Gold Coast Train Museum

Miami, Florida | C.1957

Photo Credit: Steffy Degreff

What if a steam engine came rolling onto your college campus? Well, thanks to William Godfrey, a student at the University of Miami (UM), that is just what happened. Little did William know he was actually laying the tracks for the first National Historic Landmark in the city, thanks to some prime presidential property.

Miles of unused railroad tracks once wound through the south campus of UM, and Godfrey – a train enthusiast at heart – believed they could provide the perfect place to share his love of locomotives, and serve as an educational and historical attraction. Thankfully, the president of the University happened to be a ‘rail fan’ himself, and the two of them got to work.

While the first train to roll onto campus was a steaming success, it was the second that provided the presidential mark of distinction. In April 1958, Godfrey caught wind that the Ferdinand Magellan aka: “U.S. Car No. 1” (think Air Force One but rail-bound and steam powered) was declared ‘surplus’ by the U.S. Government and Godfrey jumped at the chance to add it to UM’s collection, for this was no ordinary railcar.

Originally constructed for a private owner, during WWII the Secret Service transformed it into the “Ferdinand Magellan” – the first passenger railcar built for a President since Abe Lincoln. FDR was the man in the oval office at the time and he would travel nearly 50,000 miles in the train from 1943 until his death in 1945. Truman and Eisenhower would follow suit, adding to the presidential prestige.

Nine months Godfrey’s inquiry, he got his wish and the presidential carriage rolled onto UM Campus. Over the coming years, the museum would expand its collection, change locations, and ultimately become home to the first National Historic Landmark in Miami when “U.S Car No 1” received the distinction in 1985. Though most presidents opt for Air Force One these days, the museum maintains that the train remains ready for presidential use if they so choose.

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