Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Presidential Travel

Today we talk about the presidential jet, but before the jet was the presidential train car! The Ferdinand Magellan was the last presidential train car and the only car custom built for a president in the 20th century:
Until late 1942, the President of the United States rode in a standard, private Pullman car when he traveled by train. He did not use a specific car, although the Roald Amundsen was frequently assigned to him. In early 1942, just after the United States became involved in World War II, white house aids Michael Reilly and Steven Early suggested that the President of the United States should have a custom built railroad car to afford him maximum protection when he traveled by rail. President Franklin Roosevelt approved of the idea after he was told that the car would not only be used for him but for future Presidents as well. After consideration, the Ferdinand Magellan was chosen to be the Presidential car and was withdrawn from general service and returned to the Pullman Company's "Calumet Shops", near Chicago, Illinois, for complete rebuilding.

The car was originally painted "Pullman Green", a color similar to that of this page. This color was chosen for the Pullman fleet for several reasons, not the least of which is it's ability to not show the type of soot and dirt that accumulates on railroad cars painted in a lighter livery! It is 84' - 0" (25.2 m) long, 15' - 0" (4.57 m) high, and 10' -0" (3.05 m) wide. President Roosevelt's only request for the design was to "make it a little more comfortable", so the interior of the car was redesigned. At the Calumet shops, the number of bedrooms was reduced from five to four to create more room for the dining room and the observation lounge. Nickel-steel armor plate 5/8" (15 mm) thick was riveted on to the sides, floor, roof and ends of the car in a manner that made it undetectable when the car was viewed from any distance. 3" (76.2 mm) thick, bullet resisting glass, manufactured by laminating 12 sheets of 1/4" (6 mm) thick glass into one piece, was installed and sealed into the window frames, replacing conventional safety glass in the windows.

Two escape hatches were built into the car, one in the ceiling of the observation lounge and one on the side wall of the shower/bath in the Presidential bathroom, near the center of the car. Special trucks, wheels and roller bearings were installed to support the additional weight. A "standard," heavyweight, Pullman car of the Magellan's era weighed about 160,000 pounds (72,563 kg). The rebuilt Ferdinand Magellan weighed 285,000 (129,252 kg). At 142.5 tons (129.3 metric tons), it is the heaviest, passenger railcar in the United States!

This is pretty neat about the communications on the train car:
Each room in the car has a telephone. When the presidential train was standing in a station, the telephone system was connected to a trainside telephone outlet provided by the local telephone company. When the train was moving, external communications were handled by Army Signal Corps personnel in communications car number 1401, a converted, Baltimore and Ohio combine car, which was used for the president's communication equipment. In later years, this car was replaced by a converted hospital car renamed the General Albert J. Myer.

The last president to use this car was Eisenhower:
The third and last president to utilize the Ferdinand Magellan while it was still the property of the United States Government, was Dwight David Eisenhower , who used the car very little. He would use the car for occasional trips to his farm at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one time on a trip to upstate New York and on a state visit to Canada in November, 1953 to address the Canadian Parliament at Ottawa. The last trip for the Ferdinand Magellan in government service was in 1954 when Mrs. Eisenhower traveled in it from Washington, D.C. to Groton, Connecticut to christen the world's first nuclear powered submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus. After this trip, the car stood idle for four years. It was declared government surplus in 1958 and was offered to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian, however, did not take the necessary steps to acquire the car. The Gold Coast Railroad Museum, then only one year old, learned of the car's availability through a railroad trade publication and, ultimately, acquired the car through a complicated transaction involving several government agencies.

President Reagan though also used this car:
In September, 1984, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum decided to take the Ferdinand Magellan to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national convention of railroad enthusiasts and for inspection by the National Park Service to determine it's eligibility as a National Historic Landmark. Since the car was going to be in Washington during the presidential election campaign, the Museum asked the whitehouse staff if President Ronald Reagan would like to make a speech from the rear platform of the famous car. The whitehouse suggested that the President use the car for a one day, whistle stop campaign trip between Dayton and Toledo, Ohio.

The arrangements were made and the trip took place on October 12, 1984, leaving Dayton at 9:00 A.M. (09:00) and traveling 120 miles (197 km) to Toledo, making five stops along the way. At each stop, President Reagan made a speech to a large crowd gathered around the rear platform of the railcar. In each speech, he made reference to the historical significance of the car from which he was speaking. The trip was very complicated from a security standpoint. It involved about 1,000 police and Secret Service agents. An officer was stationed every .25 mile (400 m) in the woods alongside the railroad right of way and heavy equipment blocked every roadway grade crossing. President Reagan said that the trip was the highlight of his campaign and that he would rather travel by train than airplane any day. At the conclusion of the trip, the President met with representatives of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum and extended his thanks for the use of the car. The car then returned to Miami and was placed back on public display.

The Ferdinand Magellan is today a national landmark and can be found at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.

You can also check out some pictures of presidential style in trains in this issue of Life Magazine (pg. 10).

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