Tuesday, February 11, 2014

UPDATE: The Presidential Communications Car "CRATE"

                             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.

Ron Danielson in the Radio Room (1961)
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

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