Reagan whistle-stop tour: a special event despite the politics
Franklin D. Roosevelt rode it. So did Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower. Now Ronald Reagan adds his name to the annals of American presidents who have traveled aboard the historic Pullman car ''Ferdinand Magellan.''Skip to next paragraph
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There is a difference, of course. FDR, for whom the private car was rebuilt and specially outfitted, used it frequently: He covered about 50,000 miles in it. Truman traveled more than 21,000 miles in the ''Magellan'' during his 1948 whistle-stop campaign across the country, giving more than 350 speeches. President Reagan campaigned from it for only one day, stopping five times along a 150-mile route.
But it was a day wrapped in nostalgia, flags, balloons, ebullient crowds, and a sense of real America.
This town of 10,000 people in western Ohio was brimming with anticipation. Two days before, on the morning of Oct. 10, the local newspaper had only one news item on its front page. ''President Reagan to visit Perryburg'' screamed the five-inch-high banner headline.
''A sense of excitement; a feeling of being present as history is being made, is sweeping over the City of Perrysburg,'' said the lead story. ''The daily newspapers, radio, and television stations have disseminated the news that President Ronald Reagan is to be in Perrysburg Friday evening, Oct. 12, 1984.''
The community received the news calmly, indicated the Perrysburg Messenger Journal, but when word spread that the Secret Service was in town, measuring roof heights and walking the railroad tracks, town officials swung into action. Police had to be briefed and bus shuttles arranged to bring shoppers and schoolchildren to the rally site. The Perrysburg High School Band, the paper said, would play for the President's arrival - and then ''travel to Maumee for the Ding Dong battle between the Perrysburg Yellow Jackets and Maumee Panthers.''
Partisan politics generated much of the local excitement, to be sure. Reagan won Ohio by only 1 percent of the vote in 1980, and he is looking for a decisive victory in 1984. His campaign strategists planned every detail of every rally with customary thoroughness and an eye to television extravaganza.
But as the President's reelection train rolled through western Ohio - starting at Union Station in Dayton at 12:30 p.m. and stopping in Sidney, Lima, Ottawa, and Deshler before arriving in Perrysburg - it was evident that for many Ohioans, just having the President come to visit was something special.
''Folks are excited about this trip,'' commented one Ohioan. ''And it's not just because they're conservative. It's the President coming. That's a big thing here. They even get excited when they see (TV network news reporters) Sam Donaldson or Andrea Mitchell.''
''It's a once-in-a-lifetime situation,'' said trainman Robert Tirey, who works on this freight line for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
The train ''sped'' at about 50 miles an hour past lovely farmlands and corn fields, where trees brightened a dull gray day with the orange, red, and yellow hues of autumn.
At every crossing there were knots of people standing and cheering as the ''Heartland Special,'' as it was dubbed, went by. On a golf course, players stopped their game to watch.
As the train slowed to 10 m.p.h. through small towns of clapboard houses, tree-lined streets, and modest factories, the President could see hundreds of local citizens waving, smiling, and taking pictures. In Troy, farmers in overalls stood atop their trucks. In Piqua, tractors and other farm machines were lined up parallel to the tracks; on one was emblazoned the sign, ''This corn won't be embargoed.''
Usually Reagan emerged from the armor-plated ''Magellan'' only for a rally stop. But as the train slowed through Troy, he stepped out onto the platform, waved, and, his voice amplified, told the onlookers: ''Thank you, thank you all for being here. Good to see you all. Sorry we can't stop.''