President’s Day on the Rails

This week we honor President’s Day and all the great leaders of our land that have served our Great Nation. Our railroads have demonstrated their respect for the Commander in Chief in different ways over the course of time.

What is clearly first place going to the Chesapeake & Ohio Lines by honoring the first US President with a namesake train that made a profound impact on the railroad world by being the first Pullman Air-Conditioned train in the world on April 30, 1932: The George Washington. Latter day merger partner, the Baltimore & Ohio, was a close contender when they named their fleet Class P-7 Pacific locomotives of 1927 after the first 20 US Presidents. Those locomotives were chaste in olive green accented trimmed with gold lettering and striping that was accented by a thin maroon stripe. The fleet was numbered 5300-5319 and in 1928 one additional experimental Pacific Class P-9 named President Cleveland and numbered 5320 was added. With some apologies to Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams, one locomotive named “President Adams” road number 5301, represented both statesmen since it was determined that two locomotives baring that same name would be too confusing irrespective of differing road numbers.

B&O went further in 1935 when they inaugurated a lightweight, steam powered steam train named the Abraham Lincoln over the then affiliated Chicago & Alton Railroad mainline between St. Louis and Chicago. In an odd twist of history, B&O named a sister train on that same route Ann Rutledge after President Lincoln’s first love shortly afterward. Odd twist or not the Ann Rutledge was counted among only seven US passenger trains honoring women with the others being the Nellie Bly (PRR), Dixie Flagler (FEC) and the Phoebe Snow (fictional-DL&W), Pocahontas (fictional-N&W), Kate Shelly 400 (CN&W) and the Nancy Hanks (a racehorse that was in fact named for Lincoln’s mother; CofG).

Related directly to the heritage of US Presidents and the Federal Government, railroads employed patriotic themes to reinforce Nationalism. Once again, the B&O was a leader by naming its two premier passenger trains the Capitol Limited (1923) and the National Limited (1925). Later the old Detroit-Washington Limited was renamed the Ambassador.

B&O’s cut-throat competitor the Pennsylvania Railroad frequently tapped Governmental or Military themes for its mammoth passenger fleet. PRR launched one of the earliest “named passenger trains” in 1888 with the Washington to New York Congressional Limited (later shortened to the Congressional). The Congressional was eventually joined on the corridor route by other similarly themed train names including the Senator, Patriot, Representative and the Statesman. PRR, Blue-Ribbon East West trains included the Liberty Limited, the General, and the General.

The manner we demonstrate appreciation and respect for the Presidency has changed over time, but it seems fitting this day to consider our National Heritage, the men that served our County so faithfully and to recall a time when our railroads very much cast a spotlight on all of that.

If you have this day off, we hope you have time to enjoy your favorite pastime and pause to look at some of the new products and information we post on this website. We stand ready to serve you and celebrate the significance of this day with you. Just as the Commander in Chief leads our Nation, we take our role of being a leader in the model railroading hobby very seriously and we thank you for your continued patronage.

(M B Klein, FAW)