HOUSTON • Thousands waved and cheered along the route as funeral train No. 4141 — for the 41st president — carried George H.W. Bush’s remains to their final resting place Thursday, his last journey as a week of national remembrance took on a decidedly personal feel in an emotional home state farewell.
Some people laid coins along the tracks that wound through small town Texas so a 420,000-pound locomotive pulling the nation’s first funeral train in nearly half a century could crunch them into souvenirs. Others snapped pictures or crowded for views so close that police helicopters overhead had to warn them back. Elementary students hoisted a banner simply reading “THANK YOU.”
The scenes reminiscent of a bygone era followed a serious and more somber tone at an earlier funeral service at a Houston church, where Bush’s former secretary of state and confidant for decades, James Baker, addressed him as “jefe,” Spanish for “boss.”
At times choking back tears, Baker praised Bush as “a beautiful human being” who had “the courage of a warrior. But when the time came for prudence, he maintained the greater courage of a peacemaker.”
Baker also provided a contrast with today’s divisive political rhetoric, saying that Bush’s “wish for a kinder, gentler nation was not a cynical political slogan. It came honest and unguarded from his soul.”
“The world became a better place because George Bush occupied the White House for four years,” said Baker.
Bush’s body was later loaded onto a special train fitted with clear sides so people could catch a glimpse of the casket as it rumbled by.
The train traveled about 70 miles in two-plus hours — the first presidential funeral train journey since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s remains went from Washington to his native Kansas 49 years ago — to the family plot on the grounds of Bush’s presidential library at Texas A&M University.
Bush’s final resting place is alongside his wife, Barbara, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia at age 3.
In the town of Cypress, 55-year-old Doug Allen left eight coins on the tracks before the train passed — three quarters, three dimes and two pennies. The train left the coins flattened and slightly discolored.
“It’s something we’ll always keep,” Allen said.
Andy Gordon, 38, took his 6-year-old daughter, Addison, out of school so she and her 3-year-old sister, Ashtyn, could see the train pass in Pinehurst, Texas.
“Hopefully, my children will remember the significance and the meaning of today,” Gordon said. Addison was carrying two small American flags in her hand.
The train arrived in College Station in the late afternoon with a military band playing “Hail to the Chief” and Texas A&M’s “Aggie War Hymn.”