COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Former President George H.W. Bush took his final ride in true presidential tradition from Houston to College Station on Thursday.
Along the way, thousands of people of all ages wanted to witness what has not happened since 1969. They stood along the route to watch the Bush 4141 locomotive travel to the president's burial place.
Three cameras on board showed images as the train made its 70-mile journey.
Among the thousands of people along the tracks were school children in Spring, just north of Houston. From one of the cameras on board the train, students and staff members from nearby schools held up their homemade signs as the funeral train passed by, showing their support and love for the former president.
Along the route, several people placed coins on the tracks before the train moved through to make impressions. Once the train moved through, they picked up their coins as keepsakes of President Bush's final farewell.
People said they did not want to miss the once-in-a-lifetime patriotic tribute. Some set up lawn chairs and umbrellas early Thursday morning for a chance to see a part of history and to show how much they appreciated the life and service of President H.W. Bush.
From the time the locomotive came into view, there was admiration from the tiny rail town of Magnolia.
Thousands lined the streets. Some cheered as the train, painted to look like Air Force One, passed by. It also carried members of the Bush family.
Some people were silent. Most waved flags, and some released heart-shaped balloons. The remains of Bush #41 were on display inside a train car with Plexiglas on both sides. It allowed people to see the flag-draped casket during its trip to Texas A&M University.
For veterans like David Franklin, this was a personal moment.
“Foremost, to pay my respects to HW being a commander in chief, me being a veteran,” he said. “It's admiration and respect for somebody that led their country."
Ann Sundquist is the head of the Magnolia Visitor Center. “She wanted to make sure the city’s patriotism was seen.
"One thousand flags were bought by the city of Magnolia to hand to people, and I've given out definitely over half,” she said.
Kristi Kaiser is glad her 9-year-old son, Brennan, was able to be there for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
"I think it was just very inspiring,” she said. “I think I said it was very loud when the train started coming. But as it got closer, the crowd just kind of quieted and just took in the moment as he was passing by."
41’s Final Resting Place
The Bush family arrived in College Station with the late president right before 4 p.m. for a private internment ceremony.
Once at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library on the Texas A&M campus, 21 jets flew in the missing man formation before he was taken to his final resting place.
Since the president's passing, his family has said this was a time to celebrate Bush's life. That's what many did while also honoring him.
At the corner of the railroad and George Bush Drive, it took much more than rain to keep people from lining up hours early to say goodbye.
Some people, like Stephen Heath, felt connected because they served.
“I became a military member back in ’91,” he said. “So I wanted to be able to pay my respect to him.”
Others felt they were served. A few, like former A&M President Elsa Murano, went ready to cry as they said goodbye to a friend.
“It's like a family member,” Murano said. “So I’m trying to not think about it too much. But when it happens, I don't doubt I may lose it.”
As the special train finally rolled into College Station, it slowed to a crawl. It seemingly gave the Americans who gathered one extra lingering second to pay their respects to a man many simply felt they knew.
“Even though I didn't know the Bush family, we felt like he was a part of our family,” said Kathleen Heath.
It’s the reason why it felt like so much harder than saying goodbye to just some elected official for the folks gathered at the corner of the railroad and George Bush Drive.
Bush was buried next to his wife Barbara and daughter Robin.