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Home > CRUISING THE PAST > PULLMAN CAR HISTORY: DID PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA’S WHISTLE STOP TRIAN TOUR BY PRIVATE PULLMAN CAR “GEORGIA 300” AND PRO-AMTRAK POSITION HELP HIM WIN THE PRESIDENCY?

PULLMAN CAR HISTORY: DID PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA’S WHISTLE STOP TRIAN TOUR BY PRIVATE PULLMAN CAR “GEORGIA 300” AND PRO-AMTRAK POSITION HELP HIM WIN THE PRESIDENCY?

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President-elect Barack Obama aboard the chartered private Pullman GEORGIA 300 for his whistle-stop tour. 

President-elect Barack Obama is a big supporter of Amtrak and conducted an old fashioned whistle stop tour during his campaign aboard the private car GEORGIA 300.  John McCain, who has been adamantly opposed to Amtrak, didn’t carry on this traditional American political tradition.  Did this policy jinx McCain with thousands of rail fans and contribute to his defeat?

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The private car GEORGIA 300 carried Obama on his whistle-stop tour.  

Georgia 300 – Built by Pullman Standard in 1930, as a 10-section lounge car for the Southern Railway and named General Polk. The car operated on the Crescent between New and New Orleans. Purchased by the Georgia Railroad in 1949, the car was rebuilt to the office car configuration it has today and given the number 300. The Georgia 300 made regular trips to the Masters golf tournament and, occasionally, the Kentucky Derby, hosting Georgia governors and other dignitaries. Declared surplus with the merger of the Georgia Railroad and the Family Lines, the car was acquired by the current owner in 1985. It has been rebuilt and has hosted Presidents Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Clinton. The car is based in Orange Park, Florida, and is owned by Jack Heard.

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President Harry S. Truman on the observation platform – he’s holding a newspaper that said he had lost.  They were wrong. 

A whistle-stop tour is a style of political campaigning where the politician makes a series of brief appearances or speeches at a number of small towns over a short period of time.

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Many presidential candidates have used private cars for their whistle-stop tours. 

Whistle-stop tours are conducted from the open platform of a business car or a private railroad car.

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A restored private railway car used in political whistle-stop campaigns.

A private railroad car, private railway coach, private car or private varnish is a railroad passenger car which was either originally built or later converted for non-revenue[citation needed] service as a business car for private individuals. A private car was added to the make-up of a train, providing splendid upholstered privacy for its passengers. They were used by railroad officials and dignitaries as business cars, and wealthy individuals for travel and entertainment, especially in the United States. They are used by politicians in “whistle stop campaigns.”

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Dining Salon aboard the elegant private car Chapel Hill. 

In the late 19th century Gilded Age, wealthy individuals had finely appointed private cars custom-built to their specifications. Also, many cars built by Pullman, Budd, and other companies were originally used in revenue service as passenger cars and later converted for use as business and private cars. There are various configurations, but the cars generally have an observation platform, a full kitchen, dining room, state rooms, secretary’s room, an observation room, and often servant’s quarters. The railroad barons like Leland Stanford had their private cars. Abraham Lincoln disliked the ornate railroad car supplied for his service as president: he rode in it only in his coffin.

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A framed photograph of heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post as seen in the observation salon of private car Chapel Hill.  DeWitt Chapple, Jr. restored the car in 1971. Chapple retained the car’s number, but added the name Chapel Hill after his alma mater, the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill.  It has been chartered for whistle stop tours.

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The Chapel Hill was originally built in 1922 for Post Cereals Heiress, Marjorie Merriweather Post, and stock broker and investment banker E.F. Hutton.   Originally christened Hussar, the car was used for company business and personal travel between their principal residence in New York City; their Hispanic-Moresque winter estate, “Mar-a-lago”, in Palm Beach; and Camp Topridge, the couple’s summer retreat in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. It was also used extensively for entertainment, as Post was known as a lavish hostess.

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One of many restored private cars seen at the private car convention in August – Los Angeles. 

Private cars were in more common the the heyday of passenger rail service and during the pre-Amtrak era (before 1971). In modern times, some private cars have survived the decades and some are used for tour rides, leasing for private events, etc. Others are on static display. A small number of private cars (along with other types of passenger cars), have been upgraded to meet current Amtrak regulations, and may be chartered by their owners for private travel attached to Amtrak trains.

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Lucius Beebe (seated) and his life partner Charles M. Clegg aboard their private car.

Lucius Beebe and his life partner Charles M. Clegg owned two of the last private railroad cars, the Gold Coast and the Virginia City. Beebe’s Mansions on Rails: The Folklore of the Private Railway Car (Berkeley, CA: Howell-North) 1959, presented the first history of the private railroad car in the U.S.

Dedicated railroad buffs rescued the last of the private varnish cars from scrapping; the chartering of these formerly-private cars has become a sideline in the upscale travel industry, with its own niche magazine Private Varnish. Amtrak regulations require head-end power and train control wiring, though some cars generate their own power and can run on freight lines as well. Most restored private cars have been rebuilt to modern specifications.

Contact the Chapel Hill website if you’re interested in chartering a private car for your own whistle stop tour of the USA!