If you are interested in the 2018 tour that is being planned, please scroll down to the map just below the numbered list section.
After working with tour groups for 17 years, I began to see that there was more to a successful group departure than a popular leader and affinity between the members. Those were important but another factor became clear: shared interests. I probably got this idea from a great travel catalog of Special Interest tour operators that listed adventure, sports, cuisine, cooking, wine and what seemed like a kaleidoscope array of specialized interests.
To test this out in 1989, I chose my interest in wargames and admittedly it was pretty narrowly-specialized: military history and famous battlefields. I contacted the most famous wargame designer from about 1972-1982, James F. Dunnigan and not only was he willing to try it, he had just again started editing his original magazine, Strategy & Tactics. This meant that I had an advertising vehicle at favorable rates (remember this was before the internet and to communicate, he talked me into signing up for new-fangled “e-mail” via AOL. He suggested the tour name, Millennium of Mayhem since it could cover almost thousand years of military history from William the Conqueror at Hastings in 1066 to present.
Backing up a bit, I had “sold” him on the idea by speaking his language: I had made a ‘wargame’ where the object was to design a tour of battlefields and museum-filled towns rating each major battlefield by Historical Importance and What There Is To See There. The tour coach playing piece moved on the game map between battlefields utilizing certain rules about how many things one could comfortably see in a day.
The way to win the game was to design an itinerary that gained the most point ratings totals in the least amount of time. So I sent a rulebook, colored map, playing pieces (the rated objectives that you would collect on the route) and a pad of tour-design sheets… with several sheets filled in with sketch maps. I don’t know that he set up the game but his being a game designer, he could see the parameters of tour design. To date, he had never thought about taking a tour and said he really only thought of travel in terms of business trips and a resort getaway. So this may have helped him visualize how a tour was not just grey-haired people seeing ordinary tourist sites.
So once we had established an itinerary, I put together a 2-page black & white flier with new Desktop Publishing for the May 1990 departure. Things were going okay until the lead-up to the First Gulf War caused a general fear of foreign travel. Rather than give up, we postponed the tour until September 1991. After the public relief at the war’s end in early 1991 (with Kuwait liberated), we got to booking again. One tour member joined us from Saudi Arabia which was further east of the tour area than we were west of the UK! A fellow historian and game designer, Al Nofi, joined the tour also; he expressed interest while on the coach to leading tours himself and certainly I noted that!
While on board the motor coach we even took a day while driving along to play wargames and even design a game about the Dissolution of the Soviet Union which was gaining momentum every day that passed.
It was not a large group but we had proved that even a narrowly specialized tour with a well-known leader could work. As to nuts and bolts, we utilized American Express’ DSM, Destination Services Management, in London to arrange the ground operations. That company is no longer around but the staff opened a new company after American Express closed the division.
I went on to produce some more tours with the battlefield theme:
- 1991 Millennium of Mayhem, mentioned above.
- 1997 Tanks for the Memories where the tour members got to drive actual battle tanks in England and went to a wargame convention, Triples, in Sheffield, England.
- 2003 WYWAE: Wargame Your Way Across Europe was another title suggested by Dunnigan as we included a large miniature wargame table in the back of the bus—not sure one can do that now that passengers are required to wear seat belts! About the only thing that went wrong is that they printed the map (at bottom) on the tour T-Shirts sideways!
- In 2010 Tour of Battle with Al Nofi in France and Belgium (an itinerary map is found below this list). We covered a number of periods of military history.
- Then, the following year 2011’s Civil War Train had historian Al Nofi providing historical commentary about the American Civil War while all travelers slept in restored sleeper cars from the 1940s and 1950s—en route and in the train station. I figured this concept had a strong pair of interests. The nostalgia of old trains, particularly for Illinoisans and the Civil War as evidenced by the popularity of the Ken Burns documentary series were married. This was a unique opportunity to ride in old trains with fine dining and free-flowing adult beverages. The cars were pulled behind scheduled Amtrak services and the cars unhooked to park in the station “yard” from which chartered motor coaches would take us to sites. After everything was together and the flier nearly done, I realized that it was the Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary) of the start of the Civil War. (Map is the second one found below this list.) So from 2012-2015 we covered 4 more years of private train trips to Civil War sites based on the 150th anniversary of various battles.
- In 2012 we took a great loop down on the City of New Orleans where we visited the namesake’s site of the decisive battle of the War of the 1812 over to Atlanta, up to Washington DC and back west. With broader history, we renamed it to History Train which also covered the battle of Yorktown, the end of the Revolutionary War. Incidentally I dreamed up this giant loop for the first, 1991 tour’s leader but he rejected it so I kept it the idea in mind for 21 years until I found the chartered rail option that would make it work. Right before the rail journey
- 2013 Washington DC & Williamsburg, Virginia were where the train was parked in the station.
- 2014 Philadelphia and Boston were the hits on this itinerary. Not just battlefields or museums, we included social history, and of course old train stops.
- For 2015’s History Train we managed to hire the retired Chief of US Army History as our private guide for the battle of Richmond and Appomattox!
- We skipped a year and then in 2017 having finished with Civil War battles’ 150th anniversaries, History Train still found plenty to see and do in San Antonio (the Alamo) for Cinco de Mayo and New Orleans (plantations and the National WWII Museum). So by traveling with and listening to the many repeat travelers, we evolved the features to cater to their interests.
- Meanwhile, another offshoot popped out of the ground. Over ten years, 2005-2015, a wargamer asked me if I could arrange his Napoleonic re-enactor group’s air fare and land arrangements as they participated in four 200th anniversary demonstrations of Napoleon’s battles throughout Europe. They started with Austerlitz, Czech Republic in 2005 then Germany’s Jena-Auerstadt in 2005, Leipzig 2013 and culminated with Waterloo, Belgium in 2015. Between hotel stays, the 21e Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne, 3e Compagnie had a truly land tour. These guys were “under canvas” for an “intense” experience between their skirmishes with real muskets (thankfully firing blanks). For Jena, the day before travel the Dutch government made new rules requirin paper certificates for each traveler to allow their muskets to be carried in gun cases in the baggage compartment. This require fast action and forwarding on scans to each traveler spread around the USA. I will save the story about the officer’s sword for when you call.
- 2018 is a work in progress and called Wargamers Battlefield. The basic, planning map (with stops and features subject to change) is shown immediately below the next paragraph). For more about the tour, click here.
So 13 more custom tours grew out of this unusually specialized tour! The individuals who traveled with these groups could have done something similar on their own but they would not had the ease, savings and camaraderie of traveling with like-minded people. I would guess that for many these were very memorable experiences that they might not have dreamed they’d get to do otherwise.
A testimonial from the unit leader of the re-enactors:
“They listen to your wants and desires and follow through. Totally professional but friendly all the way.” – Michael Mathews, Sous-Officier, 21e Régiment d’Infanterie de Ligne, 3e Compagnie
“Was on your 2003 tour. Definitely will recommend this tour to others. Well worth whatever the cost will be. I’m 80 now and just finished a similar 14 day tour in Poland, father’s birthplace.” – Dave Nelson WYWAE tourmember (shown below at left, with John Holtz at right), riding a halftrack in Belgium