Pres­i­dent takes to rail­road for fi­nal trip home

The West Australian - - WORLD -

They stood in the rain for hours, wait­ing. Ranch­ers, re­tirees and cub scouts clutch­ing tiny flags in the cold chill, wait­ing for a glimpse of the train car­ry­ing the cas­ket of Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush through the cen­tre of town.

Af­ter the pomp and cir­cum­stance of Mr Bush’s me­mo­rial ser­vice at St Martin’s Epis­co­pal Church in Hous­ton, his cas­ket was trans­ferred to a win­dowed car in a train pow­ered by a Union Pa­cific lo­co­mo­tive painted 4141 — for the 41st pres­i­dent — in his hon­our.

The train made the 110km jour­ney to Col­lege Sta­tion, where Mr Bush would be laid to rest at his pres­i­den­tial li­brary, through the win­try farm­land of the State he had grown to love.

As pres­i­dent, Mr Bush had vowed to bring his mes­sage of hope and growth “to the loneli­est town on the qui­etest street”. Now his train was pass­ing through tiny Texas towns with only a few dozen res­i­dents.

“Is it com­ing,” ev­ery­body kept ask­ing, peer­ing down the tracks, where the res­i­dents of Nava­sota — pop­u­la­tion 8000 — were lined up for blocks un­der their um­brel­las.

Few among them re­mem­bered the last time a pres­i­dent’s cas­ket had trav­elled by fu­neral train — that was 1969, with Eisen­hower — but all were aware they were wit­ness­ing his­tory.

“We’re los­ing the last of the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion,” said Shane Wer­chan, 46. “It re­ally is the end of an era. We will never see a pres­i­dent like him again.”

Mr Bush, who died last week at the age of 94, was born in Mas­sachusetts to a fam­ily of wealth.

He was praised in eu­lo­gies for his pa­tri­cian grace and sense of duty and ser­vice, which in­cluded a ca­reer in pol­i­tics that be­gan in 1966 when he was elected to the House of Representatives and con­tin­ued as en­voy to the United Nations and China, di­rec­tor of the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency and vi­cepres­i­dent.

But his heart re­mained with his adopted home state of Texas, where he and his wife Bar­bara moved in 1948 so he could try his hand at the oil in­dus­try. The cou­ple re­turned to Hous­ton to live af­ter he was de­feated for a sec­ond term as pres­i­dent in 1992.

Mr Bush had been de­lighted when Union Pa­cific un­veiled the 4141 lo­co­mo­tive in his hon­our in 2005, painted blue and white, the colours of Air Force One, and dubbed 4141, a nod to his place in his­tory as the 41st pres­i­dent. Pic­tures: AP, Wash­ing­ton Post

At the time, Mr Bush said it re­minded him of train trav­els with his fam­ily as a young boy, and he even took a turn be­hind the con­trols. “We just rode on rail­roads all the time and I’ve never for­got­ten it,” he said.

He re­sponded with sim­i­lar en­thu­si­asm when staff at his pres­i­den­tial li­brary on the cam­pus of Texas A&M Univer­sity raised the idea of us­ing the lo­co­mo­tive as part of the fu­neral pro­ceed­ings, David Jones, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Ge­orge H.W. Bush Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary Foun­da­tion, said.

Som­bre fu­neral train pro­ces­sions have been an in­te­gral part of Amer­i­can his­tory for cen­turies, begin­ning with Lin­coln’s fu­neral train in 1865, which trav­elled 2500km.

Mr Bush’s spokesman, Jim McGrath, said the for­mer pres­i­dent had re­acted with “typ­i­cal hu­mil­ity” when briefed in 2011 about his fu­neral, ask­ing, “Do you think any­one will come?”

Mr Bush was buried at his pres­i­den­tial li­brary in Col­lege Sta­tion, along­side Bar­bara and their daugh­ter Robin, who died in 1953.

P113 Let­ters of grace

Tex­ans pay their re­spects to Ge­orge H. W. Bush as the train passes.

The flag-draped cas­ket is car­ried off the train.

The cas­ket at the burial plot.

A vet­eran salutes.

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