The White House hasn’t always been in Washington, D.C. Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Presidential Library is in Austin (see November 6, 2013 blog), but his Texas home was further west in the Hill Country. It truly became a 2nd White House because he spent about 20% of his time as President there. Now a National Historical Park, the ranch has been opened for tours since 2008.
My favorite story about Johnson at his ranch while President involved a 1962 Amphicar. He loved to give guests, including many world leaders, ranch tours. As he approached the Pedernales River flowing through his property, he’d pretend the brakes had failed and would splash into the river. What his shocked guest didn’t know was that Amphi was half car, half boat. The car is seen in a 25 minute film that NBC made in 1966 with Johnson giving a tour of his Texas White House.
In 1951 Johnson bought 240 acres from his Aunt Frank Martin. The Martin ranch quickly became a place where he could work away from Washington, D.C. A grass landing strip was added 2 years later, and 6,300 feet of asphalt went down about the time he became President. A Lockheed JetStar VC-140, a mini Air Force One, made it possible to travel to his ranch 74 times during the 5 years he was President. Today, visitors have to drive completely around the landing strip to get to the hangar where tickets to tour the Texas White House can be purchased. Also on the property are the one-room school he attended and the Johnson Family Cemetery, 4 generations under the oaks. Because it remains a working ranch, Hereford cattle, descendants of the President’s registered herd, still roam the property. At one point, our guide called it goats and peaches country.
Touring a President’s residence instead of a Library humanizes him. The oldest of five, Lyndon was born before the doctor arrived, and he proposed to his wife Claudia, more commonly known as Ladybird, on their first date. Because he was a restless workaholic, he and Ladybird added rooms in 1967 when he was President so she could have her own space. The house has not been altered since, smells musty, and looks like a 1960s time capsule abode. If he was alive today, Johnson would probably be wearing an Apple watch. The best example of his love of technology is a TV screen in a ranch house wall operated with a primitive 4 button remote. There were TVs in every room the President used, and he loved telephones just as much. Johnson had 72 of them scattered about. He could even schmooze from the swimming pool. The 1st truly mobile President, LBJ could and did run the country from outside The Beltway. His ranch remained home where his prized possession was a comfortable blue chair.
I knew about Ladybird’s love of wildflowers, but something I didn’t know about Lyndon, or had forgotten, was his environmental contributions. When he was President, he signed into existence about 50 new units of the National Park System including Canyonlands National Park.