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Our "Rolling" Proposal & Wedding Reception

Our "Rolling" Proposal & Wedding Reception

St. Paul, MN to Chicago, IL

By Robert & Kandace Tabern, Email:

Trip Taken: October 15, 2012;  Published: August 22, 2016

Our "Rolling" Wedding Reception took place on the Friends of the 261 premium cars

One of the articles that several of our fans at TrainWeb have asked us to write is the story behind our train-related wedding proposal and wedding reception; both of which took place back in 2012. So, we decided to make this the topic of our August 2016 TrainWeb article.

The two of us met back while we were attending college in Arkansas (around April 1998). We ended up dating and even sharing an apartment together that was directly across the road from the Amtrak Walnut Ridge, Arkansas depot. Robert ended up breaking up with Kandace in March 1999, and the two of us went out separate ways for more than a decade. Kandace remained in Arkansas where she married another man. Robert followed his career dreams of working in radio and television news, landing jobs in Indiana and Wisconsin.  A few months after Kandace's then-husband passed away, she sent an e-mail to Robert looking for someone to talk to. After many long emails and phone conversations, we decided to meet up in Arkansas when Robert was returning to the state to receive an alumni award from his old college, Arkansas State University. We both hit it off again, and a long-distance relationship between Wisconsin and Arkansas ensued for several months during 2011. When Kandace came to Wisconsin to visit for Christmas Week 2011, Robert decided it would be the prefect time to propose.

Our wedding proposal took place on New Year's Day - January 1, 2012. The day got off to an early start with Robert and Kandace driving down to the Metra Station in Kenosha, Wisconsin for a ride on the former Chicago & Northwestern Line (now Union Pacific). The goal was to get to Downtown Chicago early enough to make the 7:00am "Lincoln Service" departure from Chicago Union Station to Joliet, Illinois. Unfortunately, the Hiawathas did not run that early, so Metra was the only train option we could take from Wisconsin. The reason for riding Train #301 was because it would be running with Amtrak's Great Dome car on it. For those of you who don't know, this is the last remaining dome car in the entire Amtrak fleet. It is usually used by the President of Amtrak for business and is very rarely open to the public. During December 2011 and January 2012, Amtrak was running the Great Dome on various state trains around Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri to promote its state partnerships. We rode Amtrak #301 from Chicago to Joliet and Kandace got to experience her first ride on the "Ocean View" Great Dome. Unfortunately the ride to Joliet was short (around 1 hour) and the line for the cafe car was long, so I think we spent more time in line getting breakfast than we did in the dome car. But, it was still fun.

We returned to Chicago from Joliet on another "Lincoln Service" train (that obviously didn't have the dome car on it). We went for lunch in Downtown Chicago and then headed back to the Metropolitan Lounge to wait on the "Empire Builder", Amtrak Train #7/#27/#807.  Robert worked out the proposal a few months in advance with Amtrak management in Chicago and Seattle, so everything was planned out just the way he wanted it to happen. The only thing that didn't go according to the plan was a delay in the train that required it to go back to the yards. We finally boarded and were "upgraded" to a bedroom from our trip from Chicago to Milwaukee. Kandace was under the impression that we were doing the train ride so that an official with Amtrak's employee magazine could interview Robert about his then-new railroad route guidebook from Chicago to the Twin Cities. Just after pulling out of Union Station, Robert's friend who worked for Amtrak (and was in on the plan), ushered us to the dining car. He sat us down at the table and began to "interview" Robert about his book. A few questions in, Robert admitted the "interview" was fake, pulled out a ring, and asked Kandace to marry him. She said "yes"... and the rest was history. On the other side of the dining car was a specially-made cake, balloons, and gifts from some of Amtrak's "Empire Builder" management and crew. The proposal was timed so that it took place while the "Empire Builder" was passing through Robert's hometown of Northbrook, Illinois.

Robert and Kandace on the morning of the proposal, in Amtrak's Great Dome 'Ocean View'

Robert and Kandace on the morning before the proposal - getting off 'Ocean View' dome car in Joliet, IL

Our on-board proposal was delayed when Amtrak's Empire Builder had to go back to the yards

Here's the moment of our proposal, on Amtrak's Empire Builder dining car in Northbrook, Illinois


A specially-made cake that was presented to us aboard the Empire Builder following our wedding proposal

Now that the proposal was one for the history books, it was time to begin planning out the wedding and wedding reception. With Robert's love for trains, he suggested getting married either on Amtrak or renting a private railcar for the occasion. Kandace liked the idea, but really wanted to get married in a church. The first compromise of many ensued, and we decided to have our wedding ceremony in a church, but then have our wedding reception on a private railcar. We began to look at many different private railcar options, and unfortunately, all of them were outside of what we had budgeted for a wedding reception venue. Then, the solution came!  Robert has been a docent with the Friends of the 261 out of Minneapolis since 2006, providing narration and route guide services for charters and public excursion. Wanting to help the new couple, Steve Sandberg, CEO of Friends of the 261 mentioned that three of his railcars would be deadheading in October 2012 between the group's annual fall colors excursion in the Twin Cities and the New River Train in West Virginia. Steve told Robert that he could have the wedding reception on the cars, if he didn't mind having it take place on the dead-head move date. All we would have to pay for it the food and switching cost of the cars in Chicago. What a deal!  Steve made our private car dream for a wedding reception an affordable reality!  For this and many other reasons we will always be grateful and be a supporter of the Friends of the 261.

Anyway, we then looked at a variety of rail segments we could of done our reception on through Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia. After considering all of the alternatives, we chose the part of the route from St. Paul Midway Station to Chicago Union Station. We did this because the route is just gorgeous in the fall - you run along the Mississippi River with its fall foliage for nearly two hours. Plus, it's all daylight, so guests would really enjoy everything out their windows. And, since the cars that would be dead-heading did not have sleeper space, we could not really do an overnight run. And, since most of Robert's friends and family lived in either Milwaukee or Chicago, we could actually using the "rolling reception" to provide people transportation home in many cases. The private railcars made stops for attendees at Wisconsin Dells, Columbus, Milwaukee, Glenview, and Chicago.

So, the plans for our wedding and "rolling reception" went into full force. Through a friend of ours who lives in St. Paul, we were able to find a Catholic Church in St. Paul  (Saint Frances Cabrini) who was willing to marry us and work with our date for the ceremony -- October 13, 2012.  We then gave everyone a day to explore around the Twin Cities before hitting the rails. Our "rolling reception" took place on October 15, 2012, leaving St. Paul around 9:30am (a few hours late) and getting into Chicago around 6:30pm (still a few hours late). We packed the cars full of our friends and had an amazing time seeing 417 miles of scenery along with the celebrations.  One of the best parts was that about half of the people who participated in our wedding reception had never been on a long-distance train trip before. A lot of Robert's friends who lived in Chicago had only traveled on Metra, and until seeing how amazing a private railcar trip could be, wondered why we wanted to have a wedding reception for 8 hours on a train. Coming along for part of the ride was a film crew for a then-upcoming special about private railcar travel called, "Tricked Out Trains".  They interviewed the both of us about our unusual choice for a wedding reception.  Robert's friend Dick Holt brought along an electric keyboard and provided some live music in the upper level of the Dome Car.  We hired Bob and Amy Cox, President and Vice-President of the APRHF, to be our wedding photographers through their business called Show N Off Photography.  We also had pre-recorded train-themed songs played over the PA and everyone enjoyed getting up and dancing in the aisles of the dome car. The food was also excellent -- we had a breakfast egg bake and sandwich lunch prepared by Joey, the Friends of the 261 chef.  The bartender on-board was Justin Young, who also serves as a conductor and restoration manager for the Friends of the 261.

Both the proposal and our wedding were train-themed and so much fun!  Like Robert said -- how often in your life will you have an occasion to charter a private railcar and get all of your friends -- both old and new -- together for a morning and an afternoon?  We hope you enjoyed this brief article and look into both our train-related proposal and wedding reception.

Our wedding ceremony at a church in St. Paul, MN on October 13, 2012

We held a small reception at the church after the ceremony for those not able to ride the train

A beautiful fall morning in Minneapolis on the morning of the "rolling" reception departure

Posing with the Milwaukee Road 261, which was undergoing restoration, on the morning of our "rolling" reception

The cars for our "rolling" reception are switched on the back of the Empire Builder, Train #8/28/808 at St. Paul-Midway Station

It's a full house for the Taberns' "rolling" wedding reception; these travelers enjoy the Milwaukee Road Super Dome

Our friend Dick Holt plays the piano for guests aboard the Milwaukee Road Super Dome

Peeking out of the Super Dome during its crew change stop in Winona, Minnesota

We were caught exchanging a kiss in the vestibule of ex-Milwaukee Road Skytop Observation Car "Cedar Rapids"

Kandace is all smiles on our "rolling" wedding reception aboard the Super Dome - check out the fall colors along the Mississippi River

Amazing fall colors abound at the site of the only active railroad tunnel in Wisconsin - at Tunnel City, Wisconsin

Our friend John Kelly enjoys the ride - he's wearing his Trails & Rails shirt, as he and Robert did the program together for 6 years

Robert and Kandace talk to Robert's best man, Alexander Rubinow, and play with his infant son, Jacob

Some M&M's that everyone got to enjoy on our "rolling" reception train

Robert and Kandace enjoying breakfast on the "rolling" reception

Our friends and family enjoying the ride on Milwaukee Road Super Dome #53

A film crew from the Travel Channel rode along for part of the way of our trip, interviewing passengers and us

While most guests enjoyed the Super Dome and Cedar Rapids, we also had lounge car "Wisconsin Valley" on the train, too

Views along the Mississippi River from our "rolling" wedding reception

Views of the Mississippi River out the windows of the dome car of our "rolling reception"

** A look at the private car fleet owned by the Friends of the 261 in Minneapolis Junction, MN


Friends of the 261 Private Car Charters


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