The incredible life story of a World War II hero, consumate family man and model public servant is set to add a final chapter befitting the legacy of former President George H.W. Bush, thanks in part to Alabama-based Progress Rail Services.
Bush’s casket will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol until 10:00 a.m. EST on Wednesday, followed by a funeral at the Washington National Cathedral an hour later. Bush will then return to Houston, where he will lie in repose and a private service will be held at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church.
Then, Progress Rail – which is headquartered in Albertville – comes in.
On Thursday, a train carrying the 41st president’s remains will leave a Union Pacific Railroad facility in Spring, Texas, a community north of Houston, and travel the 70 miles to College Station. Bush will be buried there, alongside his late wife and daughter, on the site of his presidential library at Texas A&M University.
The locomotive that will carry Bush on that final journey was custom built just for him, adorned with the paint scheme of Air Force One and bearing the number “4141” in his honor. And, to the Yellowhammer State’s pride, it was made by a subsidiary of Progress Rail, Electro-Motive Diesel.
In a Washington Post lede from this week, that special story comes to life once more.
When the curtain parted in College Station, Tex., revealing a two-toned blue locomotive standing nearly 16 feet tall and bearing the number 4141 in his honor, former president George H.W. Bush looked around excitedly, his face breaking into a smile.
One word left his lips: Wow.
Now, 13 years later, that same locomotive is ready and waiting. The trip will be historic for many reasons, giving Texans a chance to say their final goodbyes as the train chugs along the three-hour journey. While Presidents Ulysses Grant, James Garfield, William McKinley, Warren Harding and Franklin Roosevelt similarly reached their final resting places by rail, no president since President Dwight Eisenhower has done so.
From one legend of the Second World War to another, Bush has always done things a little differently.
An Associated Press article at the time said the unveiling of the locomotive stirred memories in Bush of his childhood travels with his family.
“We just rode on the railroads all the time, and I’ve never forgotten it,” the AP quoted Bush as saying.
The former president was so enamored with the train at the time that the engineer even trained him how to operate it on site, allowing him to do so for about two miles.
Bush loved it so much that one of his final wishes was a last ride aboard the locomotive – his last ride, period.
And, as Progress Rail CEO Billy Ainsworth told Yellowhammer News, the company is proud to make this final wish come to fruition.
“On behalf of our parent company Caterpillar, Progress Rail and our subsidiary Electro-Motive Diesel, I am just extremely proud that Union Pacific selected one of our locomotives to honor President Bush and his service to our country,” Ainsworth said. “It’s a tremendous honor for all of our employees.”
Progress Rail, one of the largest suppliers of rail products and services in America, is one of the state’s best-kept secrets. With over 8,000 employees around the world, the company is celebrating its 35th anniversary.
While Ainsworth stressed that Progress Rail is proud to still be based in Alabama, this latest achievement goes to show that the company is certainly making Alabamians proud.
Like Bush, Ainsworth also shared that when he first saw “4141,” he “just couldn’t stop smiling.”
It is not a stretch to imagine that 41 will be smiling once more as he looks down on his final journey alongside his beloved Barbara and Robin on Thursday afternoon.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn