Two SMART Transportation Division members from Local 524 in Palestine, Texas, were given the privilege by Union Pacific Railroad (UP) to serve their country as conductors on President George H.W. Bush’s funeral train, Thursday, Dec. 6.
The funeral procession consisted of two trains. The lead train, operated by BLET Division 139 locomotive engineer Aaron Braud and SMART TD Local 524 conductor Laymon “Billy” Blanton, consisted of 10 passenger cars and two locomotives and carried dignitaries and part of the Secret Service detail.
Although he didn’t get to interact with any of the family or many of the dignitaries, Blanton said that the crew was in constant contact with the Secret Service, with Service agents pointing out possible problem areas along the route.
The second train, led by UP locomotive No. 4141 — “The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum engine,” was operated by BLET Division 139 locomotive engineer June Nobles and SMART TD Local 524 conductor Randy Kuhaneck, both whom — like the late president — are Navy veterans. This train, consisting of two locomotives and 11 cars, carried members of Bush’s family as well as his casket in car six.
The 2 1/2-hour journey began in Spring, Texas, and traveled 70 miles to President Bush’s final resting place in College Station, Texas, at his presidential library. The funeral train had been in the works since 2009, when federal officials contacted UP and asked, at Bush’s request, if they could provide the funeral train.
“We said, ‘Of course, and also we have this locomotive that we would want to have obviously be a part of it,'” UP spokesperson Tom Lange told CBS News.
This wasn’t the first time that Blanton had served on a special train. He said he’s crewed trains carrying UP executives as well as holiday trains and charity trains in the past.
Blanton said that the experience of doing his job on special trains is always tense, and the funeral train was one of his most stressful experiences on the rails.
“The past four days have been nerve-wracking. That was the most stressful thing I’ve done, bar none,” Blanton said. “You got the face of the company behind you on that deal. The whole nation and world was watching. Nothing could go wrong.”
Despite the stress that came with it, Blanton said he was honored to be part of the crew.
“I was just tickled to be picked. It was such an honor to serve UP, the nation and especially the Bush family,” he said. “Now I’m glad I did it. My family got to be there to see it and to be a part of history along with me.
“It was all quite the spectacle. I saw some things that I thought only ever happens on TV. It was a really neat experience,” he said.
Blanton also said he was proud to represent his union and said that this was a great chance for SMART TD conductors to shine.
“I love being a conductor,” Blanton said. “I could’ve been an engineer years ago, but I love the job of conductor. I like being on the ground and in charge. I’m proud to be a union guy.”
SMART TD is proud to represent you and congratulates you and Kuhaneck on this momentous occasion and a job well done.