Merci Train - Nevada
The Nevada State Museum in Carson City has an extensive collection of Merci car gifts.
Nevada State Museum
600 N Carson St
Carson City, NV 89701
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The Arrival of the Nevada Boxcar
Dorothy R. Scheele
"...I urge all Nevadans to give their share of required food..." declared Governor Vail Pittman in a proclamation dated November 1, 1947, thus beginning Nevada's impressive contribution to the national Friendship train.
To accomplish this goal, Gov. Pittman relied heavily on the schools throughout the state and on Mildred Bray, Superintendent of Schools. Some of the Governor's other appointees included Miss Margaret Griffin, who became Chairman of the Nevada Citizens Food Committee and Lloyd Dowler, State Supervisor of Vocational Agriculture, who was in charge of collecting food from the state's large rural areas. All foodstuffs were taken to Reno, the train's only stop in Nevada. William T. Holcomb, Chief Engineer of the Highway Department, permitted the trucks to be used for that purpose.
The number of towns, cities, and counties contributing is too numerous to cite all of them, but the entire state jumped to the cause. Many towns, such as Austin and Sparks, lamented that they had not had adequate time to give as much as they had intended. Mayor Vern Hursh or Sparks designated the Lion's Club to head the drive, and Senior Boy Scouts packed the foodstuffs. In Hawthorne and Babbit, Cub Scouts went from door-to-door collecting. Fire Chief Lester G. Lindsay drove a truck from White Pine County to Reno. Contributing towns to this truck's cargo were Austin, Elko, Lovelock, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain, and Ely. Towns in proximity to Reno which gave to the drive were Carson City, Gardnerville, Yerington, Verdi, and Virginia City. Students of the University of Nevada hauled wheat 700 miles to give to the Friendship train.
Gov. Pittman's belief in Nevadans was certainly justified: the state's 15,000 residents filled two boxcars and grieved that they had not had the time to do more.
BEGINS NEVADA MERCI
Hundreds of Carson City residents and school children waited at the Virginia and Truckee Railroad depot for the arrival of the Nevada Merci car. The bands from Carson City High School and the Steward Indian School played for the occasion,, and the American Legion, The VFW, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts were among the many organizations in attendance. William Crabtree, head of the 40 & 8 Society, welcomed the many dignitaries. M.T.R. Trocme of the French Embassy in San Francisco Officially presented the car to Gov. Vail Pittman. Miss Jean Elizabeth Weir of the Nevada State Historical Society accepted the car on behalf of the Society. Chef de Guerre William Crabtree announced that the boxcar would tour the state. Specifics of this tour are difficult to determine because most of the rural papers barely mention the boxcar.
The Society was also entrusted with the 38 cartons of gifts and their distribution. Some of Nevada's special gifts included a bust of Voltaire, a cord woven from the French and American flags flown from the Eiffel tower the day Paris was liberated, and a small chocolate pot which at that time was 309 years old. Gov. Pittman received a personal gift of a map which showed the routes the Allied Forces took in their liberation of Paris and the repatriation of France. That map was on display at the Society's museum for an undetermined length of time. Letters from French citizens accompanied many of the gifts. A woman from Nancy, France, wrote:
"Dear Friends of U.S.A. We send to you a little thing that will prove to you how very thankful we are to you for all that the U.S.A. make [sic] for France. I was prisoner of war. American troops make me free. My family in Alse was delivered by American troops. Now the U.S.A. protect [sic] us against the barbary [sic] of the bolshevists. For all, we like the Americans. I cannot write many things. I learned alone without teacher, the American language. My family and I wish very great happiness to you and to U.S.A."
The State Museum began a display of the treasures on March 5, 1949. The exhibit was in a specially prepared room and remained open as long as people were interested in it according to Director J. E. Green. The Nevada State Railroad Museum has the majority of the gifts, and although most are stored in its collection, some are used in various exhibits at various times. An exhibit of ten items is on permanent display to complement the boxcar which is housed there.
The boxcar itself, like almost all of the other states' boxcars, eventually was forgotten and fell into disrepair. In 1995 Grand Chef de Gare David Parsons of Sparks, Nevada, and Sous Chef de Chemin de Fer Don Quesinberry of Forestville, California, decided that Nevada's car should be restored. The Forty and Eight Society agreed to raise the money. The Friends of the Nevada State Railroad Museum donated generously, and ordinary citizens, when visiting the railroad museum, contributed. Seven years later the restoration was completed.
The car is on permanent display at the State Railway Museum at the Capitol Complex in Carson City. It is an exciting and tangible reminder not only of Nevada's and America's compassion but also of a fascinating part of our history. Experiencing the gifts and car casts that history and friendship into the present, enriching our country and our people.