Obama Debuts New Presidential Bus on Rural Tour

Secret Service says $1.1 million bus provides security, savings.

ByABC News
August 16, 2011, 1:17 PM

Aug. 16, 2011— -- If the presidential limousine is known as "the beast," the new official tour bus could be called "the behemoth."

The Secret Service is trucking President Obama and his senior staff through the Midwest this week on an imposing jet-black coach, outfitted with top-notch security and communications equipment to keep its occupants safe.

The White House says the $1.1 million bus, and its accompanying motorcade of more than two dozen vehicles, allows the president to visit "real people in real places" that wouldn't otherwise be easily accessible. Obama began the three-day trip in Minnesota and ends in Illinois Wednesday.

Neither the Secret Service nor Hemphill Brothers Co., the Nashville, Tenn.-based company that built the bus, would comment on the "security additions" or what it's like inside as it rumbles along rural roads.

But some of Obama's travel companions, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the interior is "subdued," and that the president has been using the front seating area, which has two chairs and a sofa, for some parts of his travel and two other groupings of four chairs farther back in the bus for others.

See more images from the campaign trail.

There are plenty of telephones on board, a few flat-screen TVs, but not a lot of privacy, people familiar with the bus said. And, they say, there is none of the glamour of music-star tour buses, which often feature bedrooms, kitchens and elaborate decor.

The Hemphill website offers other clues to the possible layout and design of the presidential wheels. Many of the company's custom coaches are outfitted with floor plans that can include leather sofas and seating areas, kitchen space, bunk beds with privacy curtains, a full-sized bed stateroom or even a bathroom with a granite shower.

The exterior of the government's custom coach has no presidential or campaign signage or identifiable markings. But it does have a public address system from which the president or dignitary could address crowds as he or she rolls through town. So far, Obama hasn't tried it out.

Check out other candidates' campaign buses.

A cabinet secretary was invited aboard for one leg of the trip, but other guests are relegated to a second, dark-red coach bus, which follows behind the big black official vehicle.

The bus, one of two acquired by the Secret Service earlier this year, is government property and will be part of the "protective fleet" used by the Secret Service to transport any official, dignitary, presidential candidate or protectee, officials said.

Its code name when the president is aboard is "Stagecoach," sources said.

The bus purchases were long overdue additions to the fleet because the agency was never satisfied with the old practice of renting buses and retrofitting them with added security, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan told ABC News in April.

"Designing our own vehicle really affords us a level of security that we can't achieve by leasing a bus and outfitting it with temporary equipment," Donovan said in the interview.

Officials say the presidential coach is driven only by specially-trained Secret Service agents and other federal officers who had to apply for commercial bus drivers licenses. There are a "significant number" of drivers available for long trips, they said.

Should the Republican presidential nominee in 2012 want to hit the road, he or she will be able to campaign in one as well, Donovan said.

ABC News' Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.