The US President’s Bulletproof Railcar

These days, American presidents travel
around the country on Air Force One, but in the 1940’s,
there was no Air Force One. Actually, there wasn’t even a U.S. Air Force, they were still part of the Army. Franklin D. Roosevelt
was the first sitting U.S. President to fly in an airplane, back in 1943. But for most of his presidency,
he used a very different form of travel. This is the Ferdinand Magellan,
officially known as U.S. Car Number 1. 120 tonnes of armor-plated,
bulletproof rail car. – The rail car is the heaviest
U.S. rail car ever built. They had to build special trucks
just to support the extra weight. The reason it only weighs 285,000 pounds
is that was the weight limit for U.S. railroad bridges and trestles at that time. So, the entire car is not armor-proofed,
only where the President is. The car has ⅝-inch thick
bulletproof steel through most of the car, up to this point here. You can see where the rivets change from
double rivets to single rivets. Regular steel here versus
the bulletproof steel here. So, there’s bulletproofing,
there’s 12-ply laminated glass, there are two escape hatches in the car
to get the President out. It was never painted red, white, and blue
like Air Force One. It was always painted Pullman green. When they had to park it somewhere, they would hide it with
other Pullman rail cars, so it was basically hiding in plain sight. – After Roosevelt’s death, President Truman
used the Magellan for a while, asking the engineers to get the train
up to 80mph, if they could. Before television was a
way to reach the masses, Truman toured America in this train, campaigning for re-election,
travelling tens of thousands of miles between tiny stations known as whistle-stops,
and making up to eight speeches a day. And it worked. The famous moment
where he held up the newspaper that wrongly announced his defeat, that was just there,
on the back of this train. – Now in 1928, air-conditioning
was accomplished by ice. There are ice bunkers in the car,
blocks of ice were put in there, and ceiling fans across the whole car would then blow the cold air
as it dropped down. So, now we’re heading into
the armoured part of the car where the President stayed. Here, we have the dining room. All the rooms in the car
had a phone in them. When the car was underway, the phones were hooked up to a radio car
called the General Myer. And when they were in stations,
they were hot-wired into the phones in the station. This is the desk the President would use,
he could sign papers. This is what the windows look like. This is 12-ply, laminated glass,
about three inches thick, so all the windows from this
point to the rear of the car are sealed, you cannot take them out, which is why they have air-conditioning. Stateroom C here, this is
the President’s quarters. The President has a fixed bed, giving him
a little bit of extra leg room. That is what a commode chair looks like. The back folds down as a sink and the seat folds up to
be a toilet underneath. The wheelchair was built specifically
for Roosevelt’s use in this car, so he could get up and
down the narrow hallway. Here we have the Presidential bathroom, and the first of the two
escape hatches are here. What would have been a window
has been converted to a steel plate that they could push
out and they could get the President out that
way if they needed to. What looks like a soap dish
hanging by the door here, is actually a cigar holder. Roosevelt would sit in
there and smoke cigars. Here we have the observation
lounge of the car. This is where Presidents would
sit in the back of the car and watch the rails pass behind them, entertain their guests that
were on the car with them. We also have the second escape hatch. This was fashioned from a submarine. It was designed if the car was
ever knocked over on its side, they could open this door and go out it. This door leads to the rear platform. The door alone weighs 1500 pounds. That’s about half the weight of the car that most people come
to visit our museum in. It was fashioned after a bank vault. Out here is the rear platform. This is where Presidents
would give their speeches. When Truman ascended to the presidency, after Roosevelt died, he pretty much lived in
this car for a few months as he did a run across
the campaign trail, and he made more than
350 whistle-stop speeches from this back platform. That’s what allowed him to
connect with the American people. – Of course, air travel became
easier and cheaper and safer and eventually the Ferdinand Magellan
fell out of use. Nowadays it’s a museum piece, but in an era where the
“Trump Train” is just a metaphor, it’s interesting to note that there were
other Presidents whose train was…
a little more real. – America as a country,
except for certain parts of the country, doesn’t embrace rails
the way that we used to. This piece is historic, it is unique, it is hearkening back to
a simpler place and time, and a simpler pace of life. And that’s what I wish we could kinda…
get a little piece of that back. Still keep our cell phones,
I’m not giving that up(!) – Thank you to everyone at
the Gold Coast Railway Museum. Pull down the description
for more about them and about the Ferdinand Magellan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *