Tom Flanary is a Director on the Board of Directors, and maintains the website for GCRM. He has been involved in GCRM as a volunteer since 2011, and has been a director since 2012. If you have comments, concerns, or questions, please contact him directly at Tom.Flanary@gcrm.org
The Electro Motive Division GP-7 ACL #1804 currently serves as the workhorse of the Museum. This locomotive is operational and is regularly used to position Museum rail
equipment and can often be seen giving Cab Rides on the property on weekends.
This Diesel-Electric locomotive was produced for the U.S. Army Transportation Corps, and then served on the Alaska Railroad as #1834 for most of its working life, later renumbered to #1804. After working in Alaska for many years, it was sold to the Santa Clarita Railway where it was used in the filming of Under Siege 2: Dark Territory with Steven Segal as the lead locomotive on the train around which the film was centered.
The locomotive was built by the Electro Motive Division of General Motors, used in both freight and passenger service, and has been painted in the colors of the former Atlantic Coast Line.
Status: On Display, Restored, Operational.
Acquisition Date: December 2002.
Length: 56 feet.
Engine: One (1) V-16 cylinder two-stroke diesel, 16 feet long, 7 feet tall, 6 feet wide, weighing 26,000 pounds.
RPM Range: 150 to 820.
Cubic Inch Displacement: 9,072 (567 c.i. per cylinder).
Weight: 245,000 pounds.
This locomotive was built by the American Locomotive Company (ALCO) in 1941. It was originally built for the Department of Defense and was the first locomotive placed in service by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It was used to move spacecraft components and chemical fuels on the Space Center property.
This locomotive is operational and is occassionally used to position Museum rail equipment and can sometimes be seen giving Cab Rides on the property on weekends. The locomotive sustained damage to its windows during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Volunteers are currently working to restore the cab interior woodwork.
Status: On Display, Unrestored, Operational.
Engine: One (1) 6 cylinder four-stroke diesel.
Weight: 230,000 pounds
The East Swamp & Gatorville (ES&G) two-foot steam train consists of a Crown locomotive and tender (currently operated on compressed air), two open passenger cars, an enclosed Parlor Car, and a "caboose" housing the air compressor which powers the train.
This train is known as the "Link Train," named after its donor, Edwin Link, who also contributed a large model of Stevenson's Rocket. Mr. Link is best known for inventing the Link Trainer, an on-the-ground flight simulator used in World War II to train military and civilian pilots. Link Trainers were also used at War Bond Drives. (One was used at a Flagler Street rally.) Steam trains were one of Edwin Link's favorite hobbies. He built a track on the grounds of his Harbor Branch Research Facility, in Ft. Pierce, Florida for this two-foot-gauge train. After Mr. Link died, his foundation donated the Link Train and part of the present track to the Museum.
The Link Train educational rides to our visitors on Saturdays and Sundays as well as during weekday school-group visits with advance notice.
Gauge: 24 inches.
Photo of Link Trainer (Not on Site)
Engine Number 153 was built in May, 1922, by the American Locomotive Company, Schenectady, New York. It is a Pacific type, passenger engine with a 4-6-2, standard gauge, wheel arrangement. Four pilot truck wheels, six drivers, and two trailing truck wheels. It was in service on the Florida East Coast Railway from 1922 until 1938. It pulled President Coolidge's train to Miami in 1928. The 153 was frequently used on the run between Miami and Key West, Florida, before the 1935 hurricane swept this portion of the railroad out to sea. It was one of the last engines to reach Miami before the hurricane ripped out the bridges behind her.
In 1938, the number 153 was sold to the United States Sugar Corporation of Clewiston, Florida, where is was used in industrial switcher service during the sugar harvesting season. In February, 1957, the engine was donated to the University of Miami. Dr. Jay F. W. Pearson, president of the university accepted it in a ceremony out on the main runway of the old Naval Air Station, Richmond, which at that time, was the University of Miami South Campus. The newly formed "Miami Railroad Historical Society," which would later become the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, was given the 153 around the end of 1959. It operated every Sunday in Miami from March, 1957, until November, 1966, when the railroad was forced to move to Fort Lauderdale.
In 1966, the 153 received a $10,000.00 major overhaul. The boiler was re-tubed, cleaned and inspected. New superheater units were installed. The injectors were overhauled, staybolt caps were removed and specially designed "Gold Coast" staybolt sleeves were machined, a new "dry-pipe" and new firebrick lining were installed. The 153 got its original passenger type pilot back as well as new running boards and a new headlight bracket. When all work was completed, the engine was inspected and subsequently certified by the Interstate Commerce Commission.
The Number 153 was credited with pulling the "rescue train" out of Marathon in the Florida Keys, after the 1935. As a result, it received a designation as a National Historic Site in the 1980's.
Due to the never ending fight against time and deterioration as well as damage from hurricane ANDREW in 1992, the 153 is currently out of service, but received a cosmetic overhaul during the period of 2000 until early 2002.
Built: 1922, American Locomotive Company, Schenectady, New York.Working Steam Pressure: 180 PSI (1,241,056 N/m2).
Steam Test Pressure: 214 PSI (1,475,478 N/m2).
Hydrostatic Test Pressure: 240 PSI (1,654,742 N/m2).
Cylinder bore: 22" (559 mm)
Cylinder stroke: 26" (660 mm).
Piston valves, diameter: 11" (279 mm).
Engine wheelbase: 32' - 7" (10.1 m).
Top speed (approximately) 80 mph (128 kph).
Overall length, engine and tender: 74' - 0.875" (23.47 m).
Height (top of stack): 14' - 3.625" (4.29 m).
Width (at cab): 10' -1" (3.06 m).
Cab size: 121" wide (3.05 m) x 90" long (2.3 m).
Firebox: 71.5" (1.83 m) - 56.5" (1.5 m).
Boiler diameter at front course: 61" (1.52 m).
Number of tubes, 2" (50.8 mm): 146.
Number of flues, 5.375" (136,525 mm) Diameter: 21.
Driving Wheels: 68" (1,713 m) Diameter.
Pilot Truck Wheels 33" (0,84 m) Diameter.
Trailing Truck Wheels 42" (1,07 m) Diameter.
Total weight, engine and tender in working order: 371,500 lbs (168,863 kg).
Weight on driving wheels: 129,000 lbs (58,636 kg).
Weight on pilot truck: 37,000 lbs (16,818 kg).
Weight on trailing truck: 37,500 lbs (17,046 kg).
Tractive effort: 28,500 lbs (12,955 kg).
Factor of adhesion 4.45
Tank capacity, oil: 3,500 US Gals (13,248 l).
Tank capacity, water 7,338 US Gals (24,790 l).
Two injectors: Nathan Simplex Type "R".
Valve gear: Walschearts.
Power reverse gear: ALCO.
Oil burner: Steam atomizing, FEC design.Lubricator: Nathan "Bullseye" 5 feeds.
Click on the following link to order books about the history of the Florida East Coast Railway and locomotive 153's rescue effort after the 1935 Florida Keys hurricane:
A portion of the sale price every book purchased from AMAZON.COM through this link is donated to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.
The Gold Coast Railroad Museum has several steam and diesel locomotives on display, and in operation. There are currently no operating steam locomotives, except for a 2-foot Crown locomotive operated on compressed air. Of our diesels, six are operational, of which three are currently active.
Some items have links to new pages with further details and/or images about the items. This list is not all inclusive and is presented as a sample of what you will see visiting the Museum.
The above footage,which is representative of the mission of NAS Richmond during the 1940's, is courtesy of the 1945 MGM movie "This Man's Navy".
Before NAS Richmond and at the beginning of World War II, German U-boats roamed freely off the coast of Florida playing havoc in the busy shipping lanes off Miami and in the Florida Straights between Key West and Cuba.
Old Timers tell of watching helplessly from Miami Beach as tankers burned in the distance ... an all too common scene during the early years of WW II.
The Hangars at NAS Richmond housed the blimps that patrolled the sea lanes off Miami and the Gulf of Mexico looking for Nazi submarines.
By 1943, NAS Richmond and other anti-submarine warfare expert facilities had put a stop to this carnage.
The Battle Between the Blimp and the Sub
by YNC Anthony Attwood
No study of naval warfare or aerial combat can be complete without looking at the night fight that occurred off the coast of Islamorada in the Florida keys on 18 July, 1943; the battle between the blimp and the sub.
Nazi U-boats prowled U. S. shores and the "slot" of the Florida Straits was a favorite hunting ground and transit channel for them. Navy blimp squadron ZP-21 out of NAS Richmond, Florida, patrolled the straits to stop them. The silvery, nonrigid airships, graceful but enormous, were used for spotting and reporting surface ships and aircraft. The "K" ships were armed with four depth bombs and a .50-caliber machine gun mounted in the nose of the blimp car... not that these were expected to see much action. Blimp patrols were usually long, tedious and uneventful, until the night of 18 July, 1943, when the German submarine U-134 slipped into the straits.
At dusk on the mainland, the flight briefing concluded for the two blimps scheduled to patrol that night, during which two "friendlies", a tanker and a freighter, would pass through the straits in convoy. K-74 and sister blimp, K-32, would screen the slot. The destroyer Dahlgren out of Key West was on station in the straits. The two blimp crews readied for takeoff. K-74's crew consisted of Lieutenant Nelson Grills, pilot; Chief Aviation Pilot Jandrowitz, copilot; Ensign Damley Eversley, navigator; AMM2c Isadore Stessel and AMM3c Schmidt, mechanics/bombardiers; ARM3c Eckert, rigger/gunner; ARM3c Robert Bourne, radioman; ARM3cs Giddings and Rice, assistant radio operators; and SN Kowalski, assistant rigger.
The K-ships taxied and soared above the base. K-32 turned south by southwest to fly over Key West and sweep northward up the straits. Lt. Grills and his crew in K-74 headed straight over the Atlantic, then turned south and into the annals of Naval Aviation history!
Night fell and the U-134 rose from beneath the sea. It was a quiet evening. The sea was mild and the winds light. The sub's crew threw open the hatches to vent carbon dioxide and take in fresh air, then clambered topside. The long hours passed while 500 feet above, K-74 was approaching on an overhead course.
About 23:30, a bright spot appeared on the blimp's radar. The possible contact was encrypted and transmitted back to base. In the cramped gondola, the 10 Navy men took stock of their weapons and the impending situation. The blimp headed toward the radar contact.
K-74 sailed out of a cloud bank and found the U-boat cruising below. The blimp circled as her skipper weighed the realities: the sub was on a course heading right for the two merchant ships which were sailing down the straits, 30 minutes behind K-74. The merchant ships were at risk and K-74 had the element of surprise in her favor. Grills transmitted his intention to attack. At 23:50, K-74 dropped to 250 feet and began her bombing run.
As the distance closed, the watchstanders aboard the U-boat sighted the blimp. The Nazis opened fire with 20mm machine guns located aft of the conning tower. AOM3c Eckert returned fire from the car's nose mounted machine gun. Then, theGerman 88mm deck gun commenced firing.
U. S. Navy tracers ricocheted down the length of the sub's deck, while enemy fire thumped into the airship bag. A round punctured the shield beside Eckert's gun. He slapped another belt in and continued firing prolonged bursts.
When the airship passed over the U-boat, antiaircraft fire hit the K-74's engines. The starboard engine burst into flames. As AMM3c Schmidt turned to extinguish the fire, ARM3c Bourne dashed off the squadron's mayday signal: "Urgent, Fired On." The airship was now directly over the sub. AMM2c Stessel pulled the bomb releases, but the bombs did not leave the rack.
With enemy fire punishing her undefended stern, K-74 limped out of range. Schmidt had extinguished the fire, but both engines were damaged. The airship was losing altitude. The crew dumped gas and jettisoned the tanks. No help. K-74 slowly descended. At 23:55, the tail of the airship touched the water and began to settle. The battle had lasted five minutes. It's harrowing aftermath began.
Wearing their "Mae West" inflatable vests, the crew entered the water through the doors and windows of the flooding blimp car. The life raft, tossed out without a tether line, immediately deployed and drifted away with the Gulf Stream. They were on their own.
Grills swan back around the sinking car to make sure all crewmen had escaped. In so doing, he separated from the others and the same strong current carried him away. When he got his bearings, the blimp was nowhere in sight. Instead, a dark shape was bearing down on him at flank speed. It was one of the merchant ships coming down the slot, oblivious to the battle that had occurred. Grills recalled, "It was coming right at me and I was frantic to get out of the way, shouting and waving my hands. I saw the watch on the fantail, smoking a cigarette." The ship passed in the night, leaving Grills alone in the water.
The rest of the K-74's crew stayed together beside the settling blimp bag. They held on to each other in two bobbing masses adrift at sea.
Through the long night they did not know if the Nazi sub would return to capture them as prisoners or finish them off. They had no idea how much damage Eckert's marksmanship had done. Nor did "Sparks" Bourne realize his Mayday transmission was picked up by K-32's ARM2c Turek, who realized it must be K-74 in trouble and relayed the message to NAS Richmond.
At first light, a Grumman J4F Widgeon amphibian from ZP-21, took off to begin the search. At 07:49, the aircraft was over the scene. The sea was getting rougher, while nine men splashed and waved. The aircraft saw them and dipped its wings, but it was too choppy to land. The aircraft flew off to find the Dahlgren and lead her to the scene. Rescue was on the way.
THEN CAME THE SHARKS
Stessel had become separated from the rest when the men had let go of each other to wave. The others saw the shark fin break the surface and head straight for him. There was no time to warn Stessel before the shark attacked. The sailor went under. Momentarily, he reappeared, bathed in crimson. The water frothed as he went under a last time, spreading a red cloud on the surface. The rest of the crew positioned themselves, back to back, and drew their knives.
At 08:15 on 19 July, K-74 finally sank; the only airship lost to enemy action in World War II.
From under the sea came somber volleys fired in requiem for Petty Officer Stessel. K-74's armed depth bombs detonated, exploding in a mournful salute, as if, paying homage to this Navy hero lost in battle.
Dahlgren soon arrived and the Jacob's ladder was thrown over the side for the survivors. Small arms fire kept back the circling sharks while the crew of K-74 climbed to safety. A launch of bluejackets, with a Thompson submachine gun in the bow, searched in vain for any sign of Stessel.
Meanwhile, the K-74 pilot continued to drift miles away. Grills struck out towards the Florida keys on the horizon. It was late in the day and the aviator was severely sunburned and nearing exhaustion when K-32 passed over. Keen-eyed AMM3c Max May, saw the struggling swimmer, and the K-32 dropped flares. Grills had swum six miles before he was sighted, picked up by a launch from a local rescue unit and transported to Dahlgren. He had been in the water for 19 hours.
After the war, German Submarine Command records revealed U-134 reported downing a U. S. Navy airship. The sub cited sustaining battle damage to her No. 5, main ballast tank and No. 4 diving tank. After surviving two more attacks, U-134 was ordered to return to base in France for repairs. Enroute in August, her luck ran out when two Royal Air Force bombers intercepted her in the Bay of Biscay and sent her to the bottom. A blimp for a sub: the wages of war.
If the airship had not joined the battle, the U-boat would have come upon the tanker and the freighter before Dahlgren or shore based aircraft could have intervened. Because of the blimp crew's actions, the merchant ships got through.
Grills and Bourne were awarded the Purple Heart. After their release from active duty, radiomen Bourne and Turek received Letters of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy for their quick actions as did AMM3c May his sharp lookout. Twenty years after the event, Grills was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Chief Attwood is Youth Programs Coordinator at Navy Recruiting District, Miami, Florida.
This story was originally published in the March-April, 1997 edition of Naval Aviation News
19 July, 1997 - 54 years after the loss of AMM2c Isadore Stessel, as a result of enemy fire, 12 family members, former crewmembers, and invited guests of the Friends of NAS Richmond, returned to the Gulf Stream to commemorate his death. Aboard a 41 foot, U.S. Coast Guard, patrol boat, the somber party left the dock at Coast Guard Base, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at 09:00, Saturday, 19 July, 1997. They proceeded several miles offshore for Divine Services at Sea, En Momento Mori. On station by 09:30, YNC Anthony Attwood brought the group to order, and the Chaplaincy pennent for the Jewish faith, was hoisted on the after flag staff. Chief Attwood then reiterated the conditions of Seaman Stessel's death. Mr. Robert H. Bourne, former ARM3c, radioman aboard the K-74 read a verse of the Navy Hymn followed by a verse each by Peter Simpson and Francis Brophy LT James McGibbon then read the committal service. A ceremonial wreath of red, white and blue carnations, was put over the side by Mr. Nelson G. Grills, former Lieutenant and pilot of K-74, and Mr. Saul Stessel, cousin of Isadore Stessel. Accompanied by Chief Attwood on guitar, all aboard sang three verses of the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The service was concluded by Chief Attwood, and the boat returned to Fort Lauderdale. In attendance were Nelson G. Grills and his wife Reva M. Grills, Robert H. Bourne and his wife, Earline Bourne, Leonard Simpson, Sally Simpson, and Peter Simpson, Saul Stessel, Timothy Brophy, Susie Brophy, Francis Brophy, Francis E. Brophy, LT James McGibbon, YNC Anthony Attwood, and CAPT Charles M. LaBow.
For more information about the German U-boats in World War II, FOLLOW THIS LINK.
This page is maintained by volunteers and "Friends of Naval Air Station - Richmond"
In 1942, as World War II heated up and the United States became move involved, the U.S. government ordered a massive buildup in military facilities.
One of these facilities was Naval Air Station, Richmond. Commissioned September 15, 1942 the Navy started construction of a major airship or "LTA" air station took its name from the "Richmond Lumber Company" which had built a saw mill on the property around the turn of the century, to harvest and process the large stands of "Dade county pine", a type of pine tree noted for its high sap content which makes it almost totally impervious to insect and termite infestation and is so hard after drying and aging, that it is often worked with metal working tools.
NAS Richmond became the world’s largest blimp base. Located on about 2,500 acres of land (1,012 hectares) in the then near wilderness, 20 miles (30.6 km) southwest of the city of Miami, Florida's central business district. The Navy started construction of a major airship or "LTA" air station.
The need for the NAS Richmond facility came from the Nazi U-boat threat to Allied merchant marine. To provide anti-submarine patrol, rescue, escort and utility services in this area, Blimp Patrol Squadron ZP-21 arrived in October 1942.
The base grew quickly, using native timber and millions of board-feet of lumber shipped in from the Pacific-Northwest. Three large airship hangars and all of an active navy base's support buildings and barracks were soon completed. Over $13,000,000 was expended in the creation of the fully independent base which boasted three 16.5 story hangars over 1,000 feet in length.
The only recorded contact between a blimp and a submarine occurred on July 18, 1943 when Navy airship K-74 encountered Nazi U-134 in the Florida Straits. Shot down by anti-aircraft fire from the U-boat, the blimp sunk with loss of one life.
The three airship hangars to be built at NAS Richmond were designed by naval engineer Arsham Amirikian, who designed a total of 15, nearly identical hangars for bases along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Each of the three hangars were 157 feet (47,9 m) high to the bottom of the truss arch, 257 feet (78,3 m) wide to the inside of the truss span, and 297 feet (90,5 m) wide on the outside. Each hangar was 1088 feet (404,8 m) long and covered an area of about 7 acres (2,8 hectares). The doors at each end of each hangar were composed of 6 panels, rolling on steel railroad tracks imbedded in the concrete apron. Each door panel was 120 feet (36,6 m) high and 3.5 feet (1,2 m) thick and are considered the largest single door panels ever designed and built.
The hangars were built of structural grade wooden timbers (mostly Douglas fir) to conserve steel needed for the war effort. By using wood, each hangar saved over 4,000 tons (3,880 metric tons) of much needed steel which went to building tanks, airplanes, etc. All fabrication was done in shops. Mill order lists, shop drawings, template work, and pre-cutting was accomplished and the finished pieces of the "hanger kit" were sent to treatment plants to be made fire resistant.
The hangar trusses were of a revolutionary type of construction. Each hangar consisted of 51, timber, hingeless, arch trusses on 20 foot (6,1 m) centers. To build the trusses, a traveling scaffold was constructed on top of 18 standard railroad flat cars. 3 cars on each of 6 rails running the length of each hangar. The scaffold consisted of a large, step-tabled platform, with the difference between platform elevations corresponding to the lengths of the trusses which could be easily handled. The scaffold was roughly the size of a 14 story building 120' by 190' (36,6 m by 57,9 m).
The first 80 '(24,4 m) section of trusses were assembled on the ground and lifted into place. Next, 40' (12,2 m) sections for each side, were assembled on the first level of the platform and hoisted into place with booms and tackle mounted on the scaffold. Likewise, the next two sections were assembled in the same way. Finally, the crown or center piece was assembled on the top of the platform and hoisted into place with gin-pole derricks. In the early stages of construction, workers built 1.5 arch bays per day. With experience, the number climbed to 2.75 per day!
Each hangar required:
2,719,000 board feet of lumber (252.603,4 square meters) A board foot is a unit of lumber measure, one foot square and one inch thick.
79.5 tons (72,1 metric tons) of bolts and washers.
30.5 tons (27,6 metric tons) of miscellaneous ring connectors.
33 tons (29,9 metric tons) of miscellaneous structural steel.
Each scaffold was constructed of 375,000 board feet (34.838,64 square meters) of lumber and 30 tons (27,1 metric tons) of steel.
Rafters were added after all of the trusses were in place. The entire surface was then covered with tongue and groove sheathing from the outside. The roof covering covered an area of approximately 10 acres (4,1 hectares). After the sheathing was in place, a composition roofing paper was applied over a tacked, felt slip sheet. Men installing the roofing were suspended from staging platforms, working from bottom to top.
The huge doors at each end of the hangars were built from structural steel members and covered in fire resistant plywood. The doors "tucked" into the enormous concrete towers (one of which is still on the Gold Coast Railroad/NAS Richmond property). The doors rolled on carriages supported by steel rails on the bottom and steel door tracks on top. The upper track was supported by a box beam girder spanning the door opening.
Of course, the last question everyone asks... each hangar cost approximately $2,500,000.00 in 1942 dollars. If you had built these hangars, in 2002, each one would cost $27,684,049.00. Just imagine the cost of building these hangars today!
A major hurricane on September 14th and 15th of 1945 resulted in the destruction of the three “hurricane proof”
blimp hangars and the resultant loss of twenty-five blimps and 365 fixed wing aircraft parked in the hangars.
NAS Richmond ceased operations in November 1945 with portions of the facility becoming
Miami University, Miami Metrozoo, and assorted private and government applications.
The only remaining base-related building is, Building 25, the Headquarters Building.
Only door structures survived.
In late 1995, the decision was made to create an exhibit detailing the history and important role the base played during World War II. On 16 September, 1995, over 200 people assembled on the apron of what was Hangar 1, Naval Air Station, Richmond, to honor and commemorate the 50th anniversary of World War II. Colors were presented by Navy Sea Cadets. The invocation was by Mr. Ken Fox, former machinist mate, who was stationed at NAS Richmond. Ms. Maggi Cook read the Dade Heritage Trust resolution of support. Ms. Connie Greer presented a plaque, accepted for the veterans by LCDR. James Sinquefield (retired), former WWII blimp pilot. A speech by NAS Curator YN1 Anthony Attwood, USNR, was followed by a tour of the base by NAS Curators, Cesar Becerra and Alan Crockwell.
The groundbreaking was at the NAS boiler room. Handling the "Gold Shovel", were CDR Paul Reiman, USN, Commanding Officer, Navy Recruiting District, Mrs. Robertson, wife of W.W. II blimp skipper, Allan McElhiney, NAS Fort Lauderdale Curator, and Cole Crockwell, son of Alan Crockwell and future Navy Historian.
Also on hand were LCDR Tomas Zapata, USCG, LCDR Paul Gilson, Navy League, MSCM Bob Browdy, USN (Retired), LT Steve Lorcher, USN, Alex Durr, Association of Naval Aviation, and a host of other good folks!
The Grand Opening of the Naval Air Station, Richmond exhibit occurred 14 September, 1996.
Building 25 (1942) Building 25 (1962) Building 25 (1996)
Just outside the fences of Miami's Metrozoo - a 740-acre park where sleek monorails glide above a faux African plain-sits a handsome two-story wooden building surrounded by tall grass. A few boards hang askew from its clapboard exterior, and the roof above its portico is held up temporarily with steel girders. To get here, we've threaded our cars through a forest of spindly pine trees to this reclaimed clearing, a journey that evokes an exciting sense of discovering something forgotten. Just outside the building's entrance, Navy Petty Officer John Smith yanks the cord on a portable generator, which coughs to life. A few lights flick on, and we head down a creaky hallway and enter a large storage room, where a slide projector sits on a table and overturned paint buckets serve as seats. It's hot in here.
We're inside what was once the headquarters of Naval Air Station Richmond, a blimp base hastily constructed in the early months of World War II. As the slide projector clatters, Naval Reserve Chief Yeoman Anthony Atwood narrates and two former crewmen, who launched on blimps near here, stand by to lend their voices to the story. The crewmen, Ford Ross and James Sinquefield, have joined a small band of enthusiasts organized by Atwood who want to restore the headquarters building and convert it into a museum.
As Atwood talks, his hands make shadows on the sepia-tinted photos flashing on the wall. "Richmond was eventually home to 25 K-series blimps, three hangars, and 3,000 men," he says. "The hangars were 16 stories tall, built of Douglas fir brought in by train. The blimps protected ship convoys in the Florida Straits, and [Richmond] was the headquarters for the fight against Nazi U-boats operating in the Caribbean."
Ford interrupts: "That's not a K-type blimp, Anthony, that's an M-type."
Atwood rolls his eyes. "Okay, okay, as I was saying...," he says.
The story proceeds, and the enthusiasm brims. Atwood, Ross, and Sinquefield tell me that except for this building, the only other above-ground remnant of the base is one of the massive hangars' corner pillars, which stands about 300 yards away. But other clues to the site's past are around, if you look carefully. Directly outside the building under the relentless sub-tropical undergrowth, Atwood's volunteers found a four-foot-wide Marine Corps emblem the Marines had placed next to NAS Richmond's flagpole. And the old ramp is in plain view-it's now part of the parking lot at the zoo. Families who've come for a nature experience exit their minivans where ground crew released the mooring lines that sent the lumbering blimps on their lonely patrols for German U-boats.
Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, enemy submarines began bringing the war close to the U.S. mainland. In late 1941, a Japanese submarine shelled a highway outside Santa Barbara, California, and on the Atlantic coast, U-boats would sink 574 U.S. and Allied merchant ships in 1942. When the war began, the U.S. Navy had only 10 blimps capable of coastal anti-submarine patrols. Soon more than 200 would join the fleet.
Most of them were K-type airships, powered by two Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp engines, which gave them a top speed of 77 mph. Their envelopes were three-ply cotton bags impregnated with rubber or synthetic neoprene. The interior was coated with paraffin to make it leakproof. Most of the K-ships were 252 feet long and held as much as 456,000 cubic feet of helium. But when deflated, the five-ton envelope could fit into a shipping box 12 feet long, six feet high, and six feet wide.
Fleet Airship Wing Two was formed at newly built NAS Richmond to cover the Caribbean. On July 18, 1943, K-74 and K-32 lifted off their concrete pads and rose over south Florida for a routine patrol. K-74 was headed for the upper keys, while K-32 was to fly farther out to sea, turn south toward Key West, and finally head north again. Later that evening, both airships would be in position to keep watch over a tanker and freighter scheduled to pass from the Gulf of Mexico through the Florida Straits to the open Atlantic.
Blimp patrols were mind-numbingly boring, lasting as long as 12 hours. Armed with a single .50-caliber machine gun and four depth bombs hanging from racks beneath their control cars, the craft were hardly intended for heavy combat. Their crews were ordered to monitor the positions of friendly ship traffic and report any sightings of U-boats, which could then be attacked by warships, if any were in the area, or by fighters from Naval Air Station Key West.
K-74's skipper, Lieutenant Nelson Grills, commanded a crew of nine: co-pilot Jay Jandrowitz, navigator Darnley Eversley, mechanic J.L. Schmidt, bombardier Isadore Stessel, radiomen Robert Bourne, J.M. Giddings, and John Rice, gunner G. Eckert, and seaman J.W. Kowalski. As the craft took up its station over the straits, U-boat U-134 was running on the surface and recharging its batteries, its crew on deck enjoying the fresh night air. The blimp's crewmen first saw two blips on their radar, clearly the merchant ships they were monitoring. Then, near midnight, they saw a third blip. They moved forward to investigate. And there it was: a German submarine, on the surface and headed in the direction of the two merchant ships. There was no time to marshall aircraft to intercept the sub. Grills descended to 250 feet and opened the throttles to bring the blimp to its maximum speed.
"We were in a tough spot...," Grills told Anthony Atwood in 1997. "We decided that the best we could do was see if we'd draw fire. We felt that saving those ships was worth the blimp."
The German crew saw K-74 and opened up from the conning tower with a 20-mm cannon. Grills' crew returned fire. As the blimp passed over the submarine, the sub's deck gun shot up its envelope and damaged its engines, which caught fire. According to Atwood, the crew released their depth bombs, but as the airship's aft section passed by the submarine, K-74 took more fire and began to lose altitude. Within minutes, it settled into the waves and U-134 slipped away into the night.
The crewmen scrambled out of the control car's hatches and inflated their life preservers, but their raft floated away before they could board it. Within minutes, one of the merchant vessels K-74 had been monitoring cruised past, oblivious to the recent battle. Its sailors didn't see the blimp's crewmen in the water, clinging to each other to stay together. Radioman Bourne had managed to send a message to Richmond before the blimp went down, and by morning, a rescue aircraft spotted the men and directed a rescue ship to pick them up. But Isadore Stessel had become separated from the rest, and as he waved to the aircraft, he was attacked and killed by a shark. Grills had become separated too. It wasn't until later that evening, after spending close to 20 hours in the water and fending off another shark, that he was finally spotted by K-32 and rescued.
Grills and his crew were initially under a cloud of disapproval for attacking the sub against orders and for the loss of the blimp. But after the squadron commander interviewed the crew, Grills, and later the rest of the crew, received the Purple Heart. It wasn't until 1961-after analysis of German records revealed that K-74 had damaged U-134-that Grills received the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Still, vindication for one member of the crew was slower in coming. It took 40 years for the Navy to give a commendation medal to Isadore Stessel's family. "It was a bunch of 19- to 20-year-old kids in a blimp risking their lives," says Saul Stessel, Isadore's cousin. "They did damage that sub-the radio contacts give evidence that the blimp hurt them and they could not submerge. It was [later] attacked by a Navy Avenger [torpedo bomber], and it got as far as Spain until it was attacked by a [Royal Navy] Liberator and sunk."
The shootdown of K-74 is the only recorded combat loss of a blimp during the more than 500,000 hours of patrols flown worldwide during the war.
The sawgrass is whipping through the open windows of a Hummer, the civilian version of the burly military Humvee. Alan Crockwell, an amateur historian who volunteers his time to a growing effort to preserve Richmond's headquarters building, guides the vehicle to a flat table of asphalt surrounded by pine trees. We've parked where one of Richmond's three blimp hangars once stood-massive 1,086-foot-long structures made of wood beams and hung with sliding iron doors, whose graceful roofs arced to 183 feet.
As the war drew to a close, the base's K-series blimps were joined by new M-series ships that the Navy tested here. But in September 1945, scarcely two months after the war was over, the base was called upon once again to face down an enemy lurking at sea-a hurricane tracing a lazy path through the Caribbean. At the time, hurricane prediction was a shaky science at best-all that was known was that the storm would likely strike the state, but it was unknown where it would come ashore. Military aircraft-Grumman F6F Hellcats, Corsairs, and P-51 Mustangs, among others-were flown from nearby bases and from the deck of the USS Guadalcanal to the refuge offered by NAS Richmond's sturdy and cavernous blimp hangars.
The storm came ashore on the mangrove-entwined coast of south Florida, cut a swath across southern Dade County, and tore through Richmond NAS. The hangars, which stood close together and were stuffed with blimps and hundreds of fighters and bombers, withstood the winds. But one of them caught fire, perhaps from a short circuit. Witnesses reported seeing the winds drive flames horizontal, and eventually all three hangars were ablaze, lighting the night sky with burning wood, aircraft, and fuel. When the rain stopped, only the smaller buildings and the hangars' concrete corner pillars were standing.
Crockwell kneels and picks up a few oddly shaped glass beads from the asphalt pad. Others are melted irregularly into the surface, interspersed with a few metal fragments.
"You can really get a sense of how hot the fire was," says Crockwell. "These beads are all that's left of the windows. We find a lot of other fragments of glass and metal around-pieces of aircraft and airships."
Crockwell motions to the overgrowth next to the pad. "One of the legends of the place is that after the war was over, they dug big pits and pushed the aircraft parts into them," he says. "It's enticing to think that somewhere out here there may be pits full of World War II aircraft parts. Some of the oral accounts tell us that after the fire, you could buy a P-51 for $50."
As the Navy cleared the wreckage of the base, a demolition team dynamited the concrete pillars. One refused to fall. Now one of the highest structures in southern Dade County, it's bristling with antennas and is the central relaying station for the area's 911 service. Blimps never returned permanently after the storm, but the base's helium plant continued to supply Navy airships for years. Richmond's other buildings served a variety of uses, such as providing classroom space for servicemen going to school under the G.I. Bill, and later as space for Naval and Marine Corps Reserve units. The end came in 1992, when hurricane Andrew leveled all except the headquarters and that single, stubborn pillar.
Today, Anthony Atwood and his volunteers hope to give the HQ building its final assignment, as the official all-service military museum and memorial of south Florida. Atwood, a former Navy recruiter on temporary recall at a reserve station, has made the salvation of Richmond's headquarters building and the memory of the blimps and crews that flew here his own crusade, and intends the story of NAS Richmond to be the subject of his master's thesis for an advanced degree in history.
The year before the city of Miami's centennial in 1996, Atwood says, "there was a lot of community consciousness raising, and being a community-activist-type person, I [wanted to organize] a commemorative event at the site of the old blimp base." To honor U.S. servicemen, Atwood put together a ceremony that attracted 300 people and raised an American flag where NAS Richmond's flagpole once stood.
Bolstered by the turnout, Atwood and a core of volunteers set up a display about the base at the nearby Goldcoast Railroad Museum. As the group began to publicize its efforts, members placed on display in the headquarters building artifacts they found nearby, including aluminum fragments from the blimps and structural parts of the hangars. More volunteers came forward, some of whom had been blimp crewmen or had served at the base as civilians, and gradually the idea of restoring the HQ building took hold.
"I'd like to see this as a federal institution-an ongoing museum for young and old alike," Atwood says. "We hope to see a veterans' memorial, nature trails behind the building, and a replica of the Vietnam [memorial in Washington, D.C.] wall."
Before restoration, however, a few problems with the building's location must be solved. Although the Army Corps of Engineers owns both the building and the land around it, nearby land is owned by the University of Miami, which has its own plans for expansion, and access to the old base is limited. The solution is to raise the building by hydraulic jacks and truck it about 350 yards to a plot of federal land accessible from the neighboring Metrozoo's main entrance road. Atwood has enlisted the help of several Florida politicians, including U.S. Senator Bob Graham and Representatives Carrie Meek and E. Clay Shaw Jr., to steer the project through the competing priorities of a major university, federal agencies, and one of the largest zoological parks in the nation. Mayor Paul Novack of Surfside, a town just north of Miami, has been a key ally. "In this place, the museum would be a natural buffer between the zoo and [nearby] development," Novack says. "And when the building is moved, the land behind it will be restored to a natural state."
"It's just the right thing to do," says Atwood, whose father hit the beach on D-Day during World War II and who has the conviction-and salesmanship-of a military recruiter. Even though negotiations have been long and complicated, they have resulted in what he calls "a strange coalition of environmentalists and military people slightly to the right of Attila the Hun."
Once the officials have inked the deal and the structure is moved to its new home and restored, NAS Richmond's headquarters building-survivor of war and at least five hurricanes-will return to service, reminding its visitors that long before exotic animals roamed nearby, blimps prowled the skies.
The NAS Richmond crew is: James Sinquefield, LCDR, USN (retired), our "Pilot"; YN1 Anthony Attwood, USNR, our "Navigator"; Cesar Becerra, our "Sparks"; Alan Crockwell, our "Gunner"; and Gold Coast Museum Director, Connie Greer, our "Ground Controller".
The Friends of NAS Richmond is an informal, non-profit association of aviation buffs, veterans, patriotic, community minded citizens, servicemen and women dedicated to preserving for future generations, the rich military heritage of historic South Florida.
This page IS NOT an official U.S. Navy site.
The SILVER CRESCENT was heavily damaged by hurricane ANDREW. It is open on weekends, but the interior has not yet been refurbished. Below is a cutaway drawing of the Silver Crescent. Below the image is a virtual tour of the car which references numbers and locations in the drawing.
Refer to this drawing for "Tour Locations"
You are now entering railroading's finest example of the "Streamliner Era." This magnificent round end "Visa-Dome" car was one of seven which always graced the rear of every "California Zephyr" train. The numbers shown along with additional notices will guide you on your tour. We are sure that you will have an interesting time exploring "Silver Crescent" from America's "Most Talked About Train" - The California Zephyr.
When built in 1948, this streamliner embodied the most modern systems and controls: 8 wheel disc brakes, anti-slide braking system, on-board brake indicators, tight-lock safety couplers, demand load electrical system, micro-switch controlled vestibule step lights, specialized draftless central air conditioning, carbon dioxide monitoring, electrostatic air purification, and much more. All this to make your journey aboard the "California Zephyr" the best trip possible.
"Built by BUDD", Red Lion Plant, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Year Built: December, 1948.
Order Date: October, 1945.
Lot Number: 9659-021.
Pullman Plan Number: 9511.
Length: 85 feet 0 inches (25.9 m).
Width: 10 feet 5 inches (3.12m).
Height: 15 feet 10 inches (4.82 m).
Weight: 159,000 pounds (72.121,1 k) 79-1/2 tons.
Construction: The body and frame are built of 18-8 stainless steel, assembled by a unique Budd patent called "Shotwelding" which eliminated the need for bolting or conventional welding.
Air Conditioning: 10 ton (176856,25 J/Wh), dual evaporator, water condenser, Frigidaire system.
Electrical Systems: 32 VDC from an axle driven generator.
32 VDC from 8 lead-acid storage batteries.
110 VAC from two motor alternators.
110 VAC from "shore power" connection.
220 VAC from "standby" shore power.
6 VDC from dry cell batteries.
Generator Capacity: 25,000 Watts, 32 VDC.
Electric Motors: 21.
Air Operated Motors: 6.
Light Bulbs: Incandescent - 106.
Fluorescent - 104.
Neon - 3.
Total All: 203.
Water Capacity: 500 Gallons (1.892,8 l) Potable.
150 Gallons (567,8 l) Air conditioning condenser.
Miles Logged: over 4,000,000 (6.437.360 + Km).
Time In Service: March 20,1949 to March 22, 1970.
Pullman Space Sold In This Car (alone): Over 15,000.
As you enjoy your tour of "Silver Crescent", you may hear music and announcements. The songs are all hits of the '50s and '60s - the period of "California Zephyr" service. The announcements on points of interest, equipment, and dining information are taken from the actual script of the "Zephyrette" hostess. Imagine that you are one of the First Class passengers traveling through the plains, deserts, deep gorges, and majestic mountains of the American West as you continue to explore one of the most famous trains in the history of railroading - the "California Zephyr".
This small seat was where your Pullman porter took short cat-naps during the 2-1/2 day trip through the West. A call enunciator panel across the aisle alerted him to the needs of his cabin passengers. He stored your luggage, put your beds down at night and up in the morning, and made your trip a pleasure. Also in this area are located the linen and folding table storage cabinets, public restroom, chilled water fountain, and the electrical locker.
As you now make a right and left turn you enter the aisle along which you will see a representative view of the type of accommodations available to First Class passengers onboard the "California Zephyr." Each room has individual controls for cooling, heating, three different channels of music, and a public address channel. There is a porter's call button in every room and a visitor's call button outside the door of each bedroom. Note that there is a large window in each room as well as another directly across the aisle on the opposite side of the car. This adds to the feeling of spaciousness.
All bedroom passengers had their own private bathroom. The bathrooms had all the normal amenities: sink with hot and cold water, soap, hand towels, circulating chilled water, cups, and flushing toilets. Only one public bedroom on the entire twelve car train had a shower. You will see it in the exclusive Drawing Room "D".
You may notice that these bedroom appear somewhat small, but remember that before this period in American rail history, public sleeping cars normally consisted of open-section accommodations with common bathrooms and little privacy. These bedrooms you are now viewing were the best compromise of space, revenue, privacy, and comfort. Their design has changed little over the past forty years. First Class passengers considered these rooms to be a wonderful improvement over what there had been before.
Most rooms were designed for one or two persons, but a few rooms had the ability to become a four person suite. This was possible by way of a folding wall partition dividing the two rooms. For traveling families, this was very convenient. Mom and Dad could enjoy their privacy at night by refolding the wall into place. They could still reach the other members of the family by means of a small lockable door located in the room divider.
Here in bedroom "C" is the same cabin layout you saw in cabin "A" but now configured for sleeping. Your porter most likely made up the beds while the occupants were at dinner in the diner. Just as the splendor of the Rockies and Feather River were scheduled for daytime, so the Nevada Deserts and Great Plains were timed for nighttime crossings. If the passengers had placed their shoes in the locker provided in each room, the porter would have shined them during the late night hours and returned them to the locker by dawn.
Drawing Room "D" was the most unique accommodation on the entire "California Zephyr." It was the largest bedroom, sleeping three persons. It was the bedroom closest to the bar (very important for some). But its most popular feature was the full functioning shower. No other bedroom on the CZ had one. All this luxury did not come cheap - the Pullman fare in 1970 was $98 per person for the 2-1/2 day, 2,525 mile (4,063.5 Km) trip between Chicago and Oakland. Despite the cost, this room was very popular, and difficult to reserve. But what a way to go!
Here in the Bar/Lounge, First Class passengers could relax enjoying tavern service before meals or spend the late night hours socializing with fellow passengers. Diner reservations could be made with the bartender who would then call them in to the Dining Car Steward. An enunciator panel located near the radio would alert the Bartender to the needs of passenger service both here, and in the rear observation lounge. The tavern area contains a sink, freezer, refrigerator, glassware, and dry storage. No food service was provided at the bar.
Three original works of art appear in the tavern:
1. Gold-backed, etched bar-back mirrors of songbirds by David Harriton.
2. Carved linoleum bar-front of wild game birds by Pierre Bourdelle. (Shown below)
3. Western Impressionistic wall paintings by Russell Patterson.
Each of the seven observation taverns, such as this one, had different variations on the above themes. Each was an original work.
This lounge was "THE" social meeting room for First Class "California Zephyr" passengers. Deep cushioned chairs and the high curved ceiling gave a wonderful air of quiet relaxation as passengers watched the miles retreat behind the graceful curves of this graceful rear observation car. While chatting with fellow travelers, one could summon the courteous attendant simply by pressing one of the call buttons located within easy reach of every chair. A writing desk was available with a good supply of post cards and stationary. A mail drop was located in the desk. Magazines supplied varied reading matter: Look, Colliers, Life, and the "Post" were always on hand.
When the "California Zephyr" concept was formed in 1945 by the Burlington, Rio Grande, and Western Pacific, it was decided to use the car naming system then being used by the Burlington for its stainless steel trains: a car name always prefixed by the word "Silver." The "CZ" used 77 "Silver" names in its fleet of beautiful stainless steel cars. "Silver Crescent" has six sister observation cars. They are: "Silver Horizon", "Silver Penthouse", "Silver Sky", "Silver Planet", "Silver Solarium", and "Silver Lookout."
Almost all of the "CZ's" 77 car fleet survives, but virtually every one has been modified by their new owners. Most are in Amtrak, Canadian, Mexican, or private service. An unrestored diner rests in a California museum. "Silver Crescent" and "Silver Stag" reside here at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum. "Silver Crescent" is the only "CZ" passenger car to survive in its "in-service' appearance. You see her now just as you would had you been riding her in the 1960's. She is the finest example of the "Golden (or should we say "Silver") age of the Streamliners".
While most trains of the '50s and '60s provided great on-board services, the "California Zephyr" added unmatched daylight scenery. The fabulous climb up the Front Range of the Rockies; paralleling the grand Colorado River while passing through the great canyons of Byers, Gore, Glenwood, and Ruby. The beautiful passage through the Sierras and the wonder of Feather River Canyon. All this great scenery was timed to be passed in daylight, both West and East bound. The best of the West at "See" level on the "California Zephyr."
For brief times, the "CZ" needed to be operated in reverse as when backing into Denver Union Station. By opening the top of the cabinet at the right rear of the observation lounge, the brakeman had access to full braking and signaling controls. The controls:
Orange handled "Air Horn."
Blue handled "Trainline Signal Valve."
Brass handled "Air Brake Control Valve."
The hand operated windshield wiper kept the rear window clear on those rare rainy days.
It was common for trains to carry their name on the rear car. The "CZ" was no different. On the rear of each of the seven Dome Observation Lounge cars of the "CZ" was installed a stainless steel box with the words "California Zephyr" emblazoned in red tubular neon. Between the words was an enameled painting of the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline. You may see the sign illuminated on occasional weekends. A beautiful finale bringing up the rear of America's most popular "Cruise" train.
Protection of its trains from rear end mishaps was always on the minds of the railroads. As one effective deterrent, a unique anti-collision light was designed by the Mars Signal Light Company. A bright red beacon which swept the sky with a horizontal figure eight pattern was used on the rear of all "California Zephyr" trains. In addition, the unit could be electrically rotated to become a solid white headlight to aide in backing into stations such as Denver. This light is still operational on "Silver Crescent."
As you will notice, the handrails of the stairway leading to the famous Vista-Dome are made of solid clear Lucite plastic. Of the 31 Vista-Domes of the "California Zephyr", only the seven dome observation cars had this unusual feature. During evening hours, lights at the top and bottom of the stairway transmitted a soft amber glow through these beautiful handrails. It produced a wonderful effect while ascending into the star filled night of the "Vista-Dome". It still functions today at it did on those nights long since passed.
During the first ten years of the "CZ" the space over the writing desk was a bare painted wall. In the early '60s a large, beautiful photograph of the famous "Golden Gate" and San Francisco was installed. A reminder to the Westbound passengers of the magnificent Bay Area soon to be their destination - to the Eastbound, fond memories of "The City By The Bay."
The "Vista-Dome" was developed for the great scenic route over which the "California Zephyr" operated between Chicago, Illinois, and Oakland, California. The "CZ" was equipped with five "Vista-Domes" on each of its six trainsets - more domes than any other train in the world. The first three domes in each train were for coach passengers and the last two, including this one, were for Pullman sleeping car passengers. None of the dome seats were individually reserved. Imagine those fabulous views that were seen from these most famous of the "Vista-Domes!"
You now stand in the only "Vista-Dome" showing its complete "In-Service" appearance. The seats, carpets, and paint are just as you would have seen them when the "CZ" cruised the Rockies and Sierra. Each of the train's five "Vista-Domes" had 24 chairs, a total of 120 unreserved dome seats. The chairs have the ability to swivel, so that parties of four could sit facing one another. Looking forward along the roof, you see the AM radio antenna. This was used with the signal seeking radio located in the tavern.
When the "CZ," America's most famous "Cruise" train was launched in March, 1949, windshield wipers were considered necessary to keep the front and rear dome windows clean. But very soon it was realized that the locomotive exhaust mixed with splattered bugs and a little rain made an impossible mess when the wipers were turned on. Also the blades of the wipers became damaged when the cars were being washed with the rotary brushes. Soon after the "CZ" was introduced, the wipers were removed, never to be used again. Well, not until now. You are standing in the only "Vista-Dome" to have its windshield wipers restored to its 1949 appearance. Four of the six air actuated "Trico" wiper motors are the originals installed in 1948!
Now that you have toured this unique streamliner, "See" the "California Zephyr" in actual action! Two complete trips from Chicago to Oakland, taken in the '50s and '60s are available on one VHS cassette. These professionally produced films give you a beautiful ride through the towering Rockies and beautiful Sierras. You'll see the "CZ" from inside out. You'll see the coaches, diner, sleepers, and the famous observation lounge, all in actual service. Watch the "CZ" as it climbs the Rockies as filmed from the roof of the cars! See why the "CZ" was called "The Most Talked About Train In The Country", and why at one time it was considered for "National Landmark" status.
"Silver Crescent" was on the rear of the final Westbound "CZ" run, March 20, 1970. This was the end of passenger service on the Western Pacific. A short time later, the WP sold off its "CZ" cars. William Harmsen bought "Silver Crescent" and "Silver Stag" in July 1972 and moved them to his business in west Denver. He used the cars for business meetings and gatherings over the next nine years. On March 1, 1981, he offered the cars to the "Gold Coast Railroad." Extensive preparation for the move took five months. On August 20, 1981, they arrived at the museum. Restoration work began immediately.
The pre-hurricane, fine condition of "Silver Crescent" was due to the untiring efforts of the "Gold Coast" volunteers who devoted their time and money to this unique car. Since acquisition in 1981, countless hours and thousands of donated dollars have gone into this on-going restoration which you have enjoyed seeing today. Your TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATIONS help these efforts to continue.
Narrative written by John F. McLean, Curator, SILVER CRESCENT
For more information on the California Zephyr trains, history, and equipment, visit The California Zephyr Museum Online at http://www.californiazephyr.org/
Please click on the following links to order books about the California Zephyr:
A portion of the sale price every book purchased from AMAZON.COM through these links is donated to the Gold Coast Railroad Museum.
Type: Round-end observation, bar lounge.
Status: Open, On display.
Acquisition Date: August 20, 1981.
Ferdinand Magellan “ U.S. No. 1 Presidential Railcar has been removed from open exhibit. While the exterior of the car is still available for viewing, the interior has been secured due to the preservation needs of the car. The many years of the public passing through the railcar have taken their toll. In order to preserve the car for future generations to study and enjoy, this step has been necessary. We do conduct guided tours of this car! Please go to the admissions page, located here: Hours & Admissions Information Page. The admissions page shows the tour information for the Magellan, and times that we conduct the tours.
Right: The Great Seal of the President of the United States as displayed in bronze on the rear gate of the FERDINAND MAGELLAN
The Ferdinand Magellan is unique among Pullman railroad cars in that it is the only car ever custom built for the President of the United States in the 20th century. One other railcar was built for President Lincoln in the early 1860's, however Lincoln refused to ride in it calling it "too fancy and ornate." The car was used to carry the president's body to his burial place after he was assassinated. Originally built in 1928, the Ferdinand Magellan was one of the last cars ever built as a private car and was one of a group of six cars named after famous explorers. The six cars were; Ferdinand Magellan, David Livingstone, Henry Stanley, Marco Polo, Robert Peary and Roald Amundsen. These cars were all placed in the Pullman general service pool at about the same time and were operated by the Pullman Company over many of the nation's railroads.
Until late 1942, the President of the United States rode in a standard, private Pullman car when he traveled by train. He did not use a specific car, although the Roald Amundsen was frequently assigned to him. In early 1942, just after the United States became involved in World War II, white house aids Michael Reilly and Steven Early suggested that the President of the United States should have a custom built railroad car to afford him maximum protection when he traveled by rail. President Franklin Roosevelt approved of the idea after he was told that the car would not only be used for him but for future Presidents as well. After consideration, the Ferdinand Magellan was chosen to be the Presidential car and was withdrawn from general service and returned to the Pullman Company's "Calumet Shops", near Chicago, Illinois, for complete rebuilding.
The car was originally painted "Pullman Green", a color similar to that of this page. This color was chosen for the Pullman fleet for several reasons, not the least of which is it's ability to not show the type of soot and dirt that accumulates on railroad cars painted in a lighter livery! It is 84' - 0" (25.2 m) long, 15' - 0" (4.57 m) high, and 10' -0" (3.05 m) wide. President Roosevelt's only request for the design was to "make it a little more comfortable", so the interior of the car was redesigned. At the Calumet shops, the number of bedrooms was reduced from five to four to create more room for the dining room and the observation lounge. Nickel-steel armor plate 5/8" (15 mm) thick was riveted on to the sides, floor, roof and ends of the car in a manner that made it undetectable when the car was viewed from any distance. 3" (76.2 mm) thick, bullet resisting glass, manufactured by laminating 12 sheets of 1/4" (6 mm) thick glass into one piece, was installed and sealed into the window frames, replacing conventional safety glass in the windows.
Two escape hatches were built into the car, one in the ceiling of the observation lounge and one on the side wall of the shower/bath in the Presidential bathroom, near the center of the car. Special trucks, wheels and roller bearings were installed to support the additional weight. A "standard," heavyweight, Pullman car of the Magellan's era weighed about 160,000 pounds (72,563 kg). The rebuilt Ferdinand Magellan weighed 285,000 (129,252 kg). At 142.5 tons (129.3 metric tons), it is the heaviest, passenger railcar in the United States!
The Ferdinand Magellan is the only passenger railcar ever designated a "National Historic Landmark" by the United States government. This honor was bestowed on the Ferdinand Magellan by the United States, Department of the Interior, National Parks Service in February. 1985.
To enter the car from the rear, one climbs the steps to the open platform enclosed with polished, brass railings. This platform was often used by the President for making speeches, especially when the car was used for "whistle stop" campaign trips. The famous news photo of Harry Truman holding up a copy of the Chicago Tribune with a banner headline stating "Dewey Defeats Truman" was taken on this platform on Wednesday, November 3, 1948, at the St. Louis, Union Station. (The St. Louis Union Station has been preserved and converted to a shopping mall. It's a beautiful facility worthy of a visit!) A copy of this photo is displayed in the car.
Inside (below), through the armored rear door of the car, is the spacious and restful observation lounge. It is decorated using cream colored woodwork, green carpeting and light brown, tufted wall covering resembling leather. All furnishings, fixtures and equipment throughout the car, are the original equipment that was onboard when the car was turned over to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1942. Although portions of the interior have been repainted as part of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum's restoration and preservation program, the paint has been carefully matched with the original color so that the decor remains unchanged.
Each room in the car has a telephone. When the presidential train was standing in a station, the telephone system was connected to a trainside telephone outlet provided by the local telephone company. When the train was moving, external communications were handled by Army Signal Corps personnel in communications car number 1401, a converted, Baltimore and Ohio combine car, which was used for the president's communication equipment. In later years, this car was replaced by a converted hospital car renamed the General Albert J. Myer.
Between the observation lounge and the dining room are four bedrooms, lettered "A" through "D". Rooms "A" and "D" are identical guest rooms. Each contains an upper and lower berth, vanity, closet, dresser, wash basin, toilet, and medicine cabinet. The lower berth converts into a double seat with a table, while the upper berth retracts into the ceiling. Rooms "B" and "C", with their connecting bathroom, form the presidential suite. Bedroom "B" is the First Lady's bedroom. It has a single bed, larger than a standard Pullman berth, dresser, closet and wash basin. The connecting bath has a shower, bathtub, toilet, and wash basin. Room "C" is the President's bedroom. It is the largest of the bedrooms and contains, in addition to the standard equipment, a commode chair which was installed for President Roosevelt who was a semi-invalid due to polio. Also exhibited in the room is a special wheelchair built for Mr. Roosevelt's use onboard this railcar. The chair is narrow enough to have adequate clearance through the doors and hallways of this railcar.
The dining/conference room is the largest room in the railroad car. The solid mahogany table is 38" x 72" (96.3 cm x 183 cm) and seats eight. This is where the president entertained official visitors while aboard the Magellan. Among the many world leaders entertained in this room was Sir Winston Churchill, who visited both President Roosevelt and President Trumanaboard the car on different occasions. This room also contains the small writing desk which was used by the president when needed for official business.
Through the door at the front end of the dining room is the hallway and door that divides the presidential area from the staff area of the car. Located here is the pantry and steward's quarters, the latter containing a small upper and lower berth, a lavatory and shower and a small closet. Overhead are hot and cold water storage tanks and ventilation equipment. Next is the galley, containing a charcoal stove and an ice box (not a refrigerator). This where the meals were prepared for the presidential party. Finally on either side of the front entrance aisle are an ice hatch and storage compartments. Air conditioning was provided throughout the car by filling the ice storage bunkers with 12, 500 pound (227 kg) blocks of ice. As the ice melted, the chilled water runoff was pumped through copper coils in the ceiling. The air inside the car was circulated over these coils and the cooled air was used to ventilate the car. The warm water that had flowed through the coils was pumped back to the ice bunkers and sprayed over the blocks of ice. In the 1970's the system was converted to mechanical refrigeration, using some of the original cooling coils as part of the chiller system.
The newly rebuilt Ferdinand Magellan was presented to President Roosevelt on December 18, 1942, exactly 14 years from the day it rolled out of the Pullman Company shops as a new unit. During World War II, for security reason, only the word "Pullman" appeared on the outside of the car so that from a distance, the rolling fortress looked like any other private rail car. Whenever it was part of a train, however, the train moved under the commodity code "POTUS" (the first letters of President OfThe United States.) Every railroad official knew that "POTUS" had the right of way over all other rail traffic. To lessen the chance of sabotage during the war, the car did not have a permanent storage location in Washington, D.C. It was moved around when not in use and stored on various sidings at Washington's Union Station, the Potomac Railroad yards, the Naval Gun Factory at the Navy Yard and in the sub-basement of the Bureau of Printing and Engraving. At the Navy Yard, a special elevator was installed on the observation platform at the rear of the car to aid the president in boarding the car while in a wheel chair. This elaborate device was removed from the railroad car after the death of President Roosevelt, however, photos of it are on display in the lounge.
On January 9, 1943, a five car train was quietly assembled in Washington's "Ivy City" yard. The president's Navy stewards were summoned from the presidential yacht to perform the duties ordinarily handled by Pullman porters. Officials preparing this special train were told not to issue any special instructions that might cause suspicion. The train left Washington, D.C. at 10:00 P.M. (22:00) with President Roosevelt aboard the Ferdinand Magellan and headed north. The train, however, only went as far as Fort Meade, Maryland. An hour later, it was headed south, beginning President Roosevelt's journey to the now famous Casablanca summit meeting. Before dawn, on January 11, the train arrived at southwest 27th avenue and south Dixie Highway in Miami, Florida. The president was driven, by automobile to Pan American Airways, Dinner Key terminal (now used as Miami's City Hall) where he boarded a seaplane for the flight to Africa via South America. This was the first time a seated, U.S. president ever flew in an airplane outside U.S. borders. Reports and papers from this trip are also displayed in the car.
Franklin D. Roosevelt traveled about 50,000 miles (81,500 km) in the Ferdinand Magellan during his presidency. He preferred to travel at 35 miles per hour (56 kph). On March 29, 1945, he left Washington, on the Ferdinand Magellan for a trip to the summer whitehouse at Warm Springs, Georgia. He died 14 days later of a stroke. On April 13, the funeral train bearing the President's body left Warm Springs for Hyde Park, New York. Mrs. Roosevelt was riding in the Ferdinand Magellan, which was the second car from the rear for the first time since it was placed in presidential service. The casket containing the President's body, was placed aboard the Conneaut another Pullman car, by removing a window to make an opening, large enough to place the casket inside. This was done since the bullet resistant windows of the Ferdinand Magellan could not be removed. This car was then placed last in the consist for the trip to New York. Reports and photographs of this special train are on display in the car, including a photograph of Southern Railways (now Norfolk Southern Corporation) steam engine number 1401, which pulled the train part way. This engine is now on display in the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution.
President Harry S Truman used the car more than any other president. Unlike Roosevelt, Truman preferred to travel at speeds around 80 miles per hour (128 kph). According to a letter to the Gold Coast Museum from then former president Truman (which is on display), the very heavy car "gave nightmares to every railroad engineer who had to pull it on the rear of his train". During Truman's famous whistle stop campaign tour of 1948, he traveled more than 28,000 miles (46,284 km) and made nearly 350 speeches from the rear platform of the Ferdinand Magellan.
The third and last president to utilize the Ferdinand Magellan while it was still the property of the United States Government, was Dwight David Eisenhower , who used the car very little. He would use the car for occasional trips to his farm at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, one time on a trip to upstate New York and on a state visit to Canada in November, 1953 to address the Canadian Parliament at Ottawa. The last trip for the Ferdinand Magellan in government service was in 1954 when Mrs. Eisenhower traveled in it from Washington, D.C. to Groton, Connecticut to christen the world's first nuclear powered submarine, the U.S.S. Nautilus. After this trip, the car stood idle for four years. It was declared government surplus in 1958 and was offered to the Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian, however, did not take the necessary steps to acquire the car. The Gold Coast Railroad Museum, then only one year old, learned of the car's availability through a railroad trade publication and, ultimately, acquired the car through a complicated transaction involving several government agencies. The Ferdinand Magellan arrived at the Gold Coast Railroad Museum on January 15, 1959, where it has been on exhibit with few movements. In 1978 the Ferdinand Magellan was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the next year, the Museum received permission to place the Seal of the President of the United States, back on the rear platform of the car.
In September, 1984, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum decided to take the Ferdinand Magellan to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national convention of railroad enthusiasts and for inspection by the National Park Service to determine it's eligibility as a National Historic Landmark. Since the car was going to be in Washington during the presidential election campaign, the Museum asked the whitehouse staff if President Ronald Reagan would like to make a speech from the rear platform of the famous car. The whitehouse suggested that the President use the car for a one day, whistle stop campaign trip between Dayton and Toledo, Ohio.
The arrangements were made and the trip took place on October 12, 1984, leaving Dayton at 9:00 A.M. (09:00) and traveling 120 miles (197 km) to Toledo, making five stops along the way. At each stop, President Reagan made a speech to a large crowd gathered around the rear platform of the railcar. In each speech, he made reference to the historical significance of the car from which he was speaking. The trip was very complicated from a security standpoint. It involved about 1,000 police and Secret Service agents. An officer was stationed every .25 mile (400 m) in the woods alongside the railroad right of way and heavy equipment blocked every roadway grade crossing. President Reagan said that the trip was the highlight of his campaign and that he would rather travel by train than airplane any day. At the conclusion of the trip, the President met with representatives of the Gold Coast Railroad Museum and extended his thanks for the use of the car. The car then returned to Miami and was placed back on public display.
In August, 1992, South Florida was devastated by hurricane ANDREW. The Gold Coast Railroad Museum was severely damaged by the fury of the storm. The train shed collapsed on the museum cars stored inside. All were heavily damaged and two were literally, snapped in two. Although massive steel support beams crashed into the Ferdinand Magellan, the car sustained relatively little structural damage. The roof was dented and the paint was "sandblasted" from the sides, but the massively heavy construction of the car protected it from destruction. After a two and a half year restoration, the car was placed back on public display during October, 1996.
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