupancy).  This includes round-trip rail transportation between Chicago and Carbondale with narration from the Midwest Rail Rangers, a seat on our motorcoach, hotel accommodations on the evening of October 26th at the Quality Inn in Harrisburg, Illinois, a guided hike by a U.S. Forest Service Ranger in the Garden of the Gods.  Meals are not included.  For more information and to book your trip... visit the 20th Century Railroad Club's website at


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The Midwest Rail Rangers is an independent non-profit 501(c)(3) organization which presents on-board educational programs on the South Shore Line and on private rail excursions across the Upper Midwest.  Check out our website for more information on how you can be part of our growing organization. We hope you will enjoy reading our articles about all of the interesting places you can take the train to -- especially America's National Parks and many other off-the-beaten path locations.