Trains Top stories for 2018: No. 5, Bush funeral train

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President Bush's body is loaded aboard the train for the trip to College Station.
Sol Tucker
HOUSTON – The U.S. rail industry shined in the bright lights of the public eye in a way not seen in almost 50 years on Dec. 6, as a special Union Pacific passenger train carried the remains of former President George H.W. Bush from Spring, Texas, to his final resting place at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station. The former president passed away on November 30 at age 94.

On the point of the train was Union Pacific EMD SD70ACe No. 4141, which had been specially painted in Air Force One colors and lettered for the Bush Library back in 2005. President Bush was at the unveiling, and even quipped that if he’d had the 4141 around when he was president, he might have “left Air Force One behind.”

The engine had been taken out of service during the economic downturn of the late 2000s and had been stored at UP’s Jenks Shops in North Little Rock, Arkansas. It received some touch up work to the paint in February 2018 while in storage. After the passing of President Bush on Nov. 30, it was removed from storage and sent to Houston the next day, as it was to lead the train carrying President Bush on his final journey.

Following his State Funeral in Washington, D.C., the remains of President Bush were flown to Houston aboard Air Force One, for this trip dubbed “Special Air Mission 41”, for another service at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Following a private funeral service on the morning of Dec. 6, a motorcade carried the former president’s remains to Union Pacific’s Westfield Auto Facility in Spring, Texas, where his flag-draped coffin was placed on board the waving flag-adorned former postal car Council Bluffs with full military honors. Plexiglass windows on each side of the car and special lighting inside would allow the public that was trackside to see the coffin on board as the train travelled the 70 miles from Spring to College Station. The coffin was placed in the center of the plexiglass windows and a military honor guard stood watch over the remains for this final journey.

The last funeral train in the U.S. had occurred in 1969, when the remains of President Dwight D. Eisenhower travelled by rail from Washington D.C. to his home in Abilene, Kansas. The tradition of the funeral train dates back to 1865, when a special train carried the remains of President Abraham Lincoln to his final resting place in Springfield, Illinois from Washington, stopping in many cities along the way for the public to pay their respects. Other Presidents who were honored with funeral trains include Ulysses S. Grant, James Garfield, William McKinley, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
A crowd gathers near Spring, Texas, to watch the passing of President George H.W. Bush's funeral train on Dec. 6, 2018.
Matthew Holman
All along the train’s 70-mile route on the UP’s Navasota Subdivision, people lined the tracks to witness the historic event and to say goodbye to the former President, many capturing images of the train on their cameras and cell phones. Fire trucks and police vehicles lined the tracks at many locations, with first responders standing at attention and saluting. American flags waved everywhere. At some locations, school children and scout troops lined the tracks. People held up signs honoring the former President’s service. There was barely a spot to be had anywhere along the route that was not full of people. At one location, a high school band was trackside, and began to play the Presidential anthem “Hail to the Chief” as the train approached. It was enough to easily draw a tear to your eye. The major television news networks all followed the train by cameras on helicopters, and even special cameras mounted on the UP 4141 itself. As the beautiful armour yellow consist trailing No. 4141 wound its way through the Texas countryside, through cities and small towns, it almost looked like the 4th of July.

Union Pacific, by every imaginable measure, performed flawlessly. After several years of planning for this journey, everything worked like a well-oiled machine. Making things that much more special, the crew assigned the 4141 for the trip was a pair of Navy veterans like Bush himself, who had enlisted in the U.S. Navy following the Attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and later became one of the nation’s youngest naval aviators; engineer June Nobles, a 15 year UP employee who served 9 years in the Navy, and conductor Randy Kuhanek, a 23 year UP employee who also served 8 years in the Navy.

Upon arrival in College Station, the former president’s remains were taken off of the train, once again with full military honors, as he was taken to his final resting place on the grounds of his presidential library, to be buried alongside his beloved wife, former First Lady Barbara Bush, and his daughter Robin, who died from leukemia at age 4.

The former President had grown up riding trains, and reportedly had an affinity for them. He had campaigned by train during his unsuccessful reelection campaign in 1992, and reportedly ran the UP 4141 while taking a tour of it in 2005. Under the guidance and tutelage of UP employees, he ran the engine for a couple of miles after asking if they could “take it for a drive”. He is said to have had a large hand in the planning of this final trip on the rails, and while it was certainly a somber occasion, it was a fitting goodbye and a beautiful tribute to a man who served his country in more ways than most could ever imagine doing. For railfans and the general public alike, this was truly a once in a lifetime event, one that may never be repeated, and the images of the train and the people surrounding it will be burned into the memories of the public for years to come.

Well done, Union Pacific.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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