When the curtain parted in Texas’ College Station, which revealed a two-toned blue locomotive standing nearly at 16-feet tall and numbered 4141 in his honor, the ex-President of the United States George HW Bush looked around excitedly, he looks happy. One word, which he might have thought was “Wow”.
Now, after 13-years the same Union Pacific locomotive will escort 41st President of the United States to his final journey on Thursday afternoon in College Station after the funeral ceremonies in Houston and Washington.
The locomotive carrying his remaining will leave a Union Pacific Railroad facility in Spring, north Houston’s community will travel the 70 miles to College Station. There Mr. Bush will be buried, alongside his late wife and daughter, at the Texas A&M University on the site of his Presidential library.
The Union Pacific locomotive was painted with the same blue that adorned Air Force One during his Presidency, was unveiled by the company in October 2005. At that time, he was fascinated by the train’s mechanism and asked to take it for a spin, claims the former Union Pacific General Director and Locomotive Engineering Mike Iden.
After certain brief training and under the supervision of an engineer, Iden said that “the former president operated the locomotive for about two miles.”
At the time, an Associated Press article said that the unveiling motivated memories in Mr. Bush of his childhood travel with his family. The AP quoted the former US President Bush saying, “We just rode on the railroads all the time, and I’ve never forgotten it.”
A Senior Vice President of Union Pacific, Scott Moore said that “It’s an opportunity for a large swath of the population to pay their final respects to someone who has done so much for our country,” noted in a news release on Saturday about the plans for Mr. Bush’s funeral week. “Having a train like this pulled by a locomotive specifically about this man is just really unprecedented,” added Mr. Moore.
The way from Spring to College Station will pass through several towns, including Pinehurst, Hufsmith, Magnolia and Navasota. Two miles away, the Tomball’s Mayor fondly remembers the former US President’s visit for the city’s centennial celebration in 2007. According to the report, it is the first time that a President past or present had been visited there.
Mayor Gretchen Fagan said, “He came out, and we presented him with a key to the city, and he actually kissed me on the cheek,” adding that “My mother-in-law said that she got home and there were messages on her voicemail saying, ‘Oh my Gosh, the president of the United States just kissed your daughter-in-law!’ “
For more than an hour, Mr. Bush took photos with people after the event ends. Fagan called it “such a pleasure” and said that “The people of Tomball were just so excited.”
Navasota Mayor Bert Miller said that he was not sure whether Mr. Bush ever visited the city, but has memories campaigning for him in 1980.
On Saturday, Miller said that “I remember – with my grandfather – doing some politicking for him back when he was vice president with President (Ronald) Reagan,” adding that “I was really young at the time.”
Navasota is located more than 20 miles from the Presidential library of Bush, where Miller visited “much time”. Touring that the library at Texas A&M was listed as one of the “things to do” on the Visit Navasota website.
Bush has been a regular fixture on Texas A&M’s campus since his library opened in 1997 there. As per the report of the website, he dropped in on classes occasionally at the ‘Bush School of Government and Public Service’ and was spotted at the center during his good health.
The ride from Houston to College Station by car will typically take 90 minutes. However, the declaration scheduled for Locomotive 4141 will be twice as long. On Saturday, the University said that the casket of the President would be unloaded at a railroad stop near the library campus. The funnel procession of Bush will then travel with a brief arrival ceremony, which is followed by a private interment. The campus will remain closed on Thursday.
In 2005, at the unveiling of the locomotive, Mr. Bush stuck his head out of a window and flashed Texas A&M’s familiar “gig’em” sign, ‘Thumbs up’.