What is Outside the Rails?
The Story Behind Outside the Rails Books & The Rail Rangers Program

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 Robert and Kandace Tabern promoting Outside the Rails and the Rail Rangers program.
(Note: This photo was from a special photo shoot arranged through Amtrak and BNSF and was done under 'blue flag' protection)

Kandace and I are currently the President and Vice-President of Outside the Rails, a company that was founded by us in 2011. Our main focus is writing quality railroad route guide books for passengers who travel on various passenger railroad lines across the United States. We have also partnered with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) rail history organization, to provide on-board educational programs, based on the book series, to passengers on private railroad cars and excursions. This new program, called Rail Rangers, formally launched on July 20, 2015; demand has quickly grown for our services. Before we tell you more about Outside the Rails and the Rail Rangers program, let's back up a bit and tell you how things started.


These two passengers are enjoying their copy of "Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO"

In May 2007, I became a volunteer for the Trails & Rails program on Amtrak's Empire Builder between Chicago, Illinois and Winona, Minnesota. Trails & Rails is a partnership between Amtrak and the National Park Service that places volunteers aboard various passenger trains across the United States. Docents provide an interpretive program for passengers to hear in the lounge car; topics include people, places, history, and popular attractions of a region. After joining Trails & Rails, I noticed our group did not have a very thorough reference manual, so I offered to help re-write the booklet that other guides had been using since being assigned to the Empire Builder in 2005. The more research I did over the course of 2008, the more fascinated I became with track-side cities in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. This resulted in me writing a pretty lengthy reference manual; it was given out to our Trails & Rails volunteers in May 2009. Rangers at the Mississippi National River, our then-sponsor park, encouraged my further research. I produced an even more in-depth reference manual for Trails & Rails in May 2010; it was over 200 pages long and growing! I was in discussions of turning the reference manual into a soft cover railroad route guide book that could be sold at the park's visitor center in Saint Paul, Minnesota, when park officials decided to no longer sponsor our Trails & Rails program on the Empire Builder that fall. I took a few months off and weighed my options and whether I should proceed with the book project. One of my fellow displaced Trails & Rails volunteers was John Kelly of Madison, Wisconsin; he is a successful writer who has authored more than a dozen railroad books. He encouraged me to proceed, despite what had occurred.

A photo from my first Trails & Rails trip in May 2007; my involvement in Trails & Rails led to "Outside the Rails" rail route guides.

After spending much of late 2010 putting the finishing touches on my book between Chicago to the Twin Cities, it was finally ready for publication in early 2011. Friends who were in the editing and publishing world gave me the advice that a title and cover picture were really important in selling the book... they said you really have to think "outside of the box" for a good and creative title. Hence, Outside the Rails was born, since the book focused more on the towns seen "outside of the rails" than on the history of the rail line or the train equipment being used. For the cover photo, I used a picture taken in October 2007, when I was working as a car host on the 20th Century Railroad Club's Amtrak charter to Galena, Illinois. The train featured on the cover of "Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to St. Paul, MN" is actually sitting in the Canadian National siding at Galena. No, believe it or not - it was not photo-shopped. I sold the First Edition of my Chicago to Twin Cities book at railroad shows in the Chicagoland and Milwaukee areas in 2011 and 2012.  I also signed agreements with several book stores and railroad hobby shops in the area to carry my book. Things really took off and by the end of my first year in business as Outside the Rails, I sold several hundred books. The Second Edition of "Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to St. Paul, MN" was released in March 2012 and features 300 pages of content and sells for $35.00.


"Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to St. Paul, MN" was the first book in the series.
The first edition was published was in 2011; the second (and most current) edition was published in 2012.

A photo from one of my first book signings in May 2012; pictured with Kandace and my step-son Jason.

Early on in my company's history, we formed a strategic partnership with Steve Sandberg, the CEO of Friends of the 261, a non-profit railroad history group based at Minneapolis Junction, Minnesota. The group owns and operates Milwaukee Road Steam Locomotive #261 and numerous other historic pieces of passenger railroad equipment. Friends of the 261 occasionally runs their own private charters, in addition to operating their cars on the rear of Amtrak passenger trains. Steve, and his mother Judy, encouraged the development of an Outside the Rails tour; this is where I would sell my books, while also narrating for premium class passengers in the organization's historic 1950's-era full-length dome car. The partnership between Outside the Rails and Friends of the 261 has resulted in myself writing numerous custom railroad route guides for their organization. These books are generally around 40 pages and sell for a very reasonable price with profits going towards restoration efforts of the group's train equipment. Four limited edition Outside the Rails books have been written for the Friends of the 261, including the following: A railroad route guide from Rock Island, Illinois to Homestead, Iowa (July 2011); A railroad route guide from Minneapolis to Boylston, Wisconsin (October 2011); A railroad route guide from Minneapolis to Duluth, Minnesota (May 2013); and a railroad route guide from Minneapolis to Willmar, Minnesota (October 2013). My wife Kandace, who also serves as Vice-President of Outside the Rails, authored a special children's activity book for the Friends of the 261.

Co-author Kandace Tabern poses with her limited edition children's activity book

It was our second go-around with Trails & Rails that served as the catalyst behind another one of our books. In December 2012, Kandace and I were appointed the Chicago Coordinators of a new Trails & Rails program that was being formed on Amtrak's Southwest Chief between Chicago Union Station and La Plata, Missouri. Amtrak and the National Park Service partnered with Texas A&M University and the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) to launch this Trails & Rails program. Kandace and I began writing a new reference manual in January 2013, along with several of our new volunteers. By May 2013, the new manual was ready; it was also published by our company and turned into the very first edition of "Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO". With they key partnership between Outside the Rails and the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation, this new book became even more of a best-seller than the original Chicago to Twin Cities edition. During much of 2014, Kandace and I put a lot of energy into updating and expanding the original edition of the book. We released a new 352-page Expanded Third Edition of "Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO" on March 1, 2015; it is available for $35.00. For readers who are interested in the route, but do not want to carry such a bulky book on board the train, we released an abbreviated 40-page edition of the book; it is available for just $10.00.


"Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO" was the second large book in the series.
The first edition was published was in 2013; the expanded third edition (and most current) edition was published in 2015.

Here's a picture of the two most popular Outside the Rails books on board an ex-Great Northern Dome Car!

The year 2015 brought about some major changes for Outside the Rails. First, the business re-located; it is now officially based in Wadsworth, Illinois, a suburb about 40 miles north of Chicago, or 45 miles south of Milwaukee. We also decided to do more book signings and community outreach events once again; the complete listing of upcoming events is available on the Outside the Rails website, located at www.outsidetherails.com. We also teamed up with well-known railroad route guide author Eva Hoffman; all books in her popular Flashing Yellow Guidebook series are now available for purchase on the Outside the Rails website. It's one of the few places you can purchase them direct from the author on-line. So, if Outside the Rails doesn't cover your upcoming train trip's route... odds are Flashing Yellow Guidebooks will.

Also, despite being an incredible success and the fact volunteers were able to reach out to more than 50,000 passengers in just over two years, the National Park Service announced its decision in June 2015 to end the partnership agreement with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) in La Plata, Missouri. The final APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief between Chicago and La Plata took place on July 19, 2015. The very next day, the APRHF announced the launch of a new outreach program called Rail Rangers. Often times passengers on private rail car trips and other excursions don't know what they are seeing out their window... it's almost like watching the Travel Channel with the sound off. That's where Rail Rangers come in! The APRHF is now making educational, but entertaining, on-board interpretive programs available to private railroad car owners, railroad museums, charters, libraries, etc. to spread the word about passenger railroad history. I was named the Executive Director/Chicago Coordinator of Rail Rangers; Kandace was named the Assistant Chicago Coordinator. Besides the on-board program given from a Rail Ranger, private car owners have the option of requesting a custom-made route guide for their trip be made through Outside the Rails books. We look forward to this new arrangement and new 'chapter' in the history of Outside the Rails.

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From December 2012 to July 2015, we were coordinators of the APRHF-sponsored Trails & Rails program on the Southwest Chief (left);
On July 20, 2015, we launched the new APRHF-sponsored Rail Rangers program, which provides on-board education programs (right)