‘Ground Force One,’ A Custom Made Ride

In Iowa

Reporting on candidates and voters from the Hawkeye State.

DAVENPORT, Iowa – As President Obama sets off on the last day of his three-day road trip across the Midwest, his high-tech, black, armored bus has become a familiar presence on the highways and byways here – or at least, a less ominous presence than when it first pulled up next to Air Force One in Minneapolis.

The “Beast,” as the president’s heavily armored limousine is nicknamed, has nothing on this intimidating vehicle, with its massive profile, tinted windows and lack of any markings. In a naming contest sponsored by Mike Allen of Politico, it has been dubbed “Ground Force One.”

The bus is the latest addition to the Secret Service’s fleet of protective vehicles, and this custom-made bus is a first for a president. The Secret Service bought two of them at $1.1 million each. In the past, it has leased buses and retrofitted them with armor plating and other high-tech gadgetry.

“We’re probably overdue for having an asset like that in our fleet,” said Ed Donovan, a spokesman for the Secret Service. Not surprisingly, Mr. Donovan declined to share details about any secret gizmos on the bus, but said, “You can assume that most of these things have a security component.”

In fact, the manufacturer, Hemphill Brothers of Whites Creek, Tenn., specializes in outfitting buses for touring performers, with a client list that includes Beyonce, Aerosmith and Brooks & Dunn. So, it knows how to install creamy leather seats, plasma-screen TVs and marble bathroom counters.

It is not clear how many of these amenities are in Mr. Obama’s bus. A White House aide described a seating area with captain’s chairs and a couch, but said he could not be sure whether they were leather or pleather. Because of the tinted windows, Mr. Obama must stand in the front to wave at passing crowds.

The Secret Service said the buses are available to anyone who is eligible for protection, meaning they could be used by the Republican presidential nominee. No candidate, however, can put any campaign markings on the vehicle.

As for the jet-black color, Steve Atkiss, who was a special assistant to former President George W. Bush and oversaw the retrofitting of his campaign bus in 2004, said, “the Secret Service obviously has a culture of the ‘black car,’ so they were trying to get as close to that as possible.”

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