Monday, February 21, 2011

President Ford rides the rails

In honor of President's Day, our local paper, the Peoria Journal Star, asked for stories of readers' encounters with past, current, or future POTUSes. Here is my story:

During the 1976 campaign, President Ford traveled the rails making “whistle stops” in communities across the country.

In the fall, Ford came through Illinois by rail with a mighty Amtrak engine leading the way. He and his wife, Betty, stood at the back of the train waving to crowds who gathered at station stops to greet them. I believe that in some of the larger cities, such as Springfield and St. Louis, special events were planned as the train made its stop.

I must have read about this in the paper or seen it on the news. I was 14 and had a Newfoundland puppy who loved to swim. We would often walk from our house over to “the pond,” a watering hole beside the railroad tracks that had once served the steam engines. Hector loved to dive into its murky water.

As I watched him swim, I was not surprised to see a train, decorated in patriotic bunting, chugging down the tracks. President Ford, standing alone at the back of the train, waved happily at me and Hector until the train pulled out of sight.

The memory of unexpectedly seeing the President of the United States in my little town of Auburn and having that moment all to myself made me feel special. The fact that Gerald Ford was that man also seems significant. He was destined to lose that election, but I think all of us understood that he was, to the nation, a hero.

Read more stories from readers at

The photo is of my sister and "The Heck" at the pond.

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