This boxcar and the gifts it carried are a reminder of American support of France during two world wars, and of France's gratitude for that support. Such gestures between peoples deserve a lasting place in our memories."Forty and Eights"
People to People
In 1947, the people of the United States sent 700 boxcars of
food, medicine, fuel and clothing to a France devastated by
years of Nazi occupation. The Friendship Train was a
grassroots effort; it received no government support. In
1949, the people of France expressed their thanks by
sending a Mercí Train—a Gratitude Train—to America.
Shields representing the provinces of France decorated
each of the forty-nine boxcars loaded with gifts.
The Arkansas Boxcar
The French shipped the Mercí Train to New York. There
the boxcars, one for each state and one to be shared by
Hawaii and the District of Columbia, were loaded onto
flatcars. The flatcar carrying the Merci Car bound for Little
Rock arrived in the early morning hours of February 13,
1949. People flocked to see the gifts, displayed first at the
Rock Island Freight Depot and later the capitol rotunda.
The Mercí Car Comes to Helena
The Mercí Car toured the state before arriving at the
Shumaker Naval Ordnance Depot in Camden. In January
the boxcar was moved to Helena, home of the
then-department commander of the American Legion in
Arkansas. The gifts the train carried are now in the
collections of several museums and state universities.
The Mercí Train's boxcars were antiques, built between
1875 and 1882. During World War I (1914-1918) and World
War II (1939-1945) armies used the wooden boxcars to
transport men and horses to and from the battlefront. The
men called them Forty and Eights, in French Hommes 40
Chevaux (en long) 8, because each car held forty men or
eight horses. Many French and American veterans
remembered spending days in these boxcars, which had
no seats, windows or toilets. Soldiers barely had enough
space to sit down and had to lie down in rows to sleep.
Top left: The people of Arkansas contributed five boxcars of food to the Friendship Train.
Middle: Thousands of people came out to see the gifts the French sent to the people of Arkansas.
Right top: The Mercí Train, like the Friendship Train, was a grassroots effort. The French people sent gifts from their homes to the people of America. Above are some of the gifts sent to Arkansas.