Merci Train - Historic Photos
Roxanne and Ira Godsey discovered the Merci Train history in late 2007. In January of 2008 she located a copy of a 1949 LIFE magazine and sent me photographs of the article and its accompanying photos about the arrival of the ship carrying the Merci Train.
Mrs. Godsey has since become a valuable and treasured member of our website's all volunteer staff.
Click on the images below to view full size
The three photos to the right are of part of the Southern section of the Merci Train, while stopped in Charlotte, NC on 9 February of 1949. The pictures were taken by a man named Don Gaither, who was a maintenance worker for Southern Railroad Co. He evidently had a passion for trains as he had a large collection of photographs on the subject. Another man named Chris Allen, also of Charlotte, later "acquired the collection", found these three pictures of the Merci Train, and has generously donated copies to the Merci Train web site.
The delivery of these six cars, reconstructed as completely as possible from incomplete records, is described below.
The train originated from the Potomac Yards in Alexandria, VA, departing on February 8, 1949 at 6:30 am. The consist included a business car to house French dignitaries, and their American hosts, who participated in the dedication ceremonies during the trip.
The train first stopped in Charlottesville, VA at 9:45 am, and departed at 10:00 am. After several hours of travel and three half hour stops at Lynchburg, VA, Dansville, VA and Greensboro, NC , the train arrived at the Spencer Yards in Spencer, NC at 6:30 PM, where it remained overnight.
Curiously, the NC boxcar was not part of the Southern's cargo, but instead was delivered by, first, the Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac railroad as far as Richmond, and then to Raleigh by the Sea Board Air Line . The former Spencer yards today house the NC Transportation Museum, which is the current caretaker of the NC Merci car.
The train left Spencer the next morning, February 9th, at 7:00 am, and arrived in Charlotte, NC at 8:30. After a half hour stop (during which the three photos were taken) the train continued on to Spartanburg and Greenville, SC, where the SC Merci car was dropped off. That car is now located at an American Legion Post in Columbia, SC.
The train then took its five remaining Merci cars to Atlanta, arriving there at 7:15 PM that evening. Those cars were put on display at the Decatur St. Station for most of the day of February 10th. The Georgia car remained in Atlanta. Although, presently, the Georgia car is in Atlanta, its history and whereabouts between then and now are unknown.
The Alabama car left Atlanta at 8:00 PM on the 10th, via the Atlanta & West Point railroad, headed for Montgomery, AL where it was put on display. That car is now located at the Paul Bolden Veteran's Memorial Museum in Huntsville, AL.
Meanwhile, the other three boxcars departed Atlanta at 3:00 am on February 11th; made a brief stop in Anniston, AL before reaching Birmingham, AL at 12:30 PM. There, the Arkansas car was switched to the St. Louis & San Francisco railroad, departing at 5:00 PM for Memphis, where it arrived at 5:45 AM on February 12th. It was then transferred to the Rock Island, and finally arrived in Little Rock at 2:00 am on February 13th. The Arkansas boxcar was moved several times before reaching its current location at an American Legion Post in Helena, AR.
Back in Birmingham, on the 11th of February, the Southern railroad departed Birmingham at 4:15 PM and traveled to Meridian, MS arriving at 9:00 PM. There, the two remaining boxcars, LA and MS were turned over to the Illinois Central. The IC train left Meridian at 1:00 PM and arrived in Jackson at 4:30 PM, where the MS boxcar was unloaded, and remains to this day.
The LA car rode the Rock Island from Jackson, departing at 10:30 PM that evening, and arriving at New Orleans at 6:00 am on the 13th of February. The car remained on display in New Orleans for a few days and then was moved to Baton Rouge, where it remains until today.
Much of this information comes from a copy of the railroad schedule for the Merci Train's delivery, found in the State Archives in Jackson, MS a few years ago. A copy of the schedule was sent to each state's Merci Train Committee.
The remainder of the forty three 40 & 8 Merci Train boxcars were split into other regional sections, and were delivered to their destination states by many other railroad lines. Despite some missing pages from the Jackson copy of the schedule, the delivery of every car but one, Texas, has been accounted for.
The two photos below are also from the Southern section of the Merci Train (as described above). The two coaches were for the French dignitaries traveling to welcoming ceremonies for the Merci cars.