MENDOTA – This summer, people living in the United States will have a very rare opportunity to observe a total solar eclipse. Since the August eclipse will be best viewed several hundred miles to our south, area residents are invited to travel on a historic railroad dome car to witness this astronomical event.
The non-profit American Passenger Rail Heritage Foundation (APRHF) is again partnering with Zephyr Route to provide travelers with an unforgettable four-day weekend trip Aug. 19-22. On the day of the eclipse, Aug. 21, the group will head to either Columbia or St. Joseph, Mo. for direct viewing.
While partial solar eclipses are common, total solar eclipses occur less frequently - every 18 months or so. This too is relatively frequent, but in August, two circumstances will occur to make the eclipse much more remarkable. First, most total eclipses take place over water - not easily viewed. For those of us living on the U.S. mainland, it has been almost 40 years since a total solar eclipse could be seen. That happened on Feb. 26, 1979.
Second, astronomers say this is the first time in 99 years that the path of the eclipse will go across the entire width of the U.S. The path will begin in Oregon and then go through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, (southern) Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. While the best viewing will be along a rather narrow band through those states, astronomers advise everyone to try and make the trip to those areas for this special event.
Ride the rails
Area residents eager to view the eclipse can make it a real adventure by traveling to the path of the eclipse in a historic 1950s full-length dome car. Passengers on this four-day trip will be treated to meals cooked fresh aboard the train and APRHF Rail Rangers interpretive guides will provide fun stories about the trackside towns en route to La Plata, Mo.
Passengers boarding in Mendota will catch the train at 4:24 p.m. on Aug. 19 and a full dinner will be served with live narration provided by the APRHF Rail Rangers. Upon arrival in La Plata, transportation will be provided to the railroad-themed Depot Inn and Suites for a three-night stay.
On Sunday, choose to spend the day exploring La Plata or join two complimentary guided tours of the area by van or motorcoach with La Plata natives, Bob and Amy Cox serving as guides. Destinations will include a drive through Amish country, stops at several rail fan “hot spots” and a visit to Thousand Hills State Park.
The day of the eclipse, Aug. 21, travel to Columbia or St. Joseph, depending on weather and sky cover, to be in the direct path of 100 percent darkness in the middle of the day. Complimentary solar glasses for viewing will be provided by Zephyr Route. Then it’s back to La Plata for a community BBQ cookout and dining on the lookout deck and cabin at the APRHF’s Lookout Point Park while watching the busy BNSF freight line.
The dome car will return to Illinois on Aug. 22, arriving in Mendota at 1:19 p.m.
All pricing and ticketing details are being handled by Zephyr Route. To make a reservation, contact Mike Abernethy, Zephyr Route President, 227 Sedgewick Circle, St. Charles, IL 60174; phone (630) 542-3607 (10 a.m.-9 p.m. only); or e-mail [email protected] (When making reservations or an inquiry about a trip, please mention that you heard about the excursion through the APRHF Rail Rangers program.)
The APRHF Rail Rangers’ 350-page railroad route guidebook, “Outside the Rails: A Rail Route Guide from Chicago to La Plata, MO” details interesting facts about all of the trackside towns seen along the way. This serves as a major fundraiser for the non-profit APRHF Rail Rangers program. Copies are available at www.midwestrails.com.
For more information about the Rail Rangers, please contact executive director Robert Tabern at [email protected] or call (847) 271-1979.