Obama standing on the observation platform of his campaign train
President-elect Barak Obama earlier this year won many “railway enthusiast” swing voters by taking an all-day, 100 mile trip by train “along the Philadelphia area’s Main Line and on west to the capital in Harrisburg.” We explore this on (http://cruiselinehistory.com/) cruising the past.
Ironically, Obama rode in a private rail car where sixty years ago the only African-Americans aboard would have been the Pullman Porters or chefs. It proved to be a lucky political ride for Obama in the tradition of Eisenhower, Truman and Roosevelt.
Obama greets supporters.
Certainly, Obama is not the first to campaign by train. Harry Truman is famous for his 1948 whistle-stop tour that covered 22,000 miles, and even the car in which Obama rode–a Georgia 300 Lounge Car–has in the past “carried Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.”
Obama crosses tracks and greets the lady Amrak conductor.
But as the presidential campaigns have become more hectic and demanding, the carbon footprint of campaigning–done usually by SUV or private jet–has skyrocketed. Trains, as we’ve seen, are less carbon intensive than either SUV or private jet.
President Truman aboard his campaign train holding up the Chicago Tribune which announce he’d lost the election – A famous journalistic blunder because Truman won!
And millions of Americans rely on trains to get to work, especially in busy corridors such as New England. So perhaps Obama was pandering to the train swing vote? Is there even such a thing?
It is well known defeated presidential candidate John McCain wanted to dismantle Amtrak and was anti-rail.
Amtrak has been seeing record ridership, and hitching its star to Obama’s rising star didn’t hurt.Riding along in a “patriotically decorated private rail car” Obama spread his message of change by asking people to “get on board the change train.”
Whether or not Obama will increase funding for public transportation remains to be seen, but it’s worth repeating that millions of Americans rely on public transportation to get where they need to go.
Seen in that light the voters that use public transportation may rightly be considered a swing vote helping elect Obama our next president. A friend of mine restored the following private car similar to the one used by Obama’s.
A framed photograph of heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post as seen in the observation salon of private car Chapel Hill — this is similar to private cars used for presidential campaigns and the one Obama used.
DeWitt Chapple, Jr. restored the car in 1971.
Chapple seen on the private car observation platform. Similar to the car Obama used for his campaign that may have won him the presidency.
Chapple retained the car’s number, but added the name Chapel Hill after his alma mater, the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. It has been chartered for whistle stop tours.
The Chapel Hill was originally built in 1922 for Post Cereals Heiress, Marjorie Merriweather Post, and stock broker and investment banker E.F. Hutton.
Originally christened Hussar, the car was used for company business and personal travel between their principal residence in New York City; their Hispanic-Moresque winter estate, “Mar-a-lago”, in Palm Beach; and Camp Topridge, the couple’s summer retreat in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. It was also used extensively for entertainment, as Post was known as a lavish hostess.
A great story by Hugh Sidey from Time Magazine with photos of many former presidents aboard their campaign trains follows:
When Politics Rode the Rails
By Hugh Sidey – Courtesy of TIME MAGAZINE – Sunday, Mar. 19, 2000
The great American political-campaign trains were like the dinosaurs. Just when they reached legendary size and importance, they were on their way to extinction, courtesy of the airplane.
The greatest of all the trains ran for Harry Truman in 1948, when he clicked off 31,700 miles and delivered 356 speeches (16 in one day). Truman astonished his own political experts and the world that year by beating Republican Thomas Dewey, who was so confident of victory that he was choosing his Cabinet before any vote was cast.
“Oh, it was just great,” remembers Bob Donovan, who, as a young reporter for the New York Herald Tribune, was with Truman the whole way. “We saw this country like never before; the wheat fields, the mountains and the little towns. Thousands and thousands of people came out and gathered around the train. It was Harry Truman’s country and his kind of people. He loved it all.”
Truman traveled in the ponderous and luxurious private car named Ferdinand Magellan, originally made for President Franklin Roosevelt. It was paneled in oak with four staterooms, bath and shower, and 6,000 lbs. of ice for air conditioning. The car was sheathed in steel-armor plating and 3-in. bulletproof glass. When they were out in the open, Truman liked the train to hit 80 m.p.h., and he would watch “our country” slide by while telling stories and sipping a little good bourbon–ready at each stop to “give ’em hell” and introduce “the boss,” Bess Truman. The most famous campaign picture of all time is of a grinning Truman standing on the platform of the Magellan in St. Louis, Mo., holding up an early edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune with the headline dewey defeats truman.
In truth, trains were used for political moments from their start. But in the early days, presidential candidates did not storm the country seeking votes. William Henry Harrison actually campaigned on a train in 1836. Not until the turn of the century did modern rail campaigning begin, with William McKinley and candidate William Jennings Bryan. Theodore Roosevelt devised the full campaign train, a rolling complex with living and office cars.
The golden age of presidential train travel was introduced by Franklin Roosevelt, says author Bob Withers (The President Travels by Train: Politics and Pullmans; TLC Publishing). During his 12 White House years, Roosevelt set the all-time record of 243,827 miles by rail, most of them at a leisurely pace, wandering through America, luxuriating in the vast beauty, campaigning, inspecting Depression-era projects and, later, defense plants. Then came Truman with a political purpose and his Missouri determination.
The airplane was what did in the campaign train, but television played a role–and so did the shifting U.S. population. “Trains used to come to the front door of America,” says Bill Withuhn, an authority on trains at the Smithsonian. “Now they go to the backyards.” Depots are shuttered; junkyards and weed patches and winos too often greet the rail traveler.
Every candidate since Truman has had a train ride or two, but most of those have been nostalgic photo ops designed to relieve the monotony of modern airports, programmed motorcades and polished television studios. Lady Bird Johnson led a first ever First Lady’s whistle-stop through the South for four days in 1964. There have been no follow-ups.
The stories of train campaigning will grow with each retelling. A few political veterans recall Tom Dewey’s blurting into an open mike when his train lurched backward that he must have “a lunatic engineer.” The New York Times’s Scotty Reston ended his account of that particular incident with this line: “And then the train took off with a jerk.”
Theodore Roosevelt once lifted a lagging but sprinting reporter aboard a departing train amid much laughter and cheering. Woodrow Wilson came back to his car to spy a couple of hobos hanging under it. Wilson invited them to ride inside with him. Over-awed, the tramps declined, suggesting that the President had more important concerns.
George Elsey, who was a young aide on Truman’s great campaign trains, remembers the hard work, the sleepless nights preparing speeches and organizing the regular presidential business that continued in spite of the campaigning. Once, when he took papers to Truman, who was dining with Bess, she looked up at Elsey and said, worried, “You look peaked. Have you had anything to eat?” No, admitted Elsey, who had been just too busy for food. “Here,” she said, pushing her piece of apple pie to him, “you can eat this, and I shouldn’t.” The Ferdinand Magellan with Harry Truman rolled on into history that night, fueled by apple pie.