Merci Train - Recent Additions
If you have a personal experience with the history of the Merci Train or the artifacts that came from the train and would like to share your experience please let us know. Please stop back often to be kept up to date on the latest discoveries about the Merci Train history.
Photos and or stories are always welcome. Please contact Earl Bennett at the address on the main page of this site. New articles are added to the top of the page. Please stop back often.
We have received the images from Eric Olson, mentioned in the first 10-21-12 blog below, and one of those images of a 1949 newspaper article is displayed here and there are selected other images now displayed on the Washington, D C page of this website. Mr. Olson is hoping to soon find a museum that will accept his donation of the original documents and display images of all of them on the museum's website thus making them available for interested persons to read right from their computer screens
Click on the image below to view full size
A young man who lives in North Carolina and whose grandfather was chairman of the Merci Train Committee, which had the responsibility for distributing the Washington, DC allotted gifts of gratitude from the people of France. Mr. Salvind Olson, the grandfather, had kept copies of many of the documents that his committee generated in connection with the project and letters from recipients of the gifts. A folder containing those copies has been passed on to Salvind's son, who has passed them on to his son, Eric.
After meeting Eric, as my wife and I traveled from our summer home in Ohio to our winter home in Florida, he has sent me a CD containing digital images of more than 100 of the documents. I hope to soon be able to post at least a selection of the images on this website, the documents reveal some interesting facts about the Merci Train and activities that occurred in the days leading up to and following the train's arrival in America.
Visit our website and this page often to be kept up on the latest discoveries about the historical event.
Tabatha Butler has recently established an excellent website about the Merci Train history in Idaho and she has also reported on some of the history of the train, its boxcars, and the gift of gratitude collections in other states.
I, Earl Bennett, found it very interesting and informative and recommend a visit to the website idahomercitrain.omeka.net/.
I recently received, as a gift from the author, and read a wonderful novel for Junior High school age children about the history of the Friendship Train. Linda Baten Johnson is a person who loves to tell stories and a master of the art of weaving together the facts of history and the fictional characters she has created to help her make the history memorable to her audience. Although her intended audience is juniors, I am 80 years old and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the time I spent reading the book.
Here is a link to her website, lindabatenjohnson.com, which tells where the book may be purchased.
In a recent letter from our friend and fellow researcher, Pamela Todd of Red Lodge, Montana, Pam shares a discovery that she made at the State Archives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania early in 2012. One archived document that she read reported that the town or city of Middletown, Pa had requested of the governor of Pa to let them permanently have the Merci Train boxcar to display there in Middletown, because the little boxcars had been manufactured in the town of Middletown by the Middletown Car Company. The railroad car company was a prosperous business in the 1870s and 1880s and, according to one document that Pam read, "built thousands of the later called 40 & 8 boxcars"; one order alone from the French National Railroad was written for 5,000 of the cars! It was reported in 1949 newspaper accounts, when the Merci Train arrived in New York Harbor, that the Merci Train boxcars had been built between 1875 and 1882. The Middletown Car Company also built cars for Russia and Chile, Argentina, and many other countries as well over the many years it existed. A note at the top of the highlighted web page below says that the company was a supplier of "wooden boxcar... And other stuff".
I (Earl Bennett) have long suspected that the boxcars had been manufactured in the United States but had never located any substantial evidence to support my belief, but now we have it, thanks to the faithful folks who archived the supporting evidence so many years ago, and to our Pam Todd, who has helped us locate a lot of other historical evidence and artifacts about the Merci Train history. To read more about the Middletown Car Company and its business history, including a devastating fire which destroyed most of its manufacturing plant on Christmas morning in 1886, go to the Middletown Car Works/Co. website.
Of course there would not be anyone left alive who worked on building the now more than 125 year old boxcars, but descendants of those workers might still live in the town, and have old photographs and even memories of hearing the stories of their ancestors who did work at the plant. From what I gleaned from reading the posting at the above website, it seems that the company stayed in Middleton into the 20th century. Anyone who finds more information is asked to share it with us by emailing Roxanne Godsey.
by John Stevens
February 26, 2012 turned out to be a momentous day in the history of the MerciTrain.org website. After almost 18 years, Earl Bennett, Sr. finally completed his quest to visit all 43 existing Merci Train boxcars. Earl saw his first boxcar while visiting with his son and his family when he was stationed at Mountain Home AFB in Idaho. They decided to visit the Old State Historical Museum in Boise where one of the displays is the Idaho car. That chance encounter was the catalyst for this website, a book, and travel to visit all the remaining cars.
In the fall of 2011, I had a conversation with Earl that included the fact that my wife and I were going to travel to Hawaii in February 2012 to take a cruise between the islands. We were married in February 1978 and although we didn't have the opportunity to take a honeymoon trip we have always considered the trip we took the following June to Hawaii to be our "honeymoon". Now it just turns out that February is also the month that Earl and Gloria got married. Before you know it, we were planning to meet them in Hawaii and visit the HI car.
As this plan was coming together, I contacted the people that have helped Earl throughout the years with the website about a presentation commemorating Earl's accomplishment of visiting all 43 cars. Roxanne Godsey put together the beautiful certificate you see below.
Finally, the big day arrived. As you can see from the picture below-right, there were five of us in attendance to present the certificate to Earl. They are from left to right...Sue Stevens, John Stevens, Gloria Bennett, Earl Bennett, Sr., Dorothy Scheele (owner of The Friendship Train 1947 website), and Todd Schannuth, who assists Dorothy with her website.
Here is a thumbnail of the certificate presented to Earl.
Click on image below to view full size
Click on the images below to view full size
John Stevens presenting the
certificate to Earl
Earl proudly displaying
left to right
Sue Stevens, John Stevens,
Gloria Bennett, Earl Bennett, Sr.,
Dorothy Scheele, Todd Schannuth