Monday, June 25, 2012

The Presidential Communication Railroad Car "Crate" (1967)

Presidential Rail Car, U.S. Number 1 
Ferdinand Magellan
a National Historic Landmark

The Great Seal of the President of the United States as displayed in bronze on the rear gate of theFERDINAND MAGELLAN


A Brief history of the Ferdinand Magellan 
 (Or Life before "Air Force One")

The newly rebuilt Ferdinand Magellan was presented to President Roosevelt on December 18, 1942, exactly 14 years from the day it rolled out of the Pullman Company shops as a new unit.  During World War II, for security reason, only the word "Pullman" appeared on the outside of the car so that from a distance, the rolling fortress looked like any other private rail car.  Whenever it was part of a train, however, the train moved under the commodity code "POTUS" (the first letters of President of the United States.) Every railroad official knew that "POTUS" had the right of way over all other rail traffic. To lessen the chance of sabotage during the war, the car did not have a permanent storage location in Washington, D.C. It was moved around when not in use and stored on various sidings at Washington's Union Station, the Potomac Railroad yards, the Naval Gun Factory at the Navy Yard and in the sub-basement of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving.
Hitched to the end of a private train that included baggage cars, sleeping cars for staff and a communications car that at some point was replaced by a hospital car, the Magellan could function as a veritable White House on wheels—a reverberating fortress. And as “Presidential Rail Car U.S. Number 1,” it took precedence over all other rail traffic.

The Dining Room
The Presidents State Room
The last trip for the Ferdinand Magellan in government service was in 1954 when Mrs. Eisenhower traveled in it from Washington, D.C. to Groton, Connecticut to christen the world's first nuclear powered submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus. After this trip, the car stood idle for four years. It was declared government surplus in 1958 and was offered to the Smithsonian Institution.

In recognition to the Army Signal personnel and their unusual assignment POTUS

The Presidential Train Ferdinand Magellan - White House communications via, 3WTE on wheels. We feature the U.S. Army Signal Corps., General Albert J. Myer, and Radio Railcar installation. 

One fall day in October 1956 12noon EDT will long be remembered by hundreds of 14 MHZ SSB State side amateurs. It was the day W3WTE was, of all places, 60 feet below the Cleveland, Ohio, Railway Terminal Tower Station working the bands. The detail was called “Operation Earthworm” We have a QSL courtesy of W3WTE.

“POTUS” an acronym, stands for President of the United States! The special railroad car of the White House was used when the President was away from home, equipped with a luxury living rolling home, a lecture platform, communications, safety and hospital car, press corps and energy car. This amazing city on wheels was at times a nightmare for the Secret Service, Railroad and logistics involved in the Presidents safety. There was an advanced two car train and each crossing was inspected by the Secret Service and rail authorities.

HF Radio Console
Above radio control console occupies part interior of presidential communications General Myers Car.  Multiple control panels, a maze of gadgets for radio broadcasts, radio photo transmission, tape recordings of presidential speeches and incoming and outgoing teletype printer copy.

The generator room
The WHCA communications car (Crate)
Two diesel AC generators are on the right side of car, can supply enough power to operate the train in any capacity. Mr. Charles Clemens K6QD spoke of his duties much earlier when first assigned to Presidential Communications in 1942. He was chosen to be the first CW operator between the Presidential Train and the White House via HF radio in railroad Car 1401, “The White House on Wheels.”

Clemens explained some front seats had been removed and an operating table installed full of radio devices in their place. Telegraph lines alongside the tracks provided a lot of clicks that made it difficult to copy poor signals, mainly in the southwest part of the U.S.A. The clearance requirements for railroad cars prohibited using a real antenna. The radio operators used a wire inside an insulating tube mounted on standoffs about six inches above the metal roof of the car. This was later changed to a copper tube, the same size as the insulating tube, with much better results. Continued the frequency complement ran from 3 MHZ to 17 MHZ. (Car 1401 built in 1914 would be replaced in the 50s by the modern General Albert Myer car) Myer was the first Signal Corps Commander. Clemens K6QD Signal Corps operator said “I was supposed to contact a number of Army stations along our shakedown trip in 1942 riding the rails, none of them more than a couple of hundred miles from our route. As might be expected, results were poor and it was decided to contact WAR in the Pentagon at Washington direct. Successful contacts were made from New Orleans and on the way home. 

The only real difficulty came when we were close to Washington DC.” Clemens added “Overall, our results were encouraging and we were assigned the task of accompanying President Roosevelt on his swing stumping around the country visiting military bases and aircraft plants. 

Equipment and facilities were improved over the years and when Clemens left in 1948, the car had a small operating room, a code center, a small bunk room with four bunks, a lounge room and the baggage half of the car packed with equipment.

Clemens continued “To make a long story quite short, I worked six years on the Presidential Train, traveling with Presidents Roosevelt and Truman in the United States, Canada and Mexico. We logged well over a hundred thousand miles.” Today, the train is no more, Old 1401 is gone, only known by gild of 1401 above the entry door, Gen. Myer car has been retired and the Ferdinand Magellan is restored and on display in Florida.

The small detachment that Clemens knew had evolved into the White House Army Signal Agency and finally White House Communications Agency. They wouldn’t believe how much equipment they could eliminate by satellite communications today.   

Copy of the POTUS QSL W3WTE
Partially scripted from March, 1975 Ham Radio Magazine article, “Brass Pounding on Wheels”, by K6QD CC Jr., and Railroad Magazine February 1953. Thanks to Glenn Laser W3WTE for a copy of the POTUS QSL. Glenn advised the card was found at a yard sale or Ham fest in WV and presented to him. - It would be a pleasure to sit and talk with Mr. Clemens today, but I believe he is a silent key because the call has been reissued several times. I can’t come up with anything on the two communications coaches whether they avoided he cutters torch.

When the Ferdinand Magellan was taken out of service in 1958, The two communication railcars were moved and during the 1960’s and 70’s and stored at the New Cumberland Army Depot just outside of Harrisburg, Pa. The communications car was to be maintained by WHASA/WHCA out of Camp David. Their mission was to provide communications for the President, while on trips, whether campaigning for office, or traveling via rail. 

President Kennedy used Crate on one of the last official trips when he went to the Army Navy football game in Philadelphia in 1961.

President Kennedy departing Philadelphia
President Kennedy departing Philadelphia
The official call sign of the Presidential Train was City Hall this was used when the train was actually in use, but Crate was used as the un-official call sign by the Camp David (Cactus) personnel that maintained the communications equipment onboard. Crate consisted of two old WWII train cars. They were 85' in length, painted Olive Drab, with three axel trucks. One was a converted Hospital Car. This car was converted into living quarters for SS and WHASA / WHCA personnel. It had a small kitchen, some bunks for sleeping, a small bathroom with a shower and a living area. An old Hallicrafters SX-63 was installed for entertainment.

The Presidential Rail Car “Crate” is shown at the Thirteenth Street Station in Philadelphia (1961)
The Presidential Rail Car “Crate” is shown at the Thirteenth Street Station in Philadelphia (1961)
The Radio car was a converted something and appeared to have been gutted and then built as required.  There was a window installed so the operation could be viewed from the hallway that passed between the rail cars. As you were sitting at the console behind you, there was a large glass window which was by the walkway in the left side of the car. Looking out that glass window past the walkway was another large glass window which was on the car body. If anyone on the platform were to look into the car window, they would see the whole console and operators.

 Lounge Area (1961)
Ron Danielson in the Radio Room (1961)
The Radio Car had to be placed on the tracks, so it faced the Hospital car because of the coax connectors on the front end. The train had to be configured with the Hospital car toward the train engine and the Radio or Communications Car following. The coax connectors on the Hospital car were connected by coax jumpers to the coax connectors on the Communications Car. This was also because on the opposite end, (from the coax connector end) were connectors which carried audio to the end of the train.

The last car would be an Observation Car where the President would ride, stand and speak to the crowds, who would come to see him while on campaign trips.

Switchboard Room
The Radio Car had a console installed which handled all the HF Comm. equipment, the audio amps and VU Meters for the audio PA function and two patch panels for audio routing. It also had rooms for the AC power generators, radio equipment, switchboard and a small Comm. Center.

The radio console consisted of two HF Receivers (R-390A), two SSB/ISB Converters (CV-157) and a TTY converter (CV-116). The TMC GPT-750W transmitters were used for phone patch audio and TTY traffic.

The radio Console in (1961)
On the top of this car was two HF antennas designed by Collins Radio. Hard to explain, but in the center of the roof of the car the antennas were grounded to the roof using three 90degree elbows. A total of six, three for each antenna about 6 to 8 inches in diameter which fed three pipes in each direction to the end of the cars. About 3' from the end of antennas, the three pipes were bonded together and fed at that point, with 50 ohm coax, to connectors on the trailing side of the car. The pipes were supported by insulators from the center ground, out to the ends.

The Communications Car on the siding in VA. (1961)
 Radio Antennas on Radio Car
The two cars were stored at Indian Town Gap Army Depot near Harrisburg, Pa. primarily because President Eisenhower used it several times and it was close to Gettysburg and his farm.  In early 1967 I actually took a trip on the Presidential Train (Crate) from Harrisburg to Union Station in DC, and back.  All of the guys from M Street came down for a tour we spent the night and went back the next day.  It was a total farce, I think the officers wanted to get away for a couple of days and have a party.  There was some story about LBJ taking a train ride to Philadelphia for the Army - Navy game, but of course it never happened.  I have always wondered if LBJ ever knew that he had something other AF-1 at his disposal. 

In the late 1960’s the TMC GPT-750W transmitter, R-390's and CV-157's were replaced with a Collins Radio state of the art transmitter/receiver, with automatic antenna tuners. The control units were mounted in the console, with the main TX / RX equipment mounted in two 6' 19" racks.

There is no confirmation as to when “Crate” was removed from service or the disposition of the railcars.

                             WHASA/WHCA Communications Railcar,                                   General Albert J Myer USA 87325 with Morn Car USA 89426

After the Presidential Railcar Ferdinand Magellan was retired and acquired by the Gold Coast Railroad Museum in 1958, Crate and the Staff Car (Morn) were sent to storage at the New Cumberland Army Depot Just across the river from Harrisburg PA.

Built out of an old hospital car in 1951, the General Albert J. Myer (labeled POTUS 1), USA 87325 the communications car, this car replaced the older ‘Car 1401′ which always accompanied the presidential train the Ferdinand Magellan. Following the Myer was the Morn (labeled POTUS 2), USA 89426 which was also built from a hospital car and was the living quarters for the personnel of the Myer. It included a small kitchen, bunk beds, a small bathroom with a shower and a living area.

Crate in St Louis in 1961   
There is a series of photos on the Kennedy Library website, dated November 1961 taken at Union Station St. Louis MO showing WHASA personnel preparing Crate for a trip by President Kennedy to the Army Navy Football game in Philadelphia, in December 1961. (No explanation as to why Crate was in MO although it was probably a training/test run prior to the actual trip.) There are also Photos of Crate at the 13th Street Station in Philadelphia dated December 2nd 1961.

WHASA/WHCA personnel from Camp David continued to maintain the communications equipment, through the late 60’s. The last time that I saw Crate was on July 27, 1966 when we returned from an overnight trip to Union Station in Washington D.C. Shortly after I was assigned to Cannonball just outside Mercersburg Pa.

It wasn't until a couple of years ago when I started communicating with people that I had served with in WHCA that we tried to find out what had happened to Crate.  One person remembers going up to the Depot in PA from Camp David to work on Crate in the fall of 1967. Another person says that during the “Fuel Crises” of 1973, they went up to the Depot to look at the cars for a possible rail trip by President Nixon to Key Biscayne FL. The trip was eventually made by commercial Airline. No one that we talked to seemed remember or know when Crate was decommissioned or where it was today!

Recently I received a comment on my blog from an anonymous contributor identifying the whereabouts of Crate today along with several pictures. Several people were involved with supplying information relative with the suggested time line that follows. This is what we believe what happened To Crate!

Crate remained in service and functional until it was stripped of all of the Communications equipment and retired from Presidential Service sometime in 1974. It is believed that the Communications Car (Myer) USA 87325 went to Ft. Belvoir VA and of the Staff Car (Morn) USA 89426 was sent to Ft. Eustis TX.  It is not known why Crate was split up or what if any was the Army’s intended use of these cars.

In 1978 Crate the Communications Car USA 87325 (POTUS 1) was purchased by NASA Kennedy Space Center Railroad System

As part of the effort, in 1978, KSC purchased an old Army Signal Corps communications car (U.S. Army 87325) for use as an office/tool room.  This car was constructed during World War II as a hospital car and remodeled in 1950 as the “Presidential Communications Car” and accompanied the “Ferdinand Magellan” armored Presidential Pullman whenever the U.S. President travelled by train. (POTUS 1) U.S. Army 87325, which became NLAX 150 upon its purchase by NASA, the car was retrofitted for duty by the newly hired railroad crew, which became part of the new Transportation Operations team within KSC. “KSC to Start Rail Operations,” Spaceport News, March 17, 1978: 1-3.

NASA disposed of General Albert J Myer USA 87325 in 1987, and it was acquired by the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. The museum was also informed about several other hospital style cars that were in Ft Eustis VA and they were also available. While the museum was at Ft Eustis they discovered that the Staff Car (Morn) USA 87325 was found!  The Gold Coast Railroad Museum acquired both the Myer and Morn cars and Crete was re-united in FL at the GCRM! The paperwork relative to the acquisition of Crate was completed by the Florida Division of Surplus Property.

Work was progressing on these cars when Andrew hit in 1992. Andrew caused extensive damage to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum and to the cars that they were restoring. FEMA claimed that they would put all non-profits back to their pre-Andrew condition. Myer, Morn, the Jim Crow combine, and Hospital car 89436 were selected to go to Steamtown for repairs.

Rather than give the museum funds to restore the Myer and Morn, they along with a Hospital Car #89436 and a Combination “Jim Crow Car” were sent to the National Park Service Steam Town Park in Scranton PA for restoration. Patrick McKnight, Historian/Archivist for Steam Town Park said that the Hospital Car and Jim Crow car were restored and returned to the GCRM. The Myer and Morn were not restored, due to a lack of funds and documentation of what the interiors of the Myer and Morn looked like. The communications equipment would have been removed when the cars were taken out of service, and NASA modified the interior when they purchased the Myer in 1978. The cars were placed in storage for several years until there was an Executive order issued to either donate or sell the Myer and Morn to the Hollywood Railroad Station Museum Inc.

Meyer Comm Car at GCRM just prior to Andrew  (1992)
Morn Staff Carat GCRM just prior to Andrew  (1992)
In 2001 The Hollywood Railroad Station Museum Inc. stepped in and got the Myer and Moen donated to them through an Executive order for a train to commemorate Dorothy Walker Bush (The mother and grandmother of the two Bush Presidents, and FL Governor Jeb Bush) dubbed the “Dorothy Walker Bush Great Floridian 2000.” The train was to consist of the Myer, Morn and 3 other cars. Grants were received from the State of Florida for the project, but little to no restoration was ever done.  Presidential train gets on track - South Florida Business Journal Published Aug 15, 2005, 12:00am EDT UPDATED: Aug 11, 2005, 4:28pm EDT

In 2005, Tony Campos, project director at the Hollywood Railroad Station Museum, was tasked with creating a train to commemorate Dorothy Walker Bush dubbed the “Dorothy Walker Bush Great Floridian 2000.” The train was to include the 1924 FEC Engine 253, the Myer and Morn, a mail car used in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, a “Jim Crow” segregation-era car, and the Direct Orient Express ice cream parlor. He was granted $375,000 by the Florida Division of Historical Resources and was expected to have the cars ready for display by June 2006.

In 2006, Campos acknowledged the restoration wasn't going to be completed on-time and cited hurricanes, a break-in, sketchy historical documents, lack of grant money, and a PBS documentary crew’s delay in filming the project. In October 2006, the Florida Division of Historical Resources sent a letter to Campos asking about the expenditures of the grant money. Campos then disappeared; he never responded, he didn't answer phone calls and is was hardly ever at his office at the station. It was requested he return the money or face legal action. The project director was eventually arrested for misappropriation of funds. He’s since been arrested and is thought to be out on parole as of this writing.

The Cars remain on a rail siding in Miami. Technically they are still owned by the Hollywood Railroad Station Museum, however; neither the museum nor the Florida East Coast Railroad has any interest in restoring them.  Dorothy Walker Bush Great Floridian 2000 – Florida's Forgotten Past  Published on August 19, 2013 by Bullet

What’s left of the failed project now sits rotting away behind a South Florida warehouse. Among them are two train cars thought to be presidential trains cars, with the names (POTUS 1) and (POTUS 2) stenciled on the sides of cars, sit on wood blocks at the front of the tracks.

Myer Communications Car USA 87325 POTUS 1 (2005)
Staff Car (Morn) USA 89426 POTUS 2 (2005)
According to this article Crate which consists of (POTUS 1) the Albert J Myer communications car and (POTUS 2) is the Morn Staff car sits on a railroad siding in Miami. No one that I have talked that actually was aboard Crate can remember if the cars that we maintained were actually labeled POTUS 1 or POTUS 2); however, a closer look at all of the photographs from this article and others that have been published leads me to conclude that the cars identified as POTUS 1 and POUTS 2 are likely to be Crate. Update: POTUS Train Cars Identified  Published on November 7, 2013.  By Bullet 

Myer Communications Car USA 87325 POTUS I (1961)
Myer Communications Car USA 87325 POTUS I  (2013)
By comparing the window pattern of the car identified as POTUS I, it is probably the communications car USA 87325. A close look at the HF antenna system unique to the communications car was a special system designed by Collins Radio. This was a complex system for the time. The overhead pictures of the antenna system on the cars in service in the 1960,s (below) and the car identified as POTUS I today appear to be the same.

In service Antenna System Myer Communications Car USA 87325 (1961)
In service Antenna System Myer Communications Car USA 87325 (1961)
Antenna insulator found next to Myer Communications Car USA 87325 POTUS 1 
Remains of the Antenna System Myer Communications Car USA 87325 (2013)
Interior pictures of  POTUS 1 and POTUS 2 that were used to try to identify the Radio Room and the Staff/Lounge areas was difficult but, I believe the picture below is of the Radio Room.

Radio Room (1961)
Aisle looking from the Comm room door towards the vestibule end of the car (2005)
Radio Room (2005)
I believe that the POTUS 2 (Morn) can be identified as the Staff/Lounge car from the interior pictures that were provided by the article.

Staff Car (Morn) USA 89426 POTUS 2 (1961)
Staff Car (Morn) USA 89426 POTUS 2 (2005)
Some interior photos of Crate at Union Station in St Louis (1961) found in the JFK Library were also used in the comparison. These are the only known photos of the interior of the Staff/Lounge Car.

Staff sleeping area looking toward Lounge Area (1961)
Lounge area looking towards the restroom, deep freezers, and kitchen.(2005)
Lounge area (1961)  
Lounge Area (2005)
Since no one is interested in restoring these two railcars, the fate of Crate appears to be the salvage yard and extinction!

Updates to the status of Crate can be found in the Railway Preservation News Subject: Hollywood Florida Railroad Museum & the Presidential Train


  1. You can see photos of the Myers and (possibly) the accompanying Morn car as they are today here:

  2. I believe it is 30th Street station in Philly, not 13th.

    1. My research of photo's from the JFK library can be found at,N:16-4294959651-4294888720-4294908081

  3. Hi John, Thanks for posting the pictures. My father is in uniform in one of the pictures. He is wearing the pistol. His name was Ron.

    1. The picture of your Dad was taken in 1961, do you know what unit he was assigned to and where he was stationed. I would be very interested to know about his experiences. My involvement with the train began in 1966 while assigned to Camp David.

    2. John, Sorry for the delay in responding. He was in the Army Signal Agency stationed in White House Communications. I know he served under McNally. He later took a position with the Secret Service,Communications Division. He traveled extensively with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. My father died in 1980. His name was Ronald Danielson.Thanks for filling some pictures for me. I am appreciative.

    3. I knew and worked with your father. He was in charge of the radio shop on M street while I was at Camp David and Cannonball. We were both on the 1966 trip that LBJ took to Manila. This happened to be my first overseas trip and it was a pleasure working with him. Thanks for taking the time to post this information on my blog.

  4. Thank you, John, for responding. I have dad's travel documents and embassy passes from that trip to Manila (and others). I've enjoyed your website and blog. Great historical content. Regards, Mark Danielson.