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The Nebraska Friendship Train
by Dorothy R. Scheele

A more complete history of the Friendship Train (hereafter referred to as FT) is on the
home page of this website.

SYDNEY

The FT swept into Sydney on the evening of November 11, 1947 at 9:45, klieg lights announcing its arrival. Although Sydney had not been included in the original plans, local enthusiasm demanded that the Train stop in their town: donations from the small town were impressive enough to cause officials to change their plans. This kind of excitement and fascination with the FT occurred throughout its cross country odyssey. Giving to the Train became a national explosion both in the towns where it stopped and across the entire country. Often the atmosphere at the festivities was compared to the ambience at state fairs.

Rev. Gerald Gardner and Elmer Haines arranged the welcoming festivities. Rev. Walter Jewett offered a prayer dedicated to the needy. Despite the near freezing temperatures in Sydney, a crowd of 500 ignored the cold and showed up to greet the Train. The festivities began with the Sydney High School Band first playing an inspiring march, then the National Anthem, followed by America The Beautiful. The crowd sang the words to these patriotic and inspiring songs, the music and the singing warming the shivering spectators. Imagining their voices generates the feeling of patriotism and pride the people had for their country and themselves.

This town of only 3,388 contributed two boxcars of wheat with the help of citizens Cheyenne, Kimball, and Deuel Counties who had also contributed wheat for the Train.

Among those encouraging contributions were state Senator Ray Babcock, Howard Osborn, Ed Gerlack of the Farmers Cooperative Elevator, and The Nebraska Council of Churches.

Gene Slattery, a fifteen-year old from North Platte, continuing his devotion to his country, enhanced the contribution by auctioning off a shirt. He had achieved fame during World War II by auctioning off shirts for bond drives. This time with the help of the auctioneer he raised $130. George Welsh, Mayor of Grand Rapids, Michigan, was awarded the shirt.

At the ceremony, which was conducted by J. K. Mahr, Mayor C. B. Dorwart presented the Train to Drew Pearson. Representatives of The French and Italian governments expressed their appreciation of American’s gifts to their countries.

SCOTTSBLUFF and THE NORTH PLATTE VALLEY

Almost immediately east of Wyoming is Scottsbluff and other communities in the North Platte Valley. Contributions from Scottsbluff and nearby towns plus communities in southeastern Wyoming, such as Cheyenne, Pine Bluffs, Burns, Torrington, and Lingle donated substantial amounts. The little town of Lingle itself contributed five tons of wheat and combined with Goshen County contributed nearly five tons of beans. These generous donations were loaded either in Cheyenne, Wyoming, or Gering, Nebraska. Scottsbluff citizens donated a boxcar of beans with an estimated value of $10,000. The boxcar was loaded at the Chester H. Brown Bean Company.

Reverends from Scottsbluff Carl Green, Henry Baumgaertal, and A. Brenning aided in organizing the FT plans and accepted the food stuffs when they arrived in North Platte.

All of the freight cars were sent to North Platte for loading

NORTH PLATTE

Zooming in from Sydney the Train arrived at North Platte at 7:15 a.m. As was the spirit de corps throughout the Cornhusker state, North Platte exemplified enthusiasm. Whistles and sirens announced the Train’s arrival. Despite the early hour a crowd of several thousand cheered at their first glimpse of the Train. In fact, the cheering and zeal was compared only to the signing of the Armistice in 1918. The Train was spotted at the Union Pacific Station. The Colagen Transfer Co. provided a flatbed truck to be used as a speakers’ platform. Radio station KODY set up speakers and a public address system so all the spectators could hear. Among the dignitaries present were Drew Pearson, Tom Slator of the President’s Food Committee, Colonel Paul Betters, Executive Director of the United States Conference of Mayors, and representatives of the Italian and French governments.

Rev. John Ripley, Jr., Walter Scott, Earl Harrano, and Dale Dryden were chosen to accept the monetary donations.

Among the local officials prominent in contributing to the train were Glen Wiseman, Lincoln County superintendent; Mrs. Elizabeth Eggers, Keith County superintendent; Mrs. Ruth Rees McQuiston, Perkins County superintendent; and W. J. Braham, North Platte Public Schools Superintendent. Also promoting donations were Bill Ellison, Paul Ely, Bill Wilson, H. E. Day, and A. C. Stalcup, all from North Platte. Glen Hahn, Superintendent of grade schools in Grant County, and W. Conover, county attorney and president of the Grant Lions Club, organized committees to solicit donations from possible generous donations.

In Keith County Dan Richards, Superintendent of Ogallala schools, directed the drive; E. L. Campbell, president of the Ogallala Chamber of Commerce formed a committee to solicit donations from businesses; Mrs. Elizabeth Eggers organized the contributions of schools in Keith County. Mrs. McQuistron organized donations from the North Platte schools. The town’s goal was one carload of wheat. Surrounding counties generously assisted North Platte in reaching that goal.

North Platte school children were credited with much of the success of the FT drive.

W. J. Braham, Superintendent of the North Platte Schools, stated that the children themselves had contributed $409, definitely a sizeable sum considering the year and the rural locations. They had also contributed an impressive 600 bushels of wheat. Perkins County teachers Myrtle Laux, Wilma Houser, Verneta Enfield, and Darrell Johnson vigorously encouraged their students to donate. Ogallala service clubs donated $245; Hayes County contributed $109, and Curtis City contributed $111. Rev. Carl Green stated that North Platte Valley had contributed one carload of beans. Workers loaded the boxcar in Gering at the Chester B. Brown Bean Co. and connected to the FT at North Platte.

Because of their magnanimous donations, the children of North Platte were treated to cartoon movies. One can imagine how thrilled they were.

The Train left North Platte for its next stop, Kearney.

KEARNEY

The celebration for the Train’s morning arrival in Kearney was, according to Drew Pearson, the largest crowd and the most exciting early morning jubilation that he had seen so far on the cross- country venture. At this point the Train had traveled through four states.

After the parade on Central Avenue, speakers began their presentations. A flatcar placed west of the Union Pacific Station served as the platform. Newsmen on the train recorded the events which would later be shown in Europe. Radio station KGFW broadcast the program locally, and station WOW of Omaha assigned Ray Clark to record a 12-minute broadcast.

Nicolas Guido, the representative of the Italian government, and Jean DuPard, the representative of the French government, expressed their gratitude for the needed food for their fellow countrymen. Lieutenant Governor Robert Crosby appealed to the crowd’s empathy with his statement: “You all know how cold you are here: suppose you were there.”

Mrs. David Cramer, a French war bride, spoke to the crowd. Visibly emotional, Mrs. Cramer said that she “could not adequately express my gratitude on the part of the nation of my birth, nor my pride of the nation of my adoption.” Her words humbly reflect the national feeling for the Friendship Train.

The enthusiasm of the Kearney crowd was created in part, no doubt, by the involvement of so many people in the numerous organizations which participated in all aspects of the Train: the Kearney Legion Drum and Bugle Corps, businessmen, students from the high school and the training school, Future Farmers, and the Boy Scouts. The American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars collected cash at the intersection of 22nd Street and Central Avenue. The Presbyterian Church and the Trinity and Bethany Churches made special appeals to their congregation, urging them to donate. Den mothers of Scout Troop 1 announced that the scouts themselves had earned all the cash they had contributed. Students at the local teachers college canvassed the campus for cash contributions.

One of the two carloads of wheat added at Kearney was from towns such as: Elm Creek, Gibbon, Shelton, Poole, Sweetwater, Ravena, among others. The second carload added was from Phelps, Hamilton, and Harlan Counties. Gage County had sent its car ahead to Council Bluffs, Iowa. According to the Kearney Daily Hub (November 13, 1947, page one,) Beatrice had previously sent two cars ahead, but their destination was not disclosed. Most likely it was also going to Council Bluffs, Iowa.

After its one-hour stop, the train left Kearney for its next destination Grand Island.

GRAND ISLAND

With its generous supply of needed food on board, the FT roared into the Pine Street crossing in Grand Island at 1:30, November 12. The Wahoo High School Band and an estimated eager crowd of 3,000 to 5,000 cheered its arrival. Mayor Ben Cunningham had asked businesses to close at 1:00 for one hour so that everyone had a chance to see the Train. His doing so tells us how important the Train was to the country.

As had happened in all Nebraska towns where the train stopped, a welcoming ceremony started the festivities. Resident Ed Whitebuffalo gave an unusual gift. He offered one bushel of Indian corn to be auctioned for a cash return. The result of the auction was more than $300 resulting from Mayor B. J. Cunningham’s auctioneering at the station. Hastings residents had added several thousand pounds of food.

Among those speaking to the crowd were the representatives of the French and Italian governments, Drew Pearson, Lieutenant Gov. Robert Crosby, and Mayor Ben Cunningham.

The food Train gifts were packed by employees of the Donald Company, Ulry Talbert
Company, and Nash-Finch Wholesale Grocery. Teamsters loaded Grand Island’s 57,000-pound freight car. Both the packing and loading of were gratis as was practically everything concerning the FT.

Former resident Frank Jennerman conducted the train east, and Al Nelson served as the train engineer as they drove the train to Fremont

FREMONT

At Fremont several Nebraska dignitaries, although unnamed, joined the train. More than 3,000 people came to witness this totally unique, once-in-a-lifetime event. The Fremont Finance Committee announced that it had received $1,496 as of Monday; the amount did not yet include Sunday church collections. At the station the spectators donated $1,100 which they raised during the ceremony.

A parade began in the business district and concluded at the railroad station. The Fremont High School Band and bands from nearby community schools marched to the welcoming ceremony.

Fremont residents added two complete freight cars of flour plus another one thousand.

LINCOLN

The FT did not stop in Lincoln but went directly from Fremont to Omaha, its last stop in the Cornhusker state. However, the city did its share to add to the nation’s gift. For undisclosed reasons, Lincoln was markedly behind the food drive. The capital’s goal was to raise $4,500, which would be enough to purchase one carload of wheat. Hugo Srb, chairman of Lincoln food committee, said that time limitations prevented acquisitions for the food itself, thereby creating the request for money only.

Headlines in the Lincoln Star shouted the need for donations: “Lincoln Not Ready for Grain Train” Lincoln Star Nov. 8 1947: 1. and “Lincoln Still Under Food Train Goal” “Lincoln Star” Nov. 15, 1947: 1. Highlighting the need for money to their fellow townsmen were two citizens: C. H. Schenck and Helen Dunlap who donated $200.00 and $15.00 respectively.

The $4,476 funds not available when the train traveled through Fremont, Hugo Srb contacted Drew Pearson asking how to dispose of the boxcar. Pearson suggested the car be attached to another FT which would soon be in the area. In this case, the car was attached to a train traveling through later in the week bound for Kansas City.

Resident John Crom, a native of Aurora in Hamilton County, offered a unique idea. One day he observed a plethora of corn left in a field even though the harvest was over. Memories from his draconian days as a prisoner of Japan during World War II reminded him of the extreme hunger he and other prisoners had endured. Believing passionately that he did not want the corn to be wasted, he went to the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, where he presented his idea of giving it to the Europeans. Clifford Rose served as chairman of the contribution committee. As a result of Crom’s suggestion, junior and senior high school principals dismissed their students early so that they could collect the corn from the approximate 1,000 acres lying fallow.

They must have felt the satisfaction of knowing they played an enormous part in their country’s beneficence.

OMAHA

Mayor Charles W. Leaman had boarded the Train at Fremont to accompany it to Omaha. Howard Drew of the Junior Chamber of Commerce was chairman of the welcoming ceremonies.

A crowd greeted the FT when it rolled in Wednesday evening, announcing its arrival with search lights. Present at its arrival were the Boys Town Band, Gov. Val Peterson, and Henri Bonnet, the French ambassador to the United States. AK-Sar-Ben Queen Emily Reynolds presented the bill of lading listing 50 thousand pounds of flour to Drew Pearson. Also speaking at the ceremony were Jean Dupard, chief of the French Food Mission to the United States, and Nicola Guilli, the Italian ambassador to the United States. Bonnet, French ambassador, stated at the Omaha ceremony that the French people were limited to 200 grams of bread a day, a paltry amount for people who were accustomed to eating much bread.

Omaha had achieved its goal of one carload of flour. Other communities helping Omaha to success were Rapid City, SD, and Kansas towns, Blue Rapids, Marysville, and Frankfort. The FT departed Nebraska, having donated 11 boxcars of food for its heartfelt mission. Council Bluffs, Iowa, was the Train’s destination.

List of Works Consulted

"5 Carloads Of Food Added Here” Telegraph-Bulletin [North Platte, NE]Nov. 12, 1947: 1+. 

“Aid Train Rolls Into Nebraska” Nebraska State Journal Nov. 12: 1.

“Bean Shipment of $10,000 Ready for Friendship Train” Scottsbluff Star-Herald Nov. 9, 1947: 1

“Cash Still Coming In For Friendship Train; NP [North Platte] Contributors Are Listed” Telegraph-Bulletin [North Platte] Nov. 14, 1947: 1+.

“Cash Still Coming In For Friendship Train; NP Contributors Are Listed” Telegraph-Bulletin [North Platte] Nov. 14, 1947: 1+.

“Crowds Hail Food Train In Nebraska” Knickerbocker News Nov. 12, 1947: 11A.

“Europeans Should Be Shown U.S. Aid Sacrifice For Us” Telegraph-Bulletin, [North Platte] Oct. 11, 1947:  4.

 

“Food Train Fund Here AT $3,203” Lincoln Star Nov. 13, 1947: 1.

 “Food Train Fund Now At $4,476” Lincoln Star Nov. 19, 1947: 1. 

“Food Train Fund Now At $4,476” Lincoln Star Nov. 19, 1947: 1. 

“Food Train Is Speeding East” Telegraph [Sydney] Nov. 11, 1947: 1.

“Food Train Ready” Lincoln Star Nov. 7, 1947: 6.      

“Food Train Total Here Now $3,719” Lincoln Star Nov. 17, 1947: 1

 “Friendship Train Crossing Nebraska” Lincoln Star Nov. 12, 1947: 2.

“Friendship Train Idea Expands to 45 Cars’, Heads To First State Stop” Scottsbluff Star-Herald Nov. 12, 1947: 9.

“Friendship Train Idea Is Praised by Henri Bonnet” Scottsbluff Star-Herald Nov. 13, 1947: 1+.

“Friendship Train Interest Mounts As Organizations Report Good Progress” ” Telegraph-Bulletin, [North Platte] Nov. 5, 1947:  1+. 

“Friendship Train Notes” Kearney Daily Hub Nov. 12, 1947: 1.

“Friendship Train Plan Grows” Lincoln Star Nov. 6, 1947:  2.

 “Friendship Train Will Arrive Here At UP Station, 6 A. M. Wednesday” Telegraph-Bulletin [North Platte]Nov. 11, 1947: 1+. 

 “Friendship Train Will Stop in North Platte” “The Washington Merry-Go-Round” Telegraph-Bulletin [North Platte] Oct. 27, 1947: 4.

“Grain or Money Asked for Friendship Train on Brief Stop in Kearney” Kearney Daily Hub Nov. 4, 1947: 1.

“Grain Train Gifts Take Steady Climb” Lincoln Star Nov. 11, 1947: 2.

“Hurry Or You’ll Miss the Train” Lincoln Star Nov. 11, 1947:  1.

“Lincoln Not Pulling For Grain Train” Lincoln Star Nov. 8, 1947:  1.

“Lincoln Still Under Food Train Goal” Lincoln Star Nov. 15, 1947: 1. 

 “Lincoln’s Food Train Goal Reached” Lincoln Star Nov. 18, 1947: 1. 

“Lingle to Give Five Tons of Wheat to Friendship Train” Scottsbluff Star-Herald Nov. 5, 1947: 9.

“Nebraska Surprised Food Train” Kearney Daily Nov. 13, 1947: 1.

“Nebraska Towns Awaiting Friendship Train Arrival” Lincoln Star Nov. 10, 1947:  1.

“Nebraska’s Friendship Train Enthusiasm Wins Praise” Lincoln Star Nov. 13, 1947: 12

“Pearson Wires Thanks For Local Gifts” Lincoln Star Nov. 20, 1947: 1.

“Perkins In Big Response To Friendship Train” Telegraph-Bulletin [North Platte] Nov. 11, 1947: 1..

“Plans Readied for Food Train” Omaha World Herald Nov. 11 1947: 1.

“State Swells Food Train; French Envoy Praises Aid” Lincoln Evening Journal Nov. 13, 1947: 1.

 “Surplus Wheat, Cash Donations Will Add More Grain To Friendship Train” Telegraph-Bulletin, [North Platte] Nov. 13, 1947: 1+.     

 “Territory Organizes Its Campaign For ‘Friendship Train’ Donations” Daily Bulletin [North Platte] Nov. 4, 1947: 1+.

 “Thousands Line Track To Welcome Trans-Continental Friendship Train” and “5 Carloads Of Food Added Here”   Telegraph-Bulletin [North Plate] Nov. 12, 1947: 1

“Two Cars Added by This Area” Kearney Daily Hub Nov. 12, 1947: 1.

“Valley Church Group Will Aid Food Train” Scottsbluff Star-Herald Nov. 6, 1947: 1.

 “Valley Gift to Friendship Train Ready to Load at Gering Concern” Scottsbluff Star-Herald Nov. 8, 1947: 5.

ARTICLES BELOW HAVE LISTS OF DONORS

“$471 Given Here For Food Train” Lincoln Star Nov. 7, 1947: 1.

“Food Train Fund Now At $4,476” Lincoln Star Nov. 19, 1947: 1. 

“Food Train Total Here Now $3,719” Lincoln Star Nov. 17, 1947: 1. 

“Friendship Train Will Stop in North Platte” “The Washington Merry-Go-Round” North Platte Telegraph Bulletin Oct. 27, 1947: 4.

“Hurry Or You’ll Miss the Train” Lincoln Star Nov. 11, 1947: 1.

“Lincoln’s Food Train Goal Reached” Lincoln Star Nov. 18, 1947: 1. 

“Surplus Wheat, Cash Donations Will Add More Grain To Friendship Train” North Platte Telegraph Bulletin Nov. 13, 1947: 1+. 

“Territory Organizes Its Campaign For “Friendship Train” Donations” North Platte   Telegraph Bulletin Nov. 4, 1947: 1+.

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

The history of the Friendship Train is the first part of a two-part history. The second half is the Merci Train. An entire web site created by Mr. Earl Bennett, www.mercitrain.org, offers a wealth of information about the Merci Train. The site has pictures of all the boxcars which France sent to each state except six and also pictures of many of the gifts and the stories behind them. The Merci Train, like the Friendship Train, was created by the French people, not the government. Information on Earl Bennett’s book can be found at his site mentioned above.

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