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Barack Obama Train: Georgia 300

January 17, 2009

t2

I am always honest on my blog.  So when I tell you that I had goose bumps on my arm today at some of the video footage as Barack Obama traveled from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. I am not being dramatic.  Combining the history that is being made with Obama on this inaugural weekend, along with the history that Abraham Lincoln made on his legendary trip to his inaugural, well it is easy to see where the goose bumps come into play.

This train car, Georgia 300, is the same one  I stood in front of in Plover, Wisconsin on October 31, 1992 when President Bush made a whistle-stop campaign appearance.  Until today I was not aware that this same car has been used by several presidents.

On October 31, 1992 nearly my entire family were among the first faces that President Bush saw directly in front of him in Plover, Wisconsin as his Truman-like campaign train rumbled into that small community. We had arrived early, stood for many hours in the biting cold and light snow flakes, to watch a piece of American political history play out.  When the train whistles blew loud from off in the distance, and the huge engine and cars finally came into view, the political drama that I had so wanted to see, and was so pleased that my family could witness, made the waiting all worth it.

When one considers that the car was constructed in 1939, and understand the political and social climate at that time, it is quite remarkable to have the first African-American president-elect to be riding this car!

Mr. Obama and his family were riding a private rail car called the Georgia 300, built in 1939, which has carried former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton. At the time the car first went into service, getting a job as a railroad porter was among the highest aspirations for a black man in America.

It was the same blue vintage rail car that carried Mr. Obama on a tour through Pennsylvania during his primary campaign, a few days before losing that state to Senator Hillary Clinton “It was actually one of my favorite times on the campaign,” Mr. Obama told his guests aboard the train on Saturday. Although Lincoln provided the inspiration for the train trip to Washington, Mr. Obama did not mention him by name in his remarks, though he has referred to him again and again as a historical beacon for his own candidacy. But Mr. Obama filled his addresses with phrases associated with Lincoln, including the “better angels” call to action.

For all the pomp and celebration surrounding the slow-motion trek to Washington, a two-hour journey that stretched into more than seven, the underlying mood was a far more serious one than on most days of the presidential campaign. He has often delivered similar speeches with lofty tones, but the moment took on more gravity with the presidency less than three days from being his.

While the day was choreographed with a Lincoln-era nostalgia in mind, the train ride was very much a modern-day affair, with cable television networks broadcasting live from a dining car and from satellite trucks parked along the route. It was an opportunity for Mr. Obama to turn the conversation, at least for now, away from the criticism of his economic plan and other stumbles in his transition, back to his victory in November.

Hundreds of people gathered alongside the track, at train crossings, in backyards and on rooftops, waving homemade signs and small American flags at the train. Those who came to witness the moment, even to catch only a peek of the train, stood in single-digit temperatures, which the wind chill pushed below zero.

At one point, Mr. Obama stood on the outdoor platform of his private car, which was draped in red, white and blue bunting. He waved and smiled as he sounded the train’s whistle three times. (“You’re never too old to toot the horn,” he said later, talking to some of his guests on board.

t1

2 Comments
  1. RailPro permalink
    January 18, 2009 8:51 AM

    it is great to see historic pieces of railroad equipment being used for these events. as a former volunteer railroader (conductor, brakeman, car-host, assistant manager, crew-caller) for some rail organizations in the state of wisconsin, i have had the opportunity to ride/eat/sleep/serve drinks and snacks/and meet celebrities in private business cars such as the car mr. obama rode on saturday. the last celebrity i had the pleasure of serving, was the infamous TINY TIM. We all need to keep passenger rail alive in this country!!!

  2. January 18, 2009 12:13 AM

    I get aboard the Georgia 300 from time to time. I can’t wait to get back on board (for sure this October) and sit in the “Presidential chairs” (and “throne”) again. I did that after Clinton rode, and while it is silly, it is fun. We are blessed to have people in this country who can take the time, effort and funds to restore and maintain, to Amtrak certifications none the less, such cars as the Georgia 300, and many other PVs running around the country. The cars have lived through the history, beginning in an era where people of color only worked and served on these cars, and now thrive in a time when people of any color can, and do, ride them.

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