HOUSTON - Thousands of people lined railroad tracks from Houston to College Station on Thursday as the funeral train of former President George H.W. Bush traveled to his final resting place.
America’s 41st president died late Friday at his home in Houston. He was 94.
The trip by rail, which was pulled by Union Pacific locomotive 4141, was a nod to the late president’s love of trains.
[SCROLL DOWN BELOW TO SEE REPORTING/VIDEOS FROM TOWNS ALONG ROUTE]
Along the 70-mile trek on the tracks, people saluted, waved American and Texas flags and put their hands over their hearts as they took in a brief view of Bush’s casket through windows on a specially outfitted car.
Upon arrival in College Station, the casket was taken from the train and escorted by motorcade to Bush’s presidential library, where he was buried next to former first lady Barbara Bush and their daughter, Robin.
HERE IS THE ENTIRE TRAIN RIDE IN THREE VIDEOS:
Below is an interactive map of the train route:
Here's what some of the towns did along the route:
Old Town Spring:
Old Town Spring was the first town along the journey.
When President Bush’s casket arrived at the Union Pacific Auto Facility in Spring, it was greeted by a ceremonial guard standing at attention. The ceremony was carried out with the same grace and precision as the myriad other ceremonies paying tribute to the 41st president.
A Captain with the US Army Reserve told KPRC many of the soldiers involved in Thursday’s events began training in 2004.
“Every year we were told we had some kind of exercise to get us reacquainted with the process,” said Capt. Cynthia Hernandez.
Hernandez said while she was proud to complete her mission, it also came with a tinge of sadness.
“He was a wonderful man, did a lot for everyone in the United States, treated everyone equal and he will be definitely missed,” said Hernandez.
A chilling drizzle blanketed the area as the President’s casket was loaded onto Union Pacific Engine 4141’s funeral car. The car was equipped with large plexi-glass windows so mourners lining the rail route on both sides could catch a glimpse of the President’s casket on its way to College Station.
Members of the president’s family and close friends were then escorted on to passenger cars.
“Very respectful, very honorable man. Served our country, what more could you ask for,” said Lisa Heise, who waited by the tracks in Spring.
The engine carrying President Bush to his burial site was commissioned in his honor in 2005. Engine 4141 was painted and designed to mimic the look of Air Force One. Union Pacific officials said this was only the sixth time in the company’s history an engine was painted in colors other than yellow and red.
Union Pacific officials also said the train’s engineer, June Nobles, and conductor, Randy Kuhaneck, are Navy veterans. In fact, UP’s Raquel Espinoza said Nobles served in the Navy when President Bush was still in office.
Thousands of people lined the 70 mile route to College Station; all remarking they felt like they were witnessing history.
“We can reflect back on our days, years from now and say I was there,” said Sharon Carpenter.
Spring Fire Honor Guard flew a large American flag over the I-45 bridge at Spring-Steubner for the train to pass under. Firefighters and their equipment were present at most Spring train crossings with the lights flashing and firefighters saluting.
Crowds gathered in the heart of the city near the Historic Magnolia Depot to say goodbye to the 41st president.
Andy Woody told KPRC that he took his children out of school to teach them a different lesson.
“It’s a historical event; it hasn’t happened in my lifetime, certainly not in hers and it may never happen again,” Woody said.
By dawn, the family from Arkansas was in Magnolia, Texas.
“We drove eight hours to be here,” Woody said. “We literally looked at the route of the tracks and found a town. That’s how we ended up here."
Soon, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Texans who had the same desire to salute the 41st president, not only for what he did, but who he was.
"I admire him serving his country from the time he served as a pilot to when he passed away but he also served the community of Houston and all of Texas,” said Ken Grithens.
When the whistle of the 4141 train sounded, a lot of emotions were stirred.
“As the train came in, there was a lot of yelling and screaming, but as it came by, it became very respectful. It was very inspiring,” said Kristi Kaiser.
Joshua Russel said, "It brought a tear to my eye when I was videoing. I was, like, this is amazing.”
The moment in Magnolia is now a part of their memories as they said goodbye during the final journey of the 41st president
"It was history passing by, the passing of a great man who, I believe, everyone will miss and I will miss," Ken Grithens said.
In historic downtown Navasota, Texans young and old gathered to express their gratitude while saying farewell to the former president.
Darlene Shoemaker, who drove up from West Columbia for the historic train ride, said, “He was such a wonderful man. He is leaving such a legacy.”
For Korean War veteran Carl Dry, the day had sentimental value: “He’s a war hero. We try to look out for each other and take care of each other.”
The crowd was small early on, but it rapidly grew as Union Pacific 4141 began making its way to this tiny town south of College Station.
Shortly past 2:30 p.m. Thursday, the roar of the train’s engine and the sound of its horn pierced the air throughout downtown Navasota and miles beyond.
The crowd focused was primarily focused on the car painted with an image of the American flag and large side window. As the train rolled through slowly, a clear view of the president’s casket with a service member at attention beside it emerged.
There was very little cheering. The crowd simply waved and said a respectful goodbye. For many, it was a heartfelt emotional moment.
“It brought a tear to my eye,” said Dry, minutes after the train exited town.
When reminded the day was about the celebration of a historic life? An emotional Dry said: “It the passing of a very good man but at least I was here to say goodbye."
Navasota ISD announced that there was early dismissal for students in the district.
Road closures: Per orders from the United States Secret Service, the following roadways were blocked to vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic beginning at midnight Thursday: Wellborn Road, from University Drive to George Bush Drive; George Bush Drive, from Wellborn Road to Harvey Mitchell Parkway (FM-2818), and all streets leading to West Campus.
Spectators: Texas A&M University Transportation Services allowed free event parking at six campus locations, including the University Center Garage across from Rudder Tower. Spectators were strongly discouraged from parking illegally in any neighborhood and from blocking any roadway. The College Station Police Department took all necessary steps to ensure neighborhood streets have adequate emergency vehicle access and safe conditions for pedestrians and cyclists.
The train also passed through Hufsmith, Pinehurst, Todd Mission, Stoneham, Millican and Wellborn.
Here are aerial views of the train route:
Watch the entire train ride in the video below:
Copyright 2018 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.