If you are a regular reader, you are probably quite aware of our fascination and study of all things presidential travel and security. From the anatomy of the Presidential Motorcade and the unique vehicles that get added to it from time to time to updates to Air Force One and Marine One, we have covered it in-depth. But our feature on the special role trains have played when it comes to moving around those that have held the highest office in the land has to be one of my personal favorites. Now, a new chapter in that story is about to be written as a specially painted Union Pacific locomotive prepares to take the late President George H.W. Bush to his final resting place at his library in College Station, Texas as part of the intricate memorial service for the 41st President.
The origin of locomotive 4141 dates back to 2005 when Union Pacific decided to dedicate a specially painted locomotive to George H.W. Bush. Its motif was designed to resemble Air Force One and emblazoned with 'President Bush 41' and 'Presidential Library and Museum' along its sides.
Union Pacific described the project as such shortly after its official reveal:
The unveiling ceremony is a fitting prelude to the grand opening of "Trains: Tracks of the Iron Horse," on Nov. 7, 2005, at the Bush Library. The much-anticipated exhibit covers the rich technological, social and economic history of the railroad industry.
"When we set out to design the Bush Library and Museum, I did not want it to be about just one person – rather, we wanted to touch a broader cross-section of American life, encompassing an eventful period of our history," President Bush said. "The 'Tracks of the Iron Horse' and the unveiling of UP 4141 is the latest example of our commitment to attracting the most unique, educational, and entertaining exhibits we can – and I am deeply grateful to Dick Davidson and Union Pacific for their friendship and support. If we had the UP 4141 back when I was still in Office, I might have left Air Force One behind more often!"
UP 4141 marks only the sixth time that Union Pacific has painted a locomotive in colors other than the traditional UP "Armour Yellow" paint. The design team carefully studied photos of President Bush's Air Force One, with the goal of recreating the scheme for UP 4141. Elements from Air Force One's wings and tail, including an American flag, were placed on No. 4141's rear panel, with the sweeping lines of forward motion representing progress.
"The railroads have played a tremendous role in the growth of Texas and across our great country, and we're thrilled that President Bush has chosen to showcase this wonderful history for the thousands of visitors to the Bush Library and Museum," said Union Pacific Chairman and CEO Dick Davidson. "Union Pacific felt this was such a historic and important exhibit that creating UP 4141 was an appropriate way to recognize President Bush and his life-long service to our country."
Bush was so enamored with the locomotive that he asked to take it for a spin, which Union Pacific agreed to. With a conductor by his side, the 41st President ran the train for a few miles with a massive smile on his face.
The very special SD70ACe locomotive, which weighs 420,000 pounds when fully fueled and packs 4,300 horsepower, was largely pulled from active service after the economic crash of 2008, making a few sporadic cross-country trips before being touched-up and put back into storage once again at Union Pacific's facility in Little Rock, Arkansas. Although its return to service is for a very solemn national event, one can't think of a better chariot to triumphantly bring the President home to his final resting place alongside First Lady Barbara Bush and the couple's daughter Robin that died from Leukemia at a very young age.
4141's route will begin in Spring, Texas at 1pm and will travel 70 miles to College Station—a trip that will take roughly two and a half hours to complete, ending around 3:25pm. Along the way, it will pass through Hufsmith, Pinehurst, Todd Mission, Stoneham, Navasota, Millican, and Wellborn before reaching its final destination. You can bet that the tracks will be lined with patriotic folks looking to say a final goodbye to the President whose family has deep roots in Texas.
Bush is the first deceased Commander In Chief to be transported to his burial via rail since Dwight D. Eisenhower's made his way from Washington, D.C. to Abilene, Kansas nearly 50 years ago in 1969. But the use of Presidential trains for funeral processions goes way back. Most famously, Lincoln's custom train changed the very idea of Presidential travel, regardless of if the President was alive or dead at the time he rode in it. From our feature on Presidential trains:
During Lincoln's time in office, a special executive coach dubbed United States was ordered to be built just for the President, although he supposedly detested the project. Lincoln was averse to luxury and what it signaled to his constituents during a time when the country was ravaged by internal warfare.
The only time he rode in it was after his assassination, as the car was the centerpiece of the “Lincoln Special” funeral train that brought his body back to his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. It was a time of national mourning, and the train acted as a tangible nexus between the devastating headlines and the American people who were so affected by the loss. The car was not preserved after acting as Lincoln's rail-bound hearse, and it was supposedly was lost in a fire years after its melancholy debut.
The construction of this custom train car marked the first custom mechanized vehicle specifically built for the POTUS, which began a trend that has broadened remarkably in the last 150 years since. In some ways, it's the great granddaddy of the Presidential limousine, Marine One, and Air Force One.
But funerals aside, campaigning and traveling on trains for Presidential business dates back even further:
The first Presidential candidate to use a train for campaigning was William Henry Harrison, who ran for President, unsuccessfully, in 1836. Then, in 1841, as President-elect, Harrison became the first to use a train to ride to his inauguration.
Two decades later, President Lincoln set a new standard for the White House's utilization of the rails. From the time he was voted into office, Lincoln put trains to use for the purpose of consolidating support for his policies and to reach Americans and Union soldiers directly. Lincoln even signed legislation that initiated the transcontinental railroad.
Trains only grew in importance to Presidents and Presidential candidates in the decades that followed, and even as American rail travel waned in the latter half of the 20th Century, Presidential candidates still used trains to make a big impact via classical 'whistlestop tours.' This included President Bush who apparently loved the mode of campaigning.
After its historic journey that will be watched by many millions of people, it's probably safe to guess that 4141 will end up as a major fixture at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
George H.W. Bush's passing has been a time of reflection for many Americans. At a time when our politics is more polarizing than anyone alive can likely remember, this sad but also greatly inspirational national event has come as much needed relief from the hatred and the spin. But the public part of all this could not have the impact it has without all the unique and often symbolic vehicles involved in it. With all that in mind, tomorrows train voyage is certain to spur a rare sense of nostalgia and patriotic emotions for a country that could really use it.
Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com