Friday, November 5, 2010

Trip Report - Gold Coast Railroad Museum - Miami, Florida

On the last day of our Florida Vacation, we spent the day in Miami, as we had a flight back to St. Louis that evening from Miami International Airport. Our first stop in Miami was the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. The Museum has its origins back to the late 1950s, when the founding members, working with the University of Miami, managed to acquire several pieces of railroad equipment, including the famous Pullman car Ferdinand Magellan, the car used by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

The museum is located near the Miami Zoo, on the site of the former Richmond Naval Air Station. Richmond N.A.S. was built during World War II as a base for the Navy's fleet of blimps. The blimps were used to patrol the coasts and Gulf of Mexico, looking for German U-Boats. The site included to gigantic hangars for the blimps. In 1945, a hurricane and resulting fire destroyed the hangars, and the base was subsequently abandoned. There are remains, however, including one of the concrete towers that supported the sliding doors. The Museum's train shed is also built on the foundation of the blimp hangar.

The museum has a variety of equipment, including a pair of non-operational ex-Florida East Coast Railway 4-6-2 light pacific steam locomotives, several Budd-built streamlined passenger cars, and some diesel locomotives. The most historic and most impressive artifact in the collection, however, is the Ferdinand Magellan. The car was originally built in the 1920s by Pullman as a private car for the company's rental fleet. The car was part of the "explorer series" which included other cars, such as the Marco Polo. In 1941, the Association of American Railroads bought the Ferdinand Magellan from Pullman, and then contracted with Pullman to modify the car, in order to make it secure for Presidential travel. The modifications were extensive, and included thick armor plating on most of the car, 3" thick glass windows made of bullet-resistant glass, heavy-duty trucks, a rear door that looks like a bank vault, and other modifications. The number of bedrooms for the car was reduced, and one made larger for FDR. The car also has an "escape hatch" in the roof of the rear compartment of the car. The hatch looks like a submarine hatch.

After the modifications, the car was then loaned to the U.S. government for FDR to use in his wartime travels. Later, the car was acquired by the government. The car was reportedly kept in the basement of the Treasury Building in Washington, D.C. between trips. President Truman was also a frequent user of the car, using it on his famous "Whistle Stop Tour" during the 1948 election. It is from the back of the car that Truman held the famous, erroneous "Dewey Defeats Truman" edition of the Chicago Tribune. This occurred the day after the election in St. Louis Union Station. The car was only used a few times by President Eisenhower, and was declared surplus in 1956.

In 1984, prior to the car's listing as a National Historic Landmark, President Reagan rode the car on a one-day whistle stop tour in Ohio, as part of his re-election campaign.

Overall, the car is in a remarkable state of preservation, both inside and out. Inside the car are numerous photos of the car during its use by 4 Presidents. The car is no longer open to regular tours, but a volunteer was kind enough to show us through.
Overall, the museum had a nice selection of equipment on display, including a dome-observation car from the California Zephyr. As a bonus, the museum had two Atlantic Coast Line class M-3 wood cabooses. I am about 90% finished with a laser-cut HO scale wood model of these cars. I managed to get some good photos of some details I was curious about, like handbrake placement, and bracing of the tool box.

No comments: