Ask MRN: Was the Popemobile manufactured in West Quincy, Mo.?

POPEMOBILE 1

Pope John Paul II greets the crowd during his stop in St. Louis. | Photo courtesy of Terry Traeder

Dear MRN,

I was at a meeting when someone mentioned that the Popemobile was manufactured in West Quincy, Mo. Is that true?

Terry Traeder remembers the time very well.

The Quincy businessman was asked 25 years ago to provide a specially made vehicle for Pope John Paul II, who would be visiting St. Louis the following year — in January 1999 — for a Catholic youth rally at the Kiel Center, now known as the Enterprise Center.

Traeder is the longtime president of TNT Golf Car and Equipment, which at the time also had a business site in O’Fallon, Mo. He worked with representatives of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Catholic Youth Council and the U.S. Secret Service before and during the papal visit.

“It was a pretty big deal,” Traeder said.

The most difficult part for Traeder was keeping information about “the Popemobile” under wraps. He was sworn to secrecy for all the weeks and months leading up to the event. Only a handful of officials — most notably Quincy Mayor Chuck Scholz and Great River Economic Development Foundation President Jim Mentesti — knew about Traeder’s involvement with the St. Louis event. 

About a week before the pontiff’s visit, Traeder was permitted to go public with the details. He did so with a news conference at the Oakley-Lindsay Center that showcased the vehicle to be used to transport Pope John Paul II inside the Kiel Center. At the time, the pope was 78 and suffering from Parkinson’s disease.

“After word got out, I was gettting calls from all over the place,” Traeder said.

The electrically powered golf car stretched more than 13 feet and weighed more than 1,000 pounds. The vehicle used a Yamaha golf car chassis and provided seating for four.

“It also had a customized ‘standing area’ with a cushioned body brace, safety handle and detachable entry steps that could be used on either side of the vehicle,” Traeder said. “I was so proud and honored to be chosen to build the vehicle. It doesn’t get any bigger than the pope.”

Stan Long, Jeff Klingele, Rod Uppinghouse and Terry Crawford, longtime colleagues of Traeder, helped coordinate the creation of the pope’s vehicle. Traeder said they worked with the specific designs provided by the Secret Service and archdiocese. Representatives from both affiliations made special trips to Quincy to inspect both the design and facility where it would be built.

The golf car had gold-spoked wheels and the five-color papal seal. Everything the pope would touch was padded for his protection to make sure his robes did not catch on any exposed edges.

TNT also provided a second golf car to assist the pope’s transportation around the grounds of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

At the event itself, Traeder had access to much of the backstage workings.

“I was less than 10 feet from the pope,” he said.

One of the special guests who had the opportunity to meet Pope John Paul II was a familiar face to Traeder. Mark McGwire was about halfway through his 65-homer, 147-RBI season, the third of five years he played in St. Louis for the Cardinals.

Following the event, the specially designed golf car provided by Traeder returned to the Vatican City with the pope.

Traeder remembers the pope’s visit like it was yesterday.

“It was all a pretty cool thing,” he said.

Pope John Paul II rides in his Popemobile with his security detail during his visit to St. Louis in 1999. | Photo courtesy of Terry Traeder

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