Last updated: 02/24/01
An interesting and obscure bit of Washington's railroad related history is
this French boxcar on display in Yakima's Sarg Hubbard Park. Some of the
facts surrounding these boxcars are a bit vague. This is what I've been able
to piece together. (79K 768x512 jpg)
During World War I and II army troops were transported around France in trains. However, instead of riding in passenger cars, the troops were frequently loaded into these boxcars which were boldly stenciled with their carrying capacity: "Hommes 40-Cheveaux 8." That translates to 40 men, or 8 horses and the boxcars were commonly referred to as "40 and 8" cars. "Forty and Eight" was also the name that one veterans group used when they returned from the war.
In 1947, an American newspaper columnist Drew Pearson organized a $40 million relief effort to aid post-war France through a difficult period, that became known as the American Friendship Train. The train was filled with food, clothing and other donated items and was shipped to France.
In 1949, the French People gave each of the states, the District of Columbia, and Hawaii, a 40 and 8 boxcar as a token of gratitude for our participation in the war and for the relief supplies. The boxcars were colorfully painted and emblazoned the the crests of each of the French provinces. I'm told that the boxcars also contained additional gifts but what those gifts were and what became of them is unknown to me.
Washington's boxcar was originally displayed on the state capitol grounds in Olympia. After decades of neglect and vandalism, veterans groups received permission to move the boxcar to Yakima in 1970. The boxcar was restored by local volunteers and was stored for a long time at the Perry Trade School (now the Perry Technical Institute).
An American Legion Post in Yakima was granted permission in 1990 to move the Washington Merci Boxcar to this location in Sarg Hubbard Park and build a memorial.
A more detailed story about the Merci Boxcars can be found in this history net article: http://www.historynet.com/AmericanHistory/articles/1095_text.htm.
Earl Bennett has expended a considerable amount of effort to track down the surviving Merci Boxcars, their contents, and stories. He has written a book, and until it is published, we'll have to be content with his web pages: The Merci Train
The west side of the boxcar viewed through the bars. (63.9K 512x560 jpg)
The east side of the boxcar viewed through the bars. (67.5K 512x576 jpg)
The Memorial as seen from a nearby lookout tower. (65.8K 768x512 jpg)
Oregon's Merci Boxcar was originally on display in Salem. After years of neglect, the car was transferred to the Clatsop Voiture No. 547 of the 40 and 8 Society. After being displayed in Astoria for several years, the boxcar was moved in 1995 to it's current location at Ft. Stevens State Park near the mouth of the Columbia River.
This is how the Merci Boxcar's appeared when they first arrived from France.
(92K 768x512 jpg)
(81K 768x512 jpg)