a Friendship Train carried $40 million in relief supplies to
France and Italy. The 700-car train was the brainchild of Drew Pearson,
an American newspaper columnist. It was his concept that Americans
were not getting the credit they deserved for helping war-torn Europe
in the face of Russian disinformation -- and that we could make
it clear where their food aid was coming from if only we'd take
a more personal approach. And so a grass-rots effort was started
that began in Hollywood with a handful of boxcars full of food donated
by average Americans. As the little train moved across the country,
its popularity and notoriety skyrocketed. By the time it reached
New York, it was actually three trains coming in from all different
directions. Once in New York, the food was unloaded and sent by
ship -- with ample notice where it was coming from -- to France
a tremendous reception.
sent a 'thank you' in the form of four
statues that now grace the ends of the Theodore Roosevelt
Memorial Bridge and the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington,
DC. They also produced a short film expressing their gratitude called
"Thanks, America!" -- to be played in US movie theaters
ahead of any given feature.
The French took
things a big step further.
A French veteran
and railroad worker named Andre Picard stated a movement to send
surplus WWI era boxcars to the US filled with tokens of appreciation
from the people of France to the people of America. In all, 49 boxcars
would be sent -- each packed with mementos from French citizens
of every age and class.
Each state would
receive a boxcar. One would be split between Washington, DC and
the territory of Hawaii. The boxcars were of an especially appropriate
type -- known as the 40 et 8 -- 'suitable' for 40 men or 8 horses.
These small boxcars had transported thousands of American GIs during
the wars; each cramped, bumpy ride leaving a lasting impression
on the passengers. Each boxcars was decorated with a painted 'Gratitude
Train' ribbon and with 40 coat-of-arms representing the provinces
The French boxcars
arrived in New York Harbor aboard the ship Magellan in February
The ship was
met by waves of aircraft and a flotilla of boats. With 'Merci, America'
painted across its hull, it was docked and unloaded. New York's
boxcar was paraded though Manhattan. The other boxcars were loaded
onto flatcars (their wide wheel axles not compatible with our track
width) and sent off to the far reaches of the nation.
Each state had
a reception waiting for their boxcar. Several states sent their
boxcars on tours of the state so everyone could see the car and
its contents. They came to rest permanently in municipal parks,
railroad museums, fairgrounds and Veterans Posts. Most survive to
of French 40 et 8 boxcars -- enduring symbols of friendship
and gratitude -- still dot the land from Maine to Hawaii, Washington