"The development of railroads was one of the most important phenomena of the Industrial Revolution because their formation, construction and operation, brought profound social, economic and political change to the United States," it was explained. The first American steam locomotive started its journey in 1830. America's golden age of railroads lasted from about 1880s to the Roaring Twenties (1920s). 

William and Mary Morris mentioned back in 1983, "'Gravy Train' not surprising is an expression first widely used by trainmen. 'Gravy' has long been an established slang term for anything, especially money, that is obtained with ease. So, to the working railroadman, a 'gravy train' was an easy run, as contrasted to a 'butter-and-egg-run', which was a local passenger train making many stops, or a 'foreign run' that winds up far from a terminal." 

In May 1969, Ross E. Rowland, Jr of the American Freedom Train Foundation went on a 15-day train journey from New York to Utah to celebrate the centennial of the first American transcontinental railroad, the linking of the eastern and western track back in 1869, "Golden Spike". Impressed by the trip and inspired by the 1947-48 American Heritage Foundation project, Freedom Train which toured all the states of America, Ross told the Associated Press in 1973, "We'll take the bicentennial (in 1976) to the American people" using the train as a museum. 

"The railroad had more to do with maturing and developing of this country, and the steam locomotive was the motive power," Ross reasoned. "With all of its problems and mistakes, America remains the singular most important democratic republic in the history of mankind." From April 1 1975 to December 23 1976, the 25-car train, powered by a giant steam locomotive, would embark on its historic national tour of 48 states (some 23,000 miles) starting in Wilmington Delaware, the capital of the first state to ratify the American Constitution (back in December 1787).

The Freedom Train would showcase a panorama of Americana ("the major things that have gone into the making of America") to the sons and daughters of liberty presenting American history "good and bad" since the Declaration of Independence on July 4 1776. The exhibit featured historical documents collected from leading museums and historical societies such as the National Archives and the Library of Congress. Documents such as George Washington's copy of The Constitution, Benjamin Franklin's draft of The Articles of the Confederation; Thomas Paine's 1776 'Common Sense' and the first Bible printed in America. Ross was convinced the historical presentation would "reaffirm those values and that spirit which led to the founding of the republic." The Freedom Train last stop would be in Miami, Florida. It was noted America's oldest city, St Augustine, Florida was founded in 1565, "the first settlement in what is now (1973) the United States of America."

President Gerald Ford stressed in 1975, "This exhibit touches virtually every phase of the American experience. I see the bicentennial of 1976 as a rebirth as well as a birthday – a discovery of our strength and of our potential…This American Freedom Train will be a fitting symbol for what the bicentennial really represents." Back in 1973, Ross had stated, "We're taking basic treasures of America back to the people via the train. Why are we doing it that way? We feel that we are citizens of the one country that to date has been by far the most successful example of democracy in the recorded history of mankind. We are proud of America and we feel our 200th birthday deserves a celebration that all Americans can enjoy…We're dedicated to maintaining that the story told has no political bias...We're not right wing. We're not left. I want this train to become part of our national heritage and we're going straight down the main line to America's heart...The U.S. Marines will guard the artefacts."

With a budget of $19.6 million (at that time currency), the foundation spokeswoman told the press in 1977, "With the disposal of its assets, the foundation will repay all its indebtedness and be one of the few Bicentennial events to break even." The train would then be headed to Canada to become "Discovery Train" as part of the National Museums of Canada Crown Corp. project for Canada Day, July 1 1978.

In 1986, Associated Press reported, "Coal used to power almost all railroad engines. Railroads switched to diesels in the 15 years after World War II because of their lower costs and greater efficiency." It was made known, "In the 1990s, some railroad could decide to switch to coal slurries (semi liquid mixture of coal and water) – either coal-water or coal-diesel fuel slurries – to power their diesels in the 21st century." Originally the 1975-76 Freedom Train project had called for 2 coal-burning steam locomotives. But with steam power on the wane and coal and water supplies "had all but disappeared around much of the country", it was decided to use an oil-fired steam locomotive. It was understood, "Before the train hit the rails, the Smithsonian Institution provided strict instructions on the care and keeping of historical documents. For example, the temperature was supposed to be kept around 70 degrees (Fahrenheit), the humidity level at 50%. The 1947-48 Freedom Train controlled the heat by piling ice on the roof." Ross remarked, "A steam locomotive has an amazing effect on everyone. The power, the size, the noise, the smoke, You can't ignore it. It's captivating. Steam has worked terrifically. There have been many mechanical problems. The steam engine is an intricate machine with a lot of moving parts, many of them exterior, so it takes a lot of tender loving care to keep it running."

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