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The Oklahoma Friendship Train
by Dorothy R. Scheele

The Friendship Train originated from an idea developed by Drew Pearson, well-known broadcaster and columnist. While in Europe after World War II, he noted that Communist Russia was sending a paltry number of boxcars of grain to France and Italy, and when the grain arrived, 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. Considering a Communist Europe anathema, Pearson concluded that the United States could send food to Europe. He wanted the American people, not the government, to send the food and to that end he and others organized a train which would cross the country collecting food from the people. Although the train crossed only eleven states, every state contributed.

Oklahoma's Friendship Train combined with the boxcars from Texas and Kansas to form one train. This train had various names: the Southwest Wheat Train, the Relief Train, the Food Train, the Wheat Train. The most prominent name is the Southwest Wheat Train. Its final cargo consisted of more than 200,000 bushels of wheat, estimated to make more than 1500 loaves of bread. Although The Daily Oklahoman announced plans for food collections as early as November 8th , the food collection did not really swing into action until many days later. As late as November 17th, the drive was called inconsequential.

E. N. Puckett, a grain dealer in Enid, headed the food campaign, and Kris Kourtis from the local Jaycees was in charge of the collection. Enid became the center for organizing. Puckett believed that Oklahoma was capable of sending more wheat that any other state in United States. He encouraged cities which were not 'wheat' cities to contribute items in bulk. Puckett also requested that any town which had a completely filled boxcar was to have a ceremony for its departure and that the boxcars have the names of the towns and lists of all the individual donors. Similar departure ceremonies occurred throughout the country.

Information about the communities which participated is scant although some records do exist. Tulsa had only one day to collect and load the town's donations. Reasons for such short notice were not explained. Despite the brevity of time, the residents' generous gifts arrived very quickly. The rapidity of the response combined with the short notice prevented officials from keeping a record of who contributed what. Also, for the same reasons, donors did not have time to send notes with their gifts, another standard procedure in the Friendship Train protocol. Clay Roberts, the vice-president and chair of the Friendship Train, stated that officials regretted such short notice and said that had the city had more time, Tulsa would have been able to contribute three boxcars instead of only one.

Donations came from individuals, communities, businesses, schools, and civic organizations. Tulsa's Jaycee officials bought almost 200 sacks of flour with the cash donation they received. Other cash contributions were from students at the Spartan School of Aeronautics, $86; Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, $50; individual Red Cross workers, $50; Francis Petroleum, $1000; students from Webster High School contributed although the amount was not stated. The largest gifts came from two companies: the Refinery Supply Co. gave 50 cases of evaporated milk, and the Greenwood BPOE contributed six 50 pound bags of flour.

Muskogee, a city two hours south of Oklahoma City, sent a Negro Friendship Train which was organized by M. C. Simmons. One method of acquiring donations was to offer free movies to children who brought a can of evaporated milk or something similar to the theater. Other towns throughout the country offered similar enticements for children.

In Grady County the Chickasha Lions Club sponsored the Friendship Train. C. F. Moody, Rot [sic] Pierce, and Anderson Molz were general chairmen. O. E. Owensby and Joe Mosley were in charge of the drive outside of Chickasha, and Jimmy Holtzman made the arrangements. The goal was one carload of wheat.

Yukon, part of the Oklahoma City metropolis, sent two boxcars of wheat flour which had been collected by the Mennonite Central Committee at Cohn.

Oklahoma's contributions were picked up by one train which originated in Amarillo, TX. On November 17th this train traveled through the northwest section of Texas, joining others at Wichita. A second train originating in Dallas traveled north and stopped at three cities: Oklahoma City, Ardmore, and Gurthrie. All of in Wichita In Wichita Oklahoma's boxcars were combined with cars from Texas and Kansas to form what became the Southwest Wheat Train.. The estimated final count of Oklahoma's boxcars was ten or twelve.

Oklahoma continued giving more wheat to Europe. In January, 1948, officials attached at least one boxcar to what was known as the Abraham Lincoln Train which left Lincoln, Nebraska, on February 12, 1948, Lincoln's birthday. The Church World Service and a committee formed from the earlier Oklahoma Wheat Train Committee sponsored this event. From the information given in articles germane to this train, determining whether there was one boxcar or enough to comprise a train was indeterminable.

In a similar situation civic, church, and social organizations met in July 1948 in Clinton, Oklahoma. The purpose of the meeting was to plan for what would become the Will Rogers Memorial Train. This train was also referred to as the Oklahoma Friendship Train and the Will Rogers Friendship Train. The train toured the state in the autumn collecting food and clothing. When it delivered its cargo to sail to Europe could not be determined.

List of Works Consulted

“Campaign to Fill Boxcar Here For ‘Friendship Train’ Opens” Muskogee Daily Phoenix Nov. 9, 1947: 1+.
“Clinton Seeking Food For Europe” The Daily Oklahoman July 13, 1948: 33.
“Friendship Food Train Being Loaded Here Today” Ft. Worth Star Telegram Nov. 15, 1947: 1.
“Friendship Train ‘Still Moving’ Benefit Movie Slated Saturday” Muskogee Daily Phoenix Nov. 14, 1947: 1+.
“Kansas Couple Gives Five Cars of Wheat” Daily Oklahoman Nov. 10, 1947: 1.
“Negotiations Pending to Buy Wheat, Milk for Train” Ft. Worth Star Telegram Nov. 17, 1947, 1.
“Relief Train Food Needed” Daily Oklahoman Nov. 17, 1945: 23.
“Relief Trains Plan Readied” The Daily Oklahoman Nov. 8, 1947: 6.
“Sooner Flour To Aid Europe” Tulsa Daily World Nov. 16, 1947: section 1, Pt. 3, 8.
“Texas Cities Load 50-Car Mercy Train” Dallas Morning News Nov. 16, 1947: 1+.
“Tulsans Donate Friendship Food in Double Quick Time” Tulsa Daily World Nov. 20 1947: Section 2 1+.
“Tulsans Donate Friendship Food in Double Quick Time” Tulsa Daily World Nov. 20, 1947: 1 Section 2.

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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