This article appeared in the JD Tower Issue of the Bull Sheet, April 1992
To Move a President
One of JD Tower's most noteworthy achievements was one that, at the time, had to be kept secret. In fact, the printed directive describing everyone's function explicitly stated... "These instructions must not be given to anyone except those to whom it is necessary to convey instructions as will enable them to take care of their assignment. Instructions require that no publicity whatever will be given to the details of this movement."
Presidential moves were nothing new to the B&O. They happened frequently.
But with Franklin D. Roosevelt, JD Tower at Alexandria Junction, Maryland, was most often a hotbed of activity. For within its own interlocking, the presidential train - with the President on board - would be switched.
Mr. Roosevelt would frequently make this trip to his home in Hyde Park, New York.
It typically went like this: For reasons of his disability, as well as for security, Mr. Roosevelt would board his private car at the government's Bureau of Engraving in southwest Washington. His mini-train of about three cars would then be brought over the PRR to Anacostia Junction and then up the B&O's Alexandria Branch to JD where it would be coupled to the rear of a train of about 10 other cars which had been brought over the Washington Branch from Union Station.
The head portion from Washington would arrive first, being pulled east of the Riverdale station siding switch on number 2 track, stopping with 200 feet of room east of the switch to hold the rear portion of the train. When the rear portion with the President arrived, its engine would be cut off, and a yard engine would carefully couple to the rear of the rear portion and gently make the train solid with the head portion. The move within the JD interlocking would take about 45 minutes.
Every detail was spelled out in the confidential instructions. They included a schedule right to the minute, a consist of the train, the names of the train and engine crews involved, and the names and positions of management people along with their specific assignments.
Chief train dispatchers were even instructed how to issue instructions. For example: "The instructions of train dispatchers, operators and crews must be so definite and clear that there will be no necessity to issue additional instructions except in the case of emergency."
Throughout the instructions the need for safety, security, and overall professionalism was emphasized. Special care was required of the track department to inspect the track ahead and to spike certain switches. Emergency protect engines with crews on board were stationed at strategic points along the route to use if needed.
But for all of the details the movement instructions covered, there was one thing that was always omitted. And this was intentional. It was never specifically stated in print that the move was for the President of the United States. He was always referred to simply as... the 'Special Party.'
For the moments of involvement at JD Tower on the occasions that this 'Special Party' was there, the tower could be claimed to be the most important place in the world.
And it probably was.