Spanish Dictator’s Train In Need Of Repair

Left: Franco in 1964. Right: Running gear of steam locomotive. Photo: Petar Milošević / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Left: Franco in 1964. Right: Running gear of steam locomotive. Photo: Petar Milošević / CC-BY-SA 3.0

For the last thirty years, Franco’s train has been sitting in an old railway station in the north of Spain. It has been waiting to be restored, but full restoration has so far failed to happen. Conservation work was undertaken in 2006, and the interior of the train is in decent shape although it lacks furniture. The exterior is no longer olive green with yellow stripes, but a drab gray, covered with cobwebs.

The 20-meter long train was built in 1929 and used by King Alfonso XIII for his travels. It has a kitchen, meeting room, three bedrooms (one with a shower for the king), and a bathroom. There is little left of the original interior, other than the wood veneer, kitchen cupboards and heating pipes that would have warmed the king’s bed.

On October 23, 1940, the Spanish Dictator Francisco Franco took a train to the French border to meet with Adolf Hitler who had arranged the meeting to convince the Spanish dictator to join the Axis Powers in WWII. Franco was eight minutes late due to a power outage on the way.

Franco in Reus, 1940
Franco in Reus, 1940

When they met at the station in Hendaye, Hitler did not board the train. The two leaders spoke in friendly terms from the early afternoon until midnight. Hitler would not accept the conditions Franco placed on entering the war, and Franco was not convinced it was prudent for Spain to join in, especially given the military and economic situation he faced in his country at the time. They parted without an agreement.

As the train left the station, Franco stood at the door to wave goodbye to Hitler and almost fell off as the train lurched forward. He was grabbed at the last moment by two of his military leaders.

In 1975, the train was auctioned off. An antique dealer bought it for one million pesetas (€6,000) and placed it on his ranch for use as a place for hunters to meet. In 1984, the Spanish Government repurchased it for its worth in scrap metal, 375,000 pesetas. The intention was to place the train in the Rail Museum in Madrid after it had been thoroughly restored.

A subsidiary of the national train company began the work, but they ran out of funding. It was left outside in the elements, where it was used as a dwelling by a homeless man. It was then moved and left to sit for twenty more years. More restoration work began, but again money ran short 11 years ago. Nothing has been done since.

Franco and the American President Dwight Eisenhower in Madrid, December 1959
Franco and the American President Dwight Eisenhower in Madrid, December 1959

There are no plans to continue the project, but it would not take a significant financial investment to finish the work. The current owners, the Spanish Railways Foundation, is funded by grants and they simply do not have the money to cover the work that remains.

The local mayor has a dream of building a theme park, using the train as the main attraction but he has not been able to reach an agreement with the Spanish Rail Company that owns the land.

It is known that the train’s main compartment had a brass bed, a small table and a footrest with cushions and tassels which can be seen in photos from the train’s heyday. The dining room had a sofa, six chairs, a dresser, mirror, table and beige rug. The kitchen had a coal-fired stove. Steam heating was used to keep the train warm.

The goal is to restore the train to its former glory, including furniture that matches the originals. However, with no budget and no deadline, it seems unlikely that will ever happen.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE