20 years after 9/11, Crawford, Texas residents reminisce on ‘Western White House’ days
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - In November of 2000, Americans elected Texas Governor George W. Bush as the country’s 41st president. Records show it was the closest presidential election in U.S. history and probably the closest Texas would ever come to having its own White House.
“Suddenly, he comes roaring through Crawford that night - late - and we were like ‘this is going to change Crawford,’” recalled Kirk Baird, owner of The Coffee Station in Crawford.
What came to be known as “The Western White House” - Parrie Chapel Ranch - was purchased by the junior Bush in 1999.
It happened around the same time Baird bought into The Coffee Station, a Burger joint and gas station in downtown Crawford. Things didn’t really change, however, until that night “W” rolled into town the night he was elected president.
“We went from a small town of 725 people to now the president is going to be there with his staff and secret service,” Baird said, “they brought almost 400 people with them on a trip.”
While the Central Texas town of 700 people may have changed with the election, the world changed on September 11, 2001.
“First, we woke up that morning and everything happened (the attacks). Then we went to work and - I mean - there were vehicles peeling out to the ranch because they didn’t know where the next plane was going to go and they had some rumors that they were going to hit the ranch so they all went out there - to prepare for that,” said Baird.
The other intended targets that day, outside of the World Trade Center, where almost 2,000 people were killed, were the Pentagon and what many think was supposed to be the U.S. Capitol.
Flight records indicate The Capitol was spared thanks to a group of passengers refusing to give up control of the plane to hijackers, who then deliberately crashed the flight into a field in southwestern, Pennsylvania.
All 44 people on board the plane were killed. As the death toll mounted, the panic back in Crawford reached a fever pitch.
“We had a 15,000 gallon gas tank (at The Coffee Station) and we immediately emptied out that night, everyone was so fearful of what was going on,” said Baird.
As the fateful day came to an end, fear across the country settled into a steady tension and more resources were sent to Crawford.
Baird noted how the security stepped up even though Bush wasn’t there.
Less than a year into Bush’s presidency -and in the weeks and months following 9/11 - “The Western White House” became the second headquarters for the president.
Baird and the coffee station had found themselves in the eye of the storm. “We didn’t build The Coffee Station for that, we built it for the local community and to give the town some infrastructure, but when that happened, the whole world showed up at our doorstep,” explained Baird.
The influx of people into Crawford included a who’s who in politics and media. Soon, the president was hosting Saudi royalty and European leaders at his ranch.
They all left an impact on the town and their signatures in the coffee station guest book.
Still, some the mainstays at The Coffee Station during that time were members of the President’s security detail.
“We got to know the secret service really well and some of the staff and higher staff. You know, when they were at the coffee station, they were just eating, easy going,” said Baird, “They’d talk about anything, their families, but when they sensed that he (the President) was coming - their whole attitude changed.”
When Baird wasn’t welcoming guests to The Coffee Station, he was bringing meals to the president and his staff at Parrie Chapel Ranch.
“Well, they kind of knew me,” Baird humbly notes. “I’d say ‘I have food for so and so’ and I’d either go through where secret service was housed or they’d let me through their gate.”
In the time following 9/11 in Central Texas, one of the most indelible moments was a presidential summit when Russian leader Vladimir Putin came to Crawford in November of 2001.
The visit culminated with the two world leaders, joining forces and stating their allegiance, in front of students at Crawford High School.
Baird sold his stake in The Coffee Station in 2003 - but he hangs onto the memories and the lessons he learned about protecting the president during such tumultuous time.
“You know, you just can’t imagine how much goes in to protecting him. You had your Marine One, Air Force One, Secret Service, White House Communications - they had their own mobile home out there,” said Baird.
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