Funeral Train completes Bush's final mission

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Crowds greet the George H.W. Bush funeral train in Navasota, Texas, on its journey Thursday from Spring, Texas, to College Station. Bush was buried alongside his wife and daughter Thursday at his presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M in College Station.
Zach Pumphery
In Spring, Texas, the casket of President George H.W. Bush is carried aboard the train for the trip to his burial site on Thursday.
Sol Tucker

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Former President George H.W. Bush has completed his final journey — by rail.

The casket carrying the remains of the nation’s 41st president arrived in College Station at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, aboard the first presidential funeral train in almost 50 years. Later that afternoon, Bush was buried next to his wife Barbara and daughter Robin at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Museum and Library at Texas A&M University.

The former president’s journey by Union Pacific train concluded almost a week of mourning following his death on Nov. 30 at age 94. After lying in state at the U.S. Capitol and Wednesday’s state funeral at Washington’s National Cathedral — a ceremony attended by President Donald Trump and the four surviving former presidents — Bush’s remains were flown to Texas.

On Thursday, following a service for about 1,000 mourners at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, a one-hour funeral procession brought the former president’s casket to Union Pacific’s Westfield Auto Facility in Spring, Texas. As the pall bearers removed the casket from the hearse, a military band struck up “Hail to the Chief” and “America the Beautiful.” Former President George W. Bush and his brother Jeb, the former Florida governor and 2016 presidential candidate, stood at attention with their right hands over their hearts as the casket was carried onto the flag-draped car Council Bluffs, then boarded UP office car Lone Star.

The train departed the facility at 1:02 p.m. and made a slow journey along the 70-mile route to College Station, allowing spectators a chance to pay their final respects and to photograph the rare special train. A Houston Chronicle report talked to mourners who had come from as far away as Arkansas to see the train; reported major roadways were closed to allow the train's passage; and said spectators — some weeping, many waving flags — lined the route even in the most sparsely populated areas.

A sliding side door on the Council Bluffs was removed and replaced with a clear panel, allowing spectators to view the flag-draped casket. After the train arrived in College Station, military pallbearers loaded into a hearse for the trip to the presidential library, where Bush was buried in a small private ceremony for family and friends — one punctuated by a 21-jet flyover of Navy aircraft in the “Missing Man” formation, the largest ever flown by the Navy to honor a fallen pilot or statesman.

Crowds gather at the Gosling Road grade crossing in Spring, Texas, to say farewell to President George H.W. Bush. The first presidential funeral train in almost 50 years carried Bush the final 70 miles to College Station, Texas, where he was buried Thursday at his presidential library.
Matthew Holman

The train was led by Union Pacific locomotive No. 4141, the SD70ACe named for the former president and painted in a scheme inspired by the famous Raymond Loewy design for Air Force One. CNN reported that the locomotive, dedicated in a 2005 ceremony attended by Bush, was to be retired at the completion of Thursday’s trip. It is widely believed the locomotive will be donated to the presidential library.

Another recently painted SD70ACe, No. 9096, was second in the consist that included in order, a power car, domes City of Portland and City of San Francisco, office car Lone Star, dome coach Harriman, diner Overland, sleeper Portola, diner City of Denver, dome lounge Walter Dean, and business car Kenefick. The funeral train was preceded by about an hour by a pilot train carrying non-family members attending the burial service.

Like the former president, the train’s crew members were Navy veterans, ABC News reported. Engineer June Nobles, a 15-year Union Pacific veteran, served nine years in the Navy. Conductor Randy Kuhanek, an eight-year Navy veteran, is in his 23rd year at UP. The railroad picked the crew members because of their knowledge of the route and their Navy service.

A presidential historian speaking to CNN said Bush had planned the menu for the funeral train. The historian also said Bush’s affinity for railroading started in 1942 when his father, Prescott Bush, accompanied him to Penn Station to see him off for his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. The train is the first presidential funeral train since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1969, and only the eighth in a tradition dating to Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train in 1865.

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