THOU­SANDS GATHER FOR FI­NAL JOUR­NEY

San Antonio Express-News - - FRONT PAGE - By Keri Blakinger, Jasper Scherer and Robert Dow­nen STAFF WRIT­ERS

In Stet­sons and waist­coats, Astros gear and flag-print hood­ies, thou­sands of Tex­ans lined up along train tracks Thurs­day to mourn their for­mer pres­i­dent, the home­grown politi­cian with a Texas-sized legacy.

Some waited on the tracks, while oth­ers posted up on camp­ing stools and the backs of pickup, per­haps trad­ing lessons about history or just wit­ness­ing it.

It was first time in more than a gen­er­a­tion that a pres­i­den­tial funeral train chugged through the Amer­i­can coun­try­side, this time car­ry­ing Ge­orge H.W. Bush the last 70 miles to Col­lege Sta­tion to be buried.

By­standers wept, saluted, cheered and waved, per­haps a sim­i­lar scene to the one that greeted Pres­i­dent Dwight D. Eisen­hower’s body on the last pres­i­den­tial funeral train in 1969 — but with the ad­di­tion of thou­sands of smart phones, doc­u­ment­ing it all for Face­book and

Twit­ter.

Armed with pon­chos and posters, camp­ing tents and cool­ers, mourn­ers from as far as Arkansas and as close as Spring stood through the driz­zle and chill along the route through Spring, Huf­smith, Pine­hurst, Mag­no­lia, Todd Mis­sion, Stone­ham and Nava­sota.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing he was a great man and we were lucky to

have him as a leader,” said Andy Woody, a rail­road en­thu­si­ast who pulled his chil­dren out of school for two days to make a 500-mile trip from Arkansas to the south­ern part of Mont­gomery County.

The train pushed off just after 1 p.m. from the Union Pa­cific Rail­road West­field Auto Fa­cil­ity in Spring, after a funeral with 1,200 guests at St. Martin’s Epis­co­pal Church in west Hous­ton.

A gloomy, light-gray cloud cover fol­lowed the low-speed trek, which topped out around 30 mph.

“The train’s com­ing here and it’s go­ing to be a happy and sad mo­ment,” said 8-year-old Pre­ston Vaughn, clutch­ing a U.S. flag as he hud­dled un­der an um­brella with his mom by the rail­road in Old Town Spring.

The 11 cars and two en­gines — with the iconic Lo­co­mo­tive 4141 lead­ing the way — brought small towns to a stand­still.

Po­lice shut down ma­jor road­ways. Hordes of mourn­ers gath­ered in the grass. Uni­formed deputies lined the streets with their pa­trol cars, some­times rais­ing a hand in salute, some­times plac­ing it over their hearts.

Even as the train passed through sparsely pop­u­lated ar­eas — or those that ap­peared un­in­hab­ited — the sides of the tracks rarely were empty, with ea­ger on­look­ers pick­ing out van­tage points amid thick grass or weeds in the hopes of catch­ing a glimpse.

At some points, peo­ple got cre­ative. One per­son flew a drone over the train shortly be­fore Huf­smith. A group of young men rode along­side in an ATV near Tom­ball.

Peo­ple stood on piles of wood­chips, trucks, land di­viders and rooftops. An Apache he­li­copter flew over­head.

In Bra­zos County, some­one etched “RIP 41” into a hay bale.

Rolling through farms and woods of ru­ral Texas, the bold lo­co­mo­tive stood out with its sleek lines in blue, gray and white in­tended to evoke Air Force One and, as the rail­road put it, the “for­ward mo­tion rep­re­sent­ing progress.” The cre­ation of the spe­cialty en­gine car, un­veiled in 2005 dur­ing a cer­e­mony by the Ge­orge H.W. Bush Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary and Mu­seum, marked only the sixth time that Union Pa­cific painted a lo­co­mo­tive in col­ors other than the tra­di­tional UP “Ar­mour Yel­low” paint.

In­side the train, on a pol­ished wood floor sat the for­mer pres­i­dent’s cas­ket, cov­ered with a flag and flanked by a Guard of Honor in the front of the floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows of the sixth car.

Fam­ily mem­bers seated on the train watched through the win­dows, and el­dest son and for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush waved to the crowds.

Regina Janak woke at 4:30 a.m. to see it.

Driv­ing all the way from Vic­to­ria to Col­lege Sta­tion, she was among the first to ar­rive, and planted her­self di­rectly next to the train tracks that would carry the for­mer com­man­der-in-chief.

She said it was “im­por­tant” to be there, hud­dled for hours in the rain as she strate­gized with new friends about how to get the best photo upon the train’s ar­rival.

Janak’s daugh­ter Tay­lor, 21, took a break from prep­ping for fi­nals at Texas A&M, where she stud­ies agriculture.

It’s not the first time she’s sac­ri­ficed school to wit­ness history: As a kid, she faked sick and — with the help from her mom — cut class to watch the funeral of Pres­i­dent Ronald Rea­gan, a day of hooky that helped kick­start her love for pres­i­dents and history.

Thurs­day was the first truly his­toric event she’d wit­nessed in per­son, though, and the Janaks came pre­pared. Nes­tled un­der Regina Janak’s raincoat was a sign that they planned to show to the train.

It was a nod to Bush’s time as a fighter pi­lot: “Heaven: Where ceil­ing and vis­i­bil­ity are al­ways un­lim­ited.”

David J. Phillip / Getty Im­ages

The flag-draped cas­ket of for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush passes through Mag­no­lia en route from Spring to Col­lege Sta­tion.

Mark Mul­li­gan / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Peo­ple from all walks of life watch as the train car­ry­ing the cas­ket passes through the Spring area.

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