We are all familiar with Airforce One. It’s the most elite person hauler on Earth, designed to move the President of the USA around in security and comfort. But what most don’t know is that before Airforce One there was the Ferdinand Magellan Railcar No. 1.
A bit of history…
The Ferdinand Magellan was built in 1929 by the Pullman Company in Lot 6246, Plan 3972B as a private car. It was one of six similar cars constructed in two batches – four on Lots 6037, and two on Lot 6246. They were named after famous explorers: David Livingstone, Henry Stanley, Marco Polo, Robert Peary (on Lot 6037), Roald Amundsen and Ferdinand Magellan (on Lot 6246).
After the United States entered World War II, it was suggested by Secret Service agent Mike Reilly and White House Press Secretary Stephen Early that President Franklin D. Roosevelt needed a specially equipped and armored car rather than using standard equipment provided by the Pullman Company. The Ferdinand Magellan was selected, and the Pullman Company rebuilt the car. The Ferdinand Magellan became the first passenger railcar built for a President since the War Department had built a special car for the use of Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
The car was protected with 5/8″ (15 mm) armor plate on the sides, top, bottom and ends. The windows were replaced with sealed three inch (76.2 mm) thick 12-ply laminated bullet resistant glass. As the windows were sealed, the car was air conditioned by blowing the interior air over pipes carrying the meltwater from ice. Other features included bank vault style doors at the rear entrance to the car, two escape hatches (located in the lounge and presidential bathroom) for emergency egress, exterior loudspeakers for public addresses, a telephone in every room that could be connected to a trainside telephone outlet provided by the local telephone company and a custom built wheel-chair elevator that could lift Roosevelt from ground level up to the rear platform of the car. The wheel-chair elevator was removed after Roosevelt’s death in 1945. These modifications increased the weight of the car from 160,000 pounds (72,563 kg) to 285,000 pounds (129,252 kg), making the Ferdinand Magellan the heaviest passenger railcar ever used in the United States. The Ferdinand Magellan traveled at the end of a special train that included Pullman sleeping cars for staff, baggage cars and a communications car operated by the Army Signal Corps.
President Roosevelt’s first trip in the Ferdinand Magellan was to Miami, Florida, where he boarded a Pan American World Airways flying boat for his trip to the Casablanca Conference in 1943. He traveled approximately 50,000 miles (81,500 km) in the car in the next two years, using it for the last time on a trip to Warm Springs, Georgia two weeks before he died there.
Like other observation cars of its era, the Ferdinand Magellan had an open platform on the rear end of the car. Observation cars were normally placed at the end of a train, so that the occupants of the car had an unobstructed view in three directions. This is the platform from which Harry Truman gave his “whistlestop” campaign speeches. During the campaign the car travelled more than 28,000 miles (46,284 km), and Truman gave almost 350 speeches from the rear platform. The famous photograph of Truman holding the incorrect “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline was taken while the president was standing on the platform of the railcar.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower made little use of the Ferdinand Magellan. He travelled a few times in it to his farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to visit his brother, Milton S. Eisenhower who was President of The Pennsylvania State University, in University Park, Pennsylvania, and once to Ottawa where he addressed the Parliament of Canada. The car was last used officially in 1954, when Mamie Eisenhower rode it to Groton, Connecticut to christen a ship. The railcar was declared surplus and offered to the Smithsonian Institution in 1958, but the Smithsonian did not act on the offer, and the Gold Coast Railroad Museum was able to acquire it. In 1984 the Ferdinand Magellan was briefly loaned to the presidential re-election campaign of Ronald Reagan, who gave a series of “whistlestop” speeches from the rear platform during a one-day trip in Ohio.
The Ferdinand Magellan is the only passenger railcar ever designated a “National Historic Landmark” by the United States government. This honor was bestowed on the Ferdinand Magellan by the United States, Department of the Interior, National Parks Service in February. 1985.
Cleaning up a piece of history
Because the Ferdinand Magellan Railcar No. 1 had been sitting at the Gold Coast since the late 1980′, it was in need of the vision, care and touch of the professional detailing community. Lead by Joe Fernandez of Superior Shine of California, the detailing team that addressed the washing and correction of the paint and brass was from all over North America, including one from Canada. With the Rupes Bigfoot MkII in hand and products supplied by AutoGeek, we were able to make the Railcar look decades better!
I will not bother with the technical aspects. At the end of the day it was a bunch of detailing business owners coming together to restore a piece of history for future generations to enjoy. With the support of Rupes and Autogeek, the logistics were in place for the labor-side to knock it out of the park!
When we arrived to begin, she was in rough shape!
The detailing business owners unite for an epic restoration project!
Joe, Jason Rose(of Rupes) and Mike Phillips (of Autogeek), working out some details as we begin.
The new Rupes Bigfoot MKII has tons of grunt and made correction a relative breeze!
This guy is a beast! Paul Sparks of Distinctive Auto Detailing in Indiana, though retired, comes out to these projects and gives of himself. I am honored to have met this legend!
Detailed Designs Auto Spa bringing our skills.
Some truly aged brass. It is not every day that you get to work on and handle something multiple presidents used!
A shot of what the brass I was working on looked like in the middle of the restoration.
…and when finally completed it looked ages better.
Cougar of Luxe Auto Spa doing his thing on the brass.
John’s moved onto the brass as well!
Yours truly…on the brass…
When we were done restoring the brass the railcar had a whole new personality.
The crew once the project was complete.
The old girl cleans up pretty well!
My crew chillin’ a bit after everyone else was gone.
I can’t express my gratitude enough to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, Rupes, Autogeek, Joe Fernandez and all the other guys that shared this experience with me.
Thanks for taking the time to view our piece on restoring this piece of history. If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends!