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Midwest Rail Rangers on TrainWeb: The Last Hoosier State Run (6/30/2019)

Midwest Rail Rangers - The Last 'Hoosier State' Run

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: July 18, 2019


For the past four years, the Midwest Rail Rangers have provided on-board educational programs to passengers aboard private rail excursions across the Upper Midwest. We currently have seven private railcar partners... in addition to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District (NICTD) that we also work with to provide narration to passengers on South Shore Line interurban trains two to three weekends per month year-around. So, with that said, the Midwest Rail Rangers' Board of Directors usually hears about almost every private railcar excursion that is planned to take place out of Chicago --- whether we are able to our provide Interpretive Guide or not.  That is why it caught us by surprise when Joe Kuczynski, one of our Midwest Rail Rangers Guides, sent the Board an e-mail on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 advising a group called Blue Pine Rail was planning to run two private cars on the back of the final northbound Hoosier State (Train #851) on Sunday, June 30, 2019.

With just about four days advance notice, we at the Midwest Rail Rangers figured we would not have time to put together a custom educational program in enough time, but we still wanted to make contact with whoever was behind Blue Pine Rail to learn more about the group --- and maybe establish a future partnership. The fact of the matter was --- we never heard of Blue Pine Rail before!  Were they a new company? or were they based outside of the Midwest?  And well, it turns out there was a good reason for not knowing much about Blue Pine Rail... the trip on the Hoosier State was the first trip run by them.  At the helm of the new company are Gideon Comanse, a 2017 graduate of the Hammond, Indiana Academy of Science and Technology (a charter school) --- and Keiwoon Krause, a recent graduate of Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois, but who is now living in Fishers, Indiana.  Yes, two gentlemen barely in their 20's, were organizing this special excursion to commemorate the ending of the Hoosier State. Pretty impressive if you asked me!

By Friday morning (June 28), T-minus 48 hours before the private car trip on the Hoosier State, the Rail Rangers were able to make contact with Gideon of Blue Pine Rail. He explained that he and his business partner put together a SOLD OUT excursion that would feature two old Pennsylvania Railroad Cars --- the Colonial Crafts and the Frank Thomson. A lot of the passengers would be their friends and younger railfans that they got to know though social media. Both sleeper/lounge cars would be in Chicago anyway preparing for a July 4th trip out on the Lake Shore Limited and Cardinal, so Blue Pine was able to get a relatively good deal on renting them from their owners for a run down to Indianapolis and back. Gideon explained that this was the first excursion he and Keiwoon organized... but felt it was something they must do because the Hoosier State was one of their favorite trains living in Northwest Indiana.

In turn, we explained to Gideon a little about the Midwest Rail Rangers --- including our background and how our organization was formed (including the fact we started up Rail Rangers to focus on educational programs on private cars after our Amtrak-sponsored program on the Southwest Chief ended in July 2015). We also explained that the Rail Rangers customize our educational program to each train route that we are on... how we provide free route guides to passengers... free educational and fun narration... bring along props that have to do with various things seen from the train... and how we also sell route guidebooks to passengers who are interested in more in-depth knowledge about the route.

In the conversation with Gideon, it came up that the Midwest Rail Rangers actually were a regular fixture on the Hoosier State on Sunday mornings when Iowa Pacific operated the train. In a deal between the Rail Rangers, INDOT, and Ed Ellis (of Iowa Pacific), between November 2016 and February 2017, our Interpretive Guides were stationed in the full-length dome car and provided narration for business class passengers between Lafayette, Indiana and Chicago on most Sunday mornings. Unfortunately, the deal fell apart when Amtrak took the Hoosier State back over on March 1, 2017 ---- however our relationship with INDOT eventually led to our deal with the South Shore in August 2017. Even though the Rail Rangers hadn't done an educational program on the route of the Hoosier State for over two years --- we still had copies of much of the original handouts and notes that Interpretive Guides had put together. So, at the spur of the moment, it was decided that we would be prepared enough to be able to have two of our Interpretive Guides on the last Hoosier State after all.  MRR President Robert Tabern and MRR Educational Officer Kandace Tabern were assigned to take the ride on Sunday, June 30, 2019 with Blue Pine Rail and its two car fulls of passengers. It is customary to have a MRR Board Member be the Guides when a new partnership deal is involved... regardless, we felt very lucky and honored to be part of this special excursion.

Given the very last-minute nature of our deal with Blue Pine Rail, one of the challenges we faced was finding a way for us even to get down to Lafayette, Indiana on the afternoon of Saturday, June 29th --- this would be needed so we would be in place when the northbound Hoosier State rolled through town at around 7:30am on Sunday, June 30th. The best choice of course is a ride on Amtrak's Cardinal, which leaves Chicago at 5:45pm CT on Saturday and gets down to Lafayette, IN around 9:45pm ET.  Amazingly, every coach seat, business class seat, and even roomette was "sold out" when we checked Friday morning (the day before its departure).  We were surprised by this because even though it was the heart of the summer travel season --- there usually were at least three or four coaches on the train. The "sold out" section seemed to be between Dyer, Indiana and Lafayette, Indiana.  This is when we thought we would have to look at taking Greyhound instead ---- *NOT* something we really wanted to do.  By mid-day Friday, one coach seat opened up on the Cardinal and we grabbed that --- hoping just one more seat would open up so we could avoid taking the bus.  No such luck though throughout the day on Friday... but Robert got up every two hours Friday night/Saturday morning to see if a seat would open up. Around 3:00am, Robert woke up to see that a whole bunch of seats and even a few roomettes were released back into inventory by Amtrak! (Possibly the result of the eastbound Empire Builder and California Zephyr were destined to be mis-connects)./ What a nice surprise and we're glad that we held off buying bus tickets.  We quickly snatched a roomette on the Cardinal for $133.  Coach would have cost us $68 --- but then we would have had to pay for dinner if we wanted to eat in the diner and that would easily be $60 more... so it seemed smart to get the roomette.  Gotta love the privacy too that it affords.  It turns out our attendant was Janice from New York... one of our favorite sleeping car attendants on Amtrak. Maybe you have seen her before?  She is easily identifiable with his big Amtrak belt buckle!   We had a great time catching up with her... chatting with the conductor about some of the changes coming to the crew base with the elimination of the Hoosier State... and enjoying a beef bourguignon dinner in the dining car.

Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern is excited to board the eastbound Cardinal on Saturday, June 29, 2019

Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern and Educational Officer Kandace Tabern in their roomette on the Cardinal

Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern enjoys views from 'CP Lumber', just south of Union Station

Around 6:00pm, or about 15 minutes after departure time from Chicago, it was time to come down to the dining car on the Cardinal

A real table cloth and china are long gone on the Cardinal -- but it's still fun to have dinner in the dining car

Here is a look at the current menu choices on the Cardinal; it's the only train from Chicago to the East Coast with traditional dining left

Even though it was prepared in a convection over, our dinner was still quite tasty.

After dinner, we headed back to our Viewliner rommette to watch views of the passing Indiana countryside.

A beautiful sunset could be seen from the train near Reynolds, Indiana

The ride on the eastbound Cardinal went very quick and we arrived early into Lafayette --- and said goodbye to Janice and our new conductor friend. From there we walked over to the Campus Inn, where we would be spending the night.  When the Rail Rangers did our regular on-board educational programs on the Hoosier State in 2016 and 2017, the Campus Inn and the Hilton Garden Inn actually donated four rooms per month each to our organization to house Interpretive Guides overnight before boarding the northbound train.  We still encourage anyone who is looking for great hotels with-in walking distance of the Amtrak station in Lafayette, IN to consider using the Campus Inn ($59/night when we stayed on June 29th) or the Hilton Garden Inn (if you are looking for a hotel with a restaurant - around $133 on June 29th).

Our three hour ride came to an end in Lafayette, Indiana; the train was early so we posed with our sleeping car attendant and conductor

We woke up around 6:00am the next morning (Sunday, June 30, 2019) --- we learned that the northbound Hoosier State would be late leaving Indianapolis. We never were quite sure what the reason was... it was definitely not the fault of the private cars because they were switched on and ready to go well before the departure time. Perhaps Amtrak did not anticipate that the coaches would be full?   (Indeed, even the coaches were SOLD OUT on the last run --- mainly with railfans who were looking to part of Indiana rail history).

At the platform in Lafayette, there were signed taped up to the fence by various rail advocate groups... including the Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance... who has two or three representatives on the platform talking to passengers. Most of the group of rail advocates also seemed to be riding up to Chicago --- were going to spend the day ---  and then come back on the last southbound Hoosier State later that evening.

Just after 8:00am, the northbound Hoosier State came around the bend, just about 30 minutes late at this point.

The Indiana Passenger Rail Alliance put up signs advising of the last Hoosier State run at the Lafayette, IN station

A very somber day for us at the Lafayette, Indiana Amtrak station as Indiana loses daily service from Chicago to Indianapolis

The final northbound Hoosier State rounds the bend in Lafayette, Indiana with two private cars on the rear

Good Morning from the final northbound Hoosier State train - Sunday, June 30, 2019

In the final northbound consist of the Hoosier State were a rather beat-up Amtrak P-42 (#160)... a newly refurbished Superliner that just came out of Beech Grove... a heritage baggage car... several coaches...  and then our two private cars that we would be presenting a program on rounded things out.

The “Colonial Crafts” entered into service on the Pennsylvania Railroad at Chicago on June 4, 1949. The car was one of eight three-bedroom drawing room buffet lounge cars which were part of a 95-car order placed by the railroad with carbuilder Pullman-Standard. The other cars in the Colonial series were the “Cabins”, “Flags”, “Arms”, “Houses”, “Lanterns”, “Scouts”, and “Doorways”.  In 1964, the car was converted to parlor car #7149. It has also been in private ownership for many years. It should be noted that the “Colonial Crafts” is the sole operating survivor of the entire Colonial series.

Bringing up the marker lights was "Frank Thomson", which was built by the Pullman Company in February and March 1949. It was named the “Frank Thomson” to honor the sixth President of the old Pennsylvania Railroad – back in the 1800’s. This car once adorned the proud and mighty Pennsylvania Railroad’s famed passenger trains such as the Liberty Limited, Cincinnati Limited, and the Spirit of St. Louis. The “Frank Thomson” was one of a group of observation cars called the “President” cars, which were all named after former railroad presidents. This car was built with two drawing rooms, one compartment, one bedroom, buffet, and observation lounge. It was retired by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1967 and has been owned by private individuals ever since. It was named “Louis Sockalexis” for a period of time and kept in Arizona --- before the current owners decided to restore its original namesake.

A passenger makes a $20 donation to the Midwest Rail Rangers and receives one of our in-depth 100 page route guide books

Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern tells passengers about the Battle of Tippecanoe

Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern shows a passenger some props from our "traveling trunk"

Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern shares a copy of our route guidebook with the Amtrak conductor

We spent the entire three-hour ride between Lafayette and Chicago pointing out all of the interesting landmarks that passengers could see from the train. The original planned called for one of us to a program in "Colonial Crafts", while the other did a separate program in "Frank Thomson", but Blue Pine Rail decided us to do one program together just in the rear observation car "Frank Thomson" because more people were in there. One of the sites that drew the most attention from the passengers was the Battle of Tippecanoe site, which can be seen on the right-hand side of the train (by northbound passengers) a few minutes after departing Lafayette. It was here on November 7, 1811, U.S. military forces commanded by Gen. William Henry Harrison engaged in battle with Native Americans of Wabash Country lead by the Prophet.  We also talked about how Rensselaer was known for its factory that makes Orville Redenbacher popcorn and another facility which bakes all of the buns for White Castle hamburger in the Chicagoland area. It's stories like that that keep passengers engaged with the people, places, and history passing by outside their window. The key is that we only tell one story every five or ten minutes and give passengers plenty of quiet time to still talk among themselves and take whatever pictures or video that they want.

A look at the interior of the Frank Thomson private car; sleeping car rooms are on the left - the hallway leads to the lounge

Three railfans are on-hand to photograph the last northbound Hoosier State from the platform at Dyer, Indiana

An NPR radio station out of Indianapolis interviews Gideon and Keiwoon of Blue Pine Rail who organized the trip
(to watch video of the full interview, check out the Midwest Rail Rangers' Facebook page)

LEFT TO RIGHT:  Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern, Keiwoon Krause of Blue Pine Rail,
Gideon Comanse of Blue Pine Rail, and Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern

Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern and Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern check out the old "Pennsylvania" logo.

All aboard!  A beautiful black and white shot of one of the two private cars used as part of the final Hoosier State excursion.
The Colonial Crafts private car in Amtrak's Chicago Yards

Another view of private railcar Colonial Crafts in the Amtrak Chicago Yards
The heads of Blue Pine Rail, Gideon and Keiwoon, pose for photos with their passengers in Indianapolis
Midwest Rail Rangers President Robert Tabern and Midwest Rail Rangers Educational Officer Kandace Tabern pose on Track #26 at Chicago Union Station around 10:30am on Sunday, June 30, 2019, following the arrival of the last northbound Hoosier State Train --- note the special drum head used on the Frank Thomson.

Another view of the final northbound Hoosier State on Track #26 at Chicago Union Station

Amtrak began operating the Hoosier State train on October 1, 1980. Initially, service ran daily with a 7:30am departure out of Indianapolis and a 4:00pm departure out of Chicago. Until April 1986, the Cardinal actually used a different routing to get to Cincinnati (via Peru, Marion, Muncie, etc.). Funding cuts led to the discontinuance of the Hoosier State in September 1995, but it returned in July 1998 as a tri-, and later, quad-weekly train. Between December 1999 and July 2003, the Hoosier State was extended to Louisville and was re-named the Kentucky Cardinal. Due to federal legislation passed in 2008, the State of Indiana became responsible for the funding of the Hoosier State in October 2013. In February 2019, a new state budget was proposed by Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb that included no funding for the train beyond June 30, 2019. A few months later state officials approved a budget without any funding --- which meant the final run on Sunday, June 30, 2019.

We hope you enjoyed this article/trip report from Midwest Rail Rangers on If you did, we hope you are also interested in learning more about the Midwest Rail Rangers. We are an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that provides on-board educational programs on private rail excursions, Amtrak coach charters, regular runs of the South Shore Line on select weekends, and we make appearance at various outreach events such as TrainFest and MadCity Rail in Wisconsin. Our group of experienced Interpretive Guides have also written a series of railroad route guidebooks, e-books, and MP3 podcasts for the various passenger train lines across the Upper Midwest and across the United States. Check out our website at for more information and our listing of upcoming excursions and trips!


Blue Pine Rail


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