Chesterton Tribune



Ride the South Shore Saturday for narrated tour of its history

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For commuters and day-trippers on the South Shore line--distracted by their jobs, their devices, their plans for a night on the town--a ride on the train is typically just a way to get from Point A to Point B as quickly and with as little aggravation as possible. No traffic to fight, no tolls to pay, no need to worry about parking.

And since 1926--when the Chicago South Shore & South Bend Railway ran the first through-train from South Bend to Chicago--it's probably always been that way for travelers: less an excursion or an outing than a matter of convenience (although for a brief few years, until 1932, the CSS&SB did run a deluxe service including dining and parlor cars).

And yet for all that it’s a good scenic ride with much to hold the interest of a rider with a window seat: the dunes and swales and woodlands; the heavy-industrial corridors; the urban grit of Downtown Gary and East Chicago; and the marvelous old neighborhoods of South Chicago. It’s the same line too--exactly the same line--which the men in gray flannel suits rode in the ‘50s, Duneland’s hippy children did in the ‘60s, and Chesterton’s swelling population of suburbanites did in the ‘70s. And in that sense a South Shore train car is very much like a time capsule, were a rider to close her eyes and imagine the ghosts of the past rushing by her window.

And in fact there is a way to summon those spirits: on Saturday, June 16, “Rail Rangers” with the American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF), based in LaPlata, Mo., will board a designated car to give riders a narrated tour of the South Shore line. Board the westbound train departing Dune Park Station at 1:15 p.m.; or the eastbound train departing Millennium Station at 8:40 a.m. There’s no charge for the tour beyond the standard fare but seating in the designated car is on a first-come/first-served basis. Tours will also be given on July 8 and 14; and Aug. 11 and 25.

“We keep our program ‘general interest,’’ APRHF Vice-president Robert Tabern says. “It’s not really geared for rail fans. We don’t tell you the whole history of the South Shore. We keep things general knowledge and general history: the industry, the people, the parks, the animals, the plants.”

Ghosts? Ghost stations for sure. As late as 1971 the South Shore operated six different stations in Porter County alone: Beverly Shores, then--moving west--Tremont/The Dunes, Portchester, Mineral Springs/Dune Acres, Baileytown, and Wilson. All of them have disappeared, some returned to forest, others buried beneath the mills. Dune Park Station, for the record, opened for business in 1985.

A ghost town as well. Tremont, founded in 1833, was a prosperous rail hub until the creation of Indiana Dunes Park in 1925, after which it was gradually surrendered to Mother Nature. For perspective consider this: the Tremont town square that was is now the approximate site of park headquarters.

On the other hand, a regular commuter of the 50s would today likely find a ride along the line a long, strange trip. “I’d say (commuters from half a century ago) would be mostly surprised by three things,” Tabern says. “The skyscrapers in Downtown Chicago. The Port of Indiana. And the preservation that has taken place with the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. None of the National Park Service land existed in 1955”--the National Lakeshore wasn’t created until 1966--“so hopefully while some might be disappointed by the loss of the Central Dunes region where the Port of Indiana is now, they would be proud that so much of the landscape has been preserved in the State Park and National Lakeshore.”

Tabern says that for him personally every ride on the South Shore is an opportunity to excavate just a little deeper into the past. On one occasion he was leading a tour and drawing folks’ attention out their left windows to the new Pullman National Monument, when a woman looking out her right window asked him about an old building with horse heads built into the motif. He had no idea what the building used to be, but after a little research determined it to have been a horse stable used by a Schlitz brewery.

“Pullman didn't allow bars and drinking in his company town, so people would go to the ‘other side of the tracks’ for their beer and libations,” Tabern says. “Thanks to the woman who looked ‘the other way’ when I was giving my Pullman talk, we learned about a new landmark to point out.”

Tabern is especially grateful to the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District for its support of the Rail Rangers program. “They have been great to work with 100 percent of the way. They know people’s train rides are a lot more fun when passengers know what they are seeing outside their window.”

For a 120-page book researched, written, and published by APRHF Rail Rangers, entitled Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to South Bend Airport, visit

Proceeds from the $20 price go to support the not-for-profit APRHF.


Posted 6/15/2018




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