"Merci" boxcar renovation complete
Nevada’s “Merci” boxcar, a gift from the grateful French nation after World War II, has been completely renovated and is on display at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City.
Museum Director John Ballweber said the project cost about $5,600.
“We finished it up on Nov. 7 and rolled it into the annex building Tuesday or Wednesday,” he said.
World War II veteran David E. Parsons spent seven years collecting money for the project, which took three full-time museum employees and volunteers eight weeks to complete. The work started in early October.
A member of the Army Air Corps, Parsons rode in one of the boxcars through Europe after arriving in France during the war. He said money to renovate the boxcar was donated by local veterans and other private organizations, like Carson City’s Leisure Club. Parsons is retired and lives in Sparks.
“I visited the museum in 1995 and talked to curator,” he said. “I told him what I would like to do for project, and then they figured how much money they’d need. They came up with $6,000. I finished the project about eight months ago.”
Housed in the museum’s annex, the train will be placed under a pavilion just west of the main building after funds for the addition are secured.
Washington, D.C., radio commentator and columnist Drew Pearson first proposed the idea of a U.S. “Friendship” train of food for the starving people of France and Italy.
The idea caught the hearts and imaginations of the Americans, and on Nov. 7, 1947, 12 loaded boxcars and a locomotive left Los Angeles, amid parading movie stars and bright lights. The train crossed the country, and on Dec. 8, 214 gift-laden cars sailed for France.
The French expressed their gratitude in 1949 by sending 49 of the old boxcars, filled with gifts for each state.
Built in the 1800s and used in both world wars, the boxcars were nicknamed “40 and 8’s” because they could transport 40 soldiers or eight horses.
Nevada’s train arrived via the V&T Railroad on Feb. 23, 1949. The old boxcar stood at the Nevada State Museum until the early 1980s, when it was moved to its current location.