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The 1947 Friendship Train in Kansas
by Dorothy R. Scheele

In November 1947 a train crossed America, carrying food donated by Americans for the hungry citizens of Europe. The Friendship Train constituted a little known but fascinating historical event in American history. The train originated from an idea developed by Drew Pearson, well-known broadcaster and columnist. While in Europe after World War II, Pearson noted that Communist Russia was sending a paltry number of boxcars of grain to France and Italy. When the grain arrived, Communists created huge celebrations emphasizing the source. Pearson surmised that the purpose of the parades and festivities was to persuade the European countries that the Soviet Union was their friend and that they would be much better off choosing Communism as a way of government. Considering a Communist Europe anathema, Pearson concluded that the United States could send food to the Europe. He wanted the American people, not the government, to send the food to Europe. To that end he and others organized a train which would cross the country collecting food from the people. Although the train traveled through only eleven states, every state contributed.

The October 31st, 1947, Wichita Eagle proclaimed that Texas and Oklahoma communities are engaging in a friendly rivalry with Kansas in a contest of filling the greatest number of boxcars with wheat for the needy in Europe. Such friendly rivalry existed between towns, cities, and states across the nation. Kansans were as eager as all citizens to accumulate as much food as they possibly could.

The following statements from the November 16, 1947, Wichita Eagle reflect the general attitude toward the train:

"I think it's a wonderful idea," said Lewis Harry, 807 South Clifton, Wichita.

"Throw it (the $5.00 he had contributed) in with the rest and use it where you need it," said another man.

"I ain't never growed no wheat . . . but I got some corn for this train of yours," said a local farmer.

A woman who didn't know the governor's name sent a check to his office to buy food .

Another man who had just finished a breakfast of juice, hot cakes, ham and eggs, and coffee gave a $100 check saying, "I'd like to buy breakfast for some of those folks over there."

Foremost in organizing Kansas's Friendship Train was Dick Long, editor of the Wichita Eagle who was in charge of the train. Other volunteers were Ed Dunn, chairman of the Friendship Train committee; Ed Weeks, treasurer of the campaign; and Sam Wallingford, president of Kansas Wheat for Relief Committee and co Chairman of the Friendship Train Committee.

Wichita was the assembly point for nearly all the boxcars from Texas and Oklahoma. Other cities and states sending one or two cars were Nevada and Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and Colorado.

The contributions in Kansas surpassed all expectations. Sam Wallingford had extended the original cut-off date for cash contributions, and by November 20 he had announced that the total amount had passed $50,000

The individuals and organizations throughout the state contributing cash and food, almost all of which was wheat, are far too numerous to list separately even though all deserve mention.* (Kansas newspapers published daily reports of donors and their donations). Nonetheless, some cannot be overlooked: By Thursday evening, November 20th, the date of the train's arrival, the total cash collected from Shawnee County was $10,096. The biggest single contributor for that day was Perry community which gave $596 in a drive sponsored by the Thompsonville Community Methodist Church. Los Alamos, New Mexico, sent $2,000. Viola, a town of 125 sent $400. A donor who refused to give his name walked in to the office of Mayor Tucker's secretary and placed $65 on her desk, declaring that he wanted to cash to be used to buy flour. Lew White, a member of the Jr. Chamber of Commerce, in Kansas City, Kansas, noted that some organizations of young people had been instrumental in helping the Sunflower state campaign. The Boy Scouts, Fairfax Hills Teenagers, and the Camp Fire Girls were among the young people's organization. The Camp Fire Girls, canvassing from door-to-door, collected $2,100. At one out of the way train stop, an elderly woman walked up to the master of ceremonies, placed a one dollar bill in his hand, and simply walked away.

Food contributions were equally startling. David C. White, a farmer from Kingstown, Kansas, donated five carloads of wheat valued at $20,000. Page six of the Wichita Eagle, Nov. 11, 1947, he stated: "If we want to avoid another war we had better give our wheat than our boys and girls. We just couldn't resist the temptation, my wife and I. It just made us feel so good. And maybe we'll give some more."

Nate Puckett from Oklahoma informed Wallingford that Enid was sending six cars to Wichita and subsequently would send more.

Larned, Kansas, added nine cars of wheat from Pawnee County. The gift was presented to the Friendship Train on Sunday in an all-civic program held in Larned. The main speaker was H. B. Unruh, President of Pratt Junior College and District Governor of the Lions Club. He would also be in Wichita on November 20th for the ceremony there.

As was customary throughout our nation, each town that had been a collection point for the train held departure ceremonies. Opening the event in Wichita were bands from the North and East High Schools. They had been prepared by Harold Clevenger and played under the baton of Duff Middleton.

The Santa Fe Railroad heightened the singularity of the event by using its new diesel electric engine. Spectators assembled at the Douglas Avenue overpass thrilled to the site of the Friendship Train when it slowly blasted into view. As it did so, other trains at the station blew their whistles to help celebrate this historic event. Flood lights highlighting the train and forming a V in the sky further excited the crowd. The Southwest's Grain Train, also known as the Pearson-Eagle Train, was valued at $800,000. Much of the grain from this train would be milled in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (See the newsreel under the Pennsylvania history).

A special dinner at the Allis Hotel honored those who had contributed to the train's success. At this dinner Drew Pearson spoke briefly, thanking the many who had helped. Other speakers at the departure ceremony were Marcellus M. Murdock, publisher of the Wichita Eagle; O. L. Gray, Manager of the Santa Fe Railroad; Gov. Frank Carlson; Mayor Charles Ritchie; and Nicolo Guilli, representative of the Italian Government.

With the bands, the floodlights, whistles, speakers, and the approximate 120 boxcars, the thousands who watched the Southwest Friendship Train begin its trip across Kansas and ultimately to Europe knew they had just witnessed history in the making.

Leaving Wichita about 6 A.M. November 21, the train arrived in Newton about one hour later. Despite the chilly weather, the initial small group of people quickly grew to an estimated 750. Al Nordstron, President of the Newton Chamber of Commerce, headed the welcoming committee. The high school band delighted the crowd. L. B. McGee was chairman for collections in the business district in Newton, and Mrs. Will Dyck served as collection supervisor for Harvey County. Citizens improvised a speaker's platform from a truck, with funds for an amplifier donated by Preston Bean. Gerald Wilkins served as master of ceremonies. Leaving Newton after a 30 minute stop, the train roared off to Emporia.

An estimated crowd of 1,500 eagerly awaited the food train when it rolled into Emporia about 10:30, Friday. Frank Eckdall, chairman for the Lyon County Wheat For Relief Campaign, assured the crowd that they had surpassed their goal of 1,500 bushels by at least 28. Cash contributions up to that morning had totaled approximately $4,500. Grain dealers, by reducing the price of grain to $2.67 a barrel, had encouraged the purchase of more wheat than officials had anticipated.

Miss Betty Childers of Junction City added novel encouragement by showing a toy train at the rotunda of the administration building of Emporia College. Named the Hornet Unlimited, the train was intended to attract students so that they would help reach the college's goal of 100 bushels of wheat which they did. The slogan for this small but effective exhibit was "Skip a Meal and Feed a Family."

Eckdall's committee had been too busy to list contributors. (The November 19th Gazette published a short list of donors.)** Despite lacking a complete list at that time, the newspaper reported some notable donations. Marion, Lyon, and Navarre Counties each contributed one carload of wheat. (Conflicting information credits Marion County with contributing two carloads.) Students and faculty of Lowther Junior High School lead, presumably in school donations, by contributing five bushels of wheat and $362 in cash.

The train pulled into the station as the high school band played to greet it. Officials stepped off to speak to the crowd. Gov. Carlson lauded Kansans for their extraordinary generosity, saying that they had contributed more than the citizens of any other state. He spoke about the time in previous years when Kansas had provided or received help from other states, citing the assistance Ohio had given the Kansas during the grasshopper plague and that from the eastern states during an equal time of need. The governor said that remembrance of the help was one reason for Kansas's extreme generosity.

Other speakers were O. L. Gray of the Santa Fe Railroad, Mayor Charles Ritchie of Wichita, and Marcellus M. Murdock, publisher of the Wichita Eagle. The spectators especially anticipated hearing and seeing Drew Pearson, most likely because he was the originator of the idea of helping the distraught European people. He assured the crowd that the Europeans would unquestionably know that the food came from the people, not from the government of the United States.

Before departing Emporia, Pearson visited Mrs. White, who was the widow of Mr. William Allen White, an outstanding editor of the Emporia Gazette. Fellow journalists consider him as legendary, his newspaper having been judged exemplary in small-town journalism. Mr. White had been a friend of Pearson's father and was among the first journalists to publish his column.

Mayor C. V. Morris and local schools and colleges were present at the departure ceremony which was said to be the most jubilant and enjoyable of the Kansas sojourn up to that time.

The train left Emporia shortly before noon, carrying enough wheat to make 13,000,000 loaves of bread: included also were18 cars of various groceries, three of which were rice, one of sugar, and one of salt.

Page one of the November 21, 1947, Topeka Star Journal features a picture of a spout from a grain mill with wheat pouring into a truck. Paul R. Bailey is the mill worker in the picture. Also pictured are George Saulner, foreman at the mill, and John Miller, Chamber of Commerce Commissioner for Agriculture.

Workers attached Topeka's two cars to the food train during the mid-afternoon stop at the capital city. At least 14 other cars were also added that came from various cities and towns. Some of the other points of origin were St. Joseph, Missouri; Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Lindley Hines of radio station WREN announced the half-hour ceremony. A transcript of the festivities was recorded for a 6:00 p.m. broadcast over ABC, a fact which undoubtedly made Topekans quite proud.

Presiding over the event was Rep. W. S. Robinson, state representative in charge of grain distribution. Some of the speakers were Rev. Bradshaw, who spoke on behalf of Topeka churches; Dean John Warren Day, who offered a prayer for the gifts, and Mayor Frank Warren. Also in attendance was Dr. John Metzler of Chicago, who was National director of the Church Rural Overseas Program.

The Topeka Chamber of Commerce declared that the cash contribution as of the evening of November 20 was $10,096. The biggest contributor for that particular day was $596 from Perry County. The Thompsonville Community Methodist Church sponsored the drive. Mission Township donated $239. Homerooms at Topeka High School donated $275, an impressive amount considering the age group. The largest contribution came from the aforementioned David White and his wife whose donation amounted to $20,000 in wheat and cash. Wholesale beer distributors contributed 32 bushels of wheat. An auction held at Indian Creek Grange Hall netted $356.

The train departed for its next destination, Lawrence. The largest crowd of the entire Friendship Train's journey through Kansas was in Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas. The number of people is not surprising when one realizes how eagerly individuals and organizations attacked the one-week food drive. A representative from the French Embassy said, "I can't even write about this to Europe. They just wouldn't believe me."

Rev. T. H. Aszman traveled through Jefferson County soliciting donations. As a result of his efforts, clubs and groups in Perry, Oskaloosa, McLouth, and Valley Falls agreed to participate. Lee Huddleston of the Oskaloosa State Bank led the Jefferson County drive. According to John Roberts of the Oskaloosa Independent, some of Lawrence's wheat had been designated for Topeka; he said, however, that he would definitely see Lawrence received the credit as the donor.

Educational institutions in Lecompton, Douglas County, donations exceeded $1,000. Haskell contributed $156, the city schools contributed $464 and 41 bushels of wheat; and the students of Kansas University. contributed the remaining amount. "Have $8,200 for Friendship Train," Lawrence World Journal Nov. 20, 1947: 1+.

The community of Baldwin had overwhelming response according to Ren Bonebrake, chairman of the Friendship Train Committee. The small community had donated $600. The students and faculty of Baker University, members of the Ives Chapel, and congregants of the First Methodist Church all guaranteed their assistance. "Have $8,200 for Friendship Train," Lawrence World Journal Nov. 20, 1947: 1+.

The governing body of the Pinckey School Parent Teacher Association wrote letters to their members exhorting them to support the Friendship Train. Mrs. D. F. Jennings, president of the association, expressed complete confidence in their support. Local radio station stations made spot announcements reminding listeners of the Friendship Train and its purpose. Vernon Reed, program director of KFH, sent announcements to all stations in his network instructing them to mention the train.

Creating interest and enthusiasm for the train stirred the locals in their incredible generosity. Newspapers, radio stations, and churches exhorted Kansans to contribute. In Kansas, giving seems to be a natural and heartfelt instinct. T. J. Sweeney was the treasurer of the drive. Among the first to donate was the Central Protective Association. At a meeting Commissioner Elmer Ousdahl reported that members immediately dipped into their pockets when they heard about the train, donating $73. An additional $20 was added from the treasury itself.

Some of the other monetary contributions were $1,500 from members of the Elk Lodge. Baldwin residents gave $600. The combined donation from McLouth, Oskaloosa, Winchester, Okawkie, and Meriden was $1,123. Eudora contributed $324 plus 50 bushels of wheat. A warm contribution came from a Japanese employee of a hotel in Denver. The employee had known Mayor F. W. Schmitt in California. Hearing about the drive in Kansas, he sent a note with $5, telling the mayor he wanted to help. The final cash contribution from Lawrence was $8,488.

Frank Jahn offered the earliest wheat contribution in Lawrence. He delivered eight bushels to Underwood and Sons. Some of the many other wheat donations came from Finley Bros. of Eudora; Fred C. Flory and sons, Virgil, Ben, and Francis of Lone Star who gave 40 bushels. William Middlekauff, 10 bushels; Underwood, 20 bushels. The total wheat contributions from Lawrence totaled $3,021.

The Friendship Train rolled into Lawrence at 4:00 for its 30 minute stop. The festivities were held in a park west of the Santa Fe station. Dr. Novotny of the school district had dismissed the pupils at 3:00, saying that he believed it was important for them to see history in the making. Bands from the junior and senior high schools and from Haskell Institute played a musical program until the train arrived.

Haskell Indians, who were members of Margaret Speelman's Indian Club, gave an basket of grain to Gov. Carlson. Dressed in their native costume, the Indians demonstrated their enthusiasm for the Friendship Train and their desire to give.

After brief speeches from Gov. Carlson and Pearson. The train left for Kansas City, Kansas, its final stop in the Sunflower state.

The train was scheduled to arrive at the Santa Fe freight yard in the Argentine district in Kansas City, Kansas, at 7 30 a.m. Nov. 21. The goal for the city was one carload of flour. Contributions received to date were gifts of $25.00 each from the Leader Clothing Company, the Brotherhood State band, and the R. H. Weber Real Estate firm.

Boy Scouts collected contributions from the audience at a wrestling match the previous night at the Memorial hall, and Camp Fire Girls, who met in Huron Park, received containers to use for canvassing their neighborhoods. Clifford C. Nesselrode, Jr, as a representative of the Junior Chamber of Commerce assisted the Camp Fire Girls.

Other cash contributions included $102 which firemen gave out of their pockets while attending a firemen's ball. The Firemen's Relief Association gave $100; the Seventh Street Methodist Church contributed $32; the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders and Helpers donated $1.00, and the Washington Avenue Methodist Church donated $61. (A more complete list of donors appears at the end of the text. )***

The Kansans had filled an extra large boxcar with flour with a cash value of $4,500. With leftover funds the Friendship Train Committee then donated $1,060 to Kansas City, Missouri, to help that city fill its boxcar, and it also gave $1,600 to the committee in New York to purchase food for the Christmas shipment. The campaign leaders were so thrilled to have exceeded their goal so impressively, especially after the cash campaign had begun with a slow start, that they decided to hold a celebration the next evening at the Argentine railroad yards. Only about 150 attended, a steady rain causing most people to stay home. Officials in addition to Mayor Clark Tucker were Don Baldwin, Boy Scout executive; Lora Parker, Camp Fire Girl Executive; Rev. Robert E. Penn, Head of Ministerial Alliance; and Jr. Chamber of Commerce members instrumental in the Friendship Train campaign. These members were Lew White, Howard Manning, John Claflin, Ralph Evans, Charles Hackel, and John Witaker.

The train ended its odyssey in Kansas and headed to Kansas City, Missouri. From there approximately 200 of the boxcars headed for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the wheat would be milled and shipped to Europe from there. From Kansas City, Missouri, the train traveled to Chicago and then East where its contents would be loaded on ships sailing for Europe.

France Thanks Kansas - Just as Generously

Residents of Kansas have a proud and substantial reason for having received the boxcar which France sent to Kansas in February 1949 as a thank you for their contributions. Each one of the 48 states received a boxcar, and one was sent to Washington, D.C. which was to be shared with Hawaii. Kansas's car is located at American Legion Post #173, E. 13th Street and Canterbury Drive, Hayes, Kansas. Readers can see it on the internet at www.mercitrain.org.

Earl Bennett's web site is www.mercitrain.org. The site has pictures of all extant boxcars which he found while driving across the United States, a jaunt which took about four years. The boxcars for each state are pictured separately except for the six that are missing. In some instances, the state car sites also have pictures of gifts the French sent to Americans. The Merci Train site and the Friendship Train site are companion sites.

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*Wichita Eagle November 16, 1947, has a lengthy list of contributors, both for Kansas and other southwest states and counties.

** This edition of the newspaper has a long list of contributors. "Final Splurge Here Nets Two Cars Wheat" Topeka Daily Capital, Nov. 21, 1947: 1+.

** *The Women's Society of Christian Service of the Methodist Church of Garnett, Kansas, $38. Zion Evangelical and Reformed Sunday church school, $28. Central Avenue Methodist Church $21. Many more are mentioned in this article. Bonner Springs, $200 Sumner High School $24. Episcopal Guild of Olathe and Hawthorne grade School, and the Parkwood Club, $17. Police Force, $100. Ruby Avenue Good Will Society and B'nai B'rith Saadia No. 40, money for a sack of flour. Kansas city Service Grocers, $276. The Soroptomists Club, $150. Wichita school children collected enough money to buy an entire carload of wheat. Six local sign companies, Dunn Sign Co., Western Signs, Midwestern Signs, Springborn Signs, Modern Signs, and Great Signs announced that they would provide the writing for all cars going to Wichita which did not have signs.

**** The Topeka Daily Capital, Nov. 17-21 has lengthy lists to contributors.

List of Works Consulted

"Friendship Train Interest Spreads Over Southwest," Wichita Eagle Nov. 15, 1947: 1+.
"Gifts, Large and Small, Roll in for Friendship Train Fund," Wichita Eagle Nov. 16, 1947: 15.”
“”Friendship Train Expected to Contain Over 120 Cars,” Wichita Eagle” Nov. 19, 1947: 1+.
“2 ‘Grain Specials’ Arrive in Phila.,” Philadelphia Inquirer Nov. 27, 1947: ????.
“45 Cars Of Food Already Assured for Relief Train” Wichita Eagle, Nov. 12, 1947: 4.
“Car From Graham County,” Topeka Daily Capital Nov. 17, 1947: 2
“Carlson Aboard Friendship Train,” Lawrence Journal World, Nov. 17, 1947: 1+.
“Churches Add Wheat to Pile With Offerings,” Topeka Daily Capital Nov. 17, 1947: 1+.
“Columnist to take Part in Friendship Train Ceremony,” Wichita Eagle Nov. 14, 1947: 1+.
“Emporians Speed Friendship Train on Way to Europe,” Emporia Gazette, Nov. 21, 1947: 1+.
“Emporians Speed Friendship Train On Way to Europe,” Emporia Gazette, Nov. 21, 1947: 1+.
“Final Splurge Here Nets Two Cars Wheat,” Topeka Daily Capital Nov. 21, 1947: 1+.
“Flour From K. C. Mills,” Topeka Daily Capital Nov. 17, 1947: 2.
“Food Train Fund Here Grows to $1,672,” Kansas City Kansan Nov. 18, 1947: 1.
“Food Train on With 23 Cars Added Here,” Kansas City Kansan Nov. 22, 1947: 1+.
“French Kids Get Rides on ‘Friendship’ Train,” Telegraph-Herald Sep. 6, 1951: 6.
“French Orphans Enjoy Gift Food,” Spokesman-Review [Spokane, WA] Dec. 30, 1947: 29.
“Friendship Food Meets Some Difficulty in Identification,” St. Petersburg Times Jan. 7, 1948: 6.
“Friendship Off Today After Ceremonies Here,” Philadelphia Inquirer Nov. 30, 1947: 1+.
“Friendship Train Adds Fourteen Cars at K. C., ”Emporia Gazette, Nov. 22, 1947: 1.
“Friendship Train Contributions Go To $3,164.88 Total,” Topeka Daily Capital Nov. 18, 1947: 1+.
“Friendship Train Drive Gains Momentum,” Wichita Eagle Nov. 13, 1947: 1+.
“Friendship Train Expected to Contain Over 120 Cars,” Wichita Eagle Nov. 19, 1947: 1.
“Friendship Train Fund Here is Growing Slowly,” Kansas City Kansan Nov. 17, 1947: 2.
“Friendship Train Fund Passes $6,000,” Kansas City Kansan Nov. 20, 1947: 1.
“Friendship Train In Emporia Friday Morning at 10:30,” Emporia Gazette, Nov. 20, 1947: 1+.
“Friendship Train Leaving Kansas with 174 Food Cars” Wichita Eagle Nov. 22, 1947: 1+
“Friendship Train Moving Across Kansas Picking Up Cars of Food” Lawrence Journal-World Nov. 21, 1947: 1.
“Friendship Train to Arrive Here Nov. 21,”Kansas City Kansan Feb. 14, 1947: 1.
“Have $8,200 For Friendship Train,” Lawrence Journal World, Nov. 20, 1947: 1+.
“Hillsboro Reaches City’s What Goal,” Wichita Eagle Nov. 21, 1947: 3.
“Local Food Train Fund Far Over Goal,” Kansas City Kansan Nov. 21, 1947: 1+.
“Mennonites Sending Car of Flour for Europe’s Hungry,” Wichita Eagle Nov. 14, 1947: 1+.
“Midwest Good Will Pours Out for Giant Relief Train,” Topeka State Journal Nov. 21, 1947: 1+.
“Missouri Towns Donate to ‘Friendship Train,” Maryville [Missouri] Daily Forum Nov. 20, 1947: 1.
“Money Pouring In To Pay For Wheat,” Lawrence Journal World Nov. 13, 1947: 1+.
“More Than 100 Food Cars to Leave State for Europe,” Wichita Eagle Nov. 18, 1947: 1+.
“On Friendship Train,” Lawrence Journal World , Nov. 6, 1947: 1
“Overpass Rites to Speed Mercy Load to Hungry,” Wichita Eagle Nov. 20, 1947: 1+.
“Rites Thursday Will Start Friendship Train on Way,” Wichita Eagle Nov. 17, 1947: 2.
“State Rivalry on Filling of Friendship Train Appears,” Wichita Eagle Oct. 31, 1947: 1+.
“The Kansas Way” Wichita Eagle Nov. 17, 1947: 6.
“Wheat Coming In For Relief Train” Emporia Gazette, Nov. 19, 1947: 1.
“Wheat Spills Over Top of County’s Car” Topeka Daily Capital Nov. 19, 1947: 1+.
Pearson, Drew. “Telling President of France About the Friendship Train,” St. Petersburg Times Dec. 20, 1947: 36.

The author welcomes any additional information which would add to this state's history.

The Friendship Train was the genesis for the French Merci Train. Website www.mercitrain.org has information about that train.

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