S2464 The Missing Years
Journey to California
In January 1965, CorPMV ‘S2464’ finally retired from service on the UK’s rail network, after carrying Winston Churchill’s coffin to his final resting place near his birthplace at Blenheim.
But after the funeral train returned to London following the burial, S2464’s next journey was not, as might have been expected, to the scrap yard.
Instead, after a few months in storage at Battersea, it travelled thousands of miles by sea, to the sunny climes of California, where it was to spend the next 40 years.
During 1965, the City Industry in Los Angeles bought S2464 for £350. City of Industries Councilman Darius Johnson had plans for it to be installed as a tourist attraction in a proposed new park.
So in October 1965 S2464 was moved from storage to the Royal Victoria Dock, still complete with the draped catafalque which had held Churchill’s coffin, and on Wednesday 27th October it was craned aboard the Royal Main Lines vessel Dongedyk, sailing for Los Angeles the following day, and docking on 27th November.
But on arrival and unloading in LA, it was discovered that it couldn’t be moved by rail, as its braking system wasn’t compatible with the American railroad system. So it was placed in storage with the Crescent Wharf and Warehouse Co, and was to languish there until 1979. In the meantime, Darius Johnson died, so never saw his dream realised.
In 1977 S2464’s sad fate featured in the Metro Los Angeles:
METRO LOS ANGELES TIMES CC PART 11 - MONDAY OCTOBER 17TH 1977.
POSTSCRIPT: CHURCHILL FUNERAL CAR STILL GATHERING DUST" - BY JACK JONES.
“It’s still here, and is long as they keep paying the rent, we won’t bother them,” said the manager of a San Pedro warehouse where Sir Winston Churchill’s railroad funeral coach has been in dusty storage for 12 years (1965 to 1977).
“They” is the City of Industry, which bought the historic car for $980-its scrap value-from British Railways after the late prime minister’s funeral in 1965.
The Plan was to convert the railroad coach into a museum as the feature attraction of a proposed new park.
But there were problems as soon as the car arrived aboard a Dutch freighter on November 27th 1965. It turned out the car could not be moved on local tracks. No one seems to remember clearly why, but apparently it had something to do with defective brakes.
So the newly acquired British trinket was stored with Crescent Wharf and Warehouse Co. across from San Pedro’s Berth 60, where it has collected grime and clutters of trash while various plans for its future came and went.
Meanwhile, work proceeds on the Industry Hills Golf Course and Clubhouse, where, Johnson says the coach will be put on display. “That should be sometime next year” (1978), he said. “It’s a big project and has taken a lot of time.”
He said it would be “quite a development,” with a large clubhouse and exhibit display building. Construction of the conference and exhibit center was financed through a bond sale.
“We’ll be very glad to get this matter closed out and the car on display,” conceded Johnson, who guessed that the old Churchill funeral car probably will need a bit of paint and refurbishing by then. When the day finally arrives, it will not be welcomed by those derelicts who occasionally managed to slip into the warehouse to drink wine and sleep around the empty bier in the musty old car.
On display in Industry Hills
Finally, in 1979, the dream of putting Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral coach on display was realised, when the coach was transported to the Industry Hills, Sheraton Resort and Conference Centre, near LA. It underwent some refurbishment, and was positioned at the bottom of a funicular railway, with a mock-up of a Scottish railway station built around it and given the name St. Andrew’s Station.
By 1983 (the 109th anniversary of Churchill’s birth), S2464 was on display with a commemorative plaque (which, incidentally, included an entirely fictitious story about it having carried the body of Edith Cavell during World War 1).
Tracking down Churchill’s funeral coach
Meanwhile, in the UK, the knowledge of the whereabouts of S2464 had been lost. In 1991, Peter Hall, a well-known historian of coaching stock wrote to the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department, but drew a blank. Several more letters over the next couple of years, including one to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, proved similarly fruitless.
In 1992, he even wrote to St Andrew’s Station, City of Industry, LA – but, although on the right track at this point, received no reply. In 1995, he enlisted the help of Terry Bye, the eventual author of S2462’s history. After several more letters, Terry Bye eventually received a letter from a Mr D.G.Cameron of the Pacific Railroad Society, Santa Monica.
At last, there was a lead.
Mr Cameron had seen S2646 at the City of Industry Sheraton Resort some years previously, and had been able to confirm that it was still there. A week later, Terry Bye received a letter and polaroid photo from Ted Creveling of the Pacific Railroad Society, and S2464 was ‘found’.
In 2002, Terry Bye and his wife journeyed to the West Coast of the US, and after a visit to San Francisco they arrived in Los Angeles. Ted Creveling had planned a memorable day for the couple, which included a private viewing of the Union Pacific ‘Big Boy’ No.4014 and, at last, sight of CorPMV S2464. By this time, the catafalque (plinth) which had held Churchill’s coffin back in 1965 had long been removed, and its whereabouts was unknown. So S2464 had been located, but it was to be a few more years before anything further happened.
Repatriating Churchill’s funeral carriage
In 2006, Ivan Godfrey also began to search for Churchill’s funeral carriage. He got in touch with Kyle Wyatt at the California State Railroad Museum, who, as luck would have it, passed his enquiry to Brian Norden who knew its exact whereabouts.
Having confirmed this was indeed the mislaid S2464, Ivan Godfrey made contact with the manager of the City of Industry, a Mr Phil Iriarte – who at first had no idea what he was talking about. S2464 had been languishing on the edge of a golf course for so long it had been forgotten about! Once Phil Iriarte understood what was wanted, he couldn’t have been more helpful, quickly putting the matter to the Mayor and Directors of City of Industry. Within a couple of days, Ivan Godfrey was given the news that they wished to release S2464, and that it was to be given ‘as a gift to the British people’. With funds from the UK in short supply, the City of Industry also generously decided to fund the transport costs, to the tune of $67,000.
For Ivan Godfrey, the hard work then began of finding an organisation to take charge of this generous gift, and arrange its repatriation. After initial contact with the Imperial War Museum was lost, the eventual recipient was the Swanage Railway Trust.
The US team that he found for the Churchill move were Sam Sause, Randy Hees, Cris Hart and Woody Ballard. Randy, Cris and Woody proved to be kindred spirits to the Trust’s volunteers, giving freely of their time to help the Brits out, despite having their own railroad projects to look after.
The late Sam Sause’s ingenious method of using large fork lift trucks instead of the crane is worth a mention – saving a considerable amount compared with the cost of hiring a crane. The team’s wealth of experience dealt with the preparation of S2464 for a move, road transport, loading, freight forwarders, and even the removal of some hitch-hiking spiders!
So, on 13 August 2007, S2464 finally started its long journey back to the UK, sailing on the Wallenius Wilhelmsen lines 'Tamerlane', and arriving in Southampton on 24 September 2007. With Churchill’s funeral hearse back home the work to plan and raise funds for its restoration began.