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Rhode Island's Friendship Train
by Dorothy R. Scheele

Rhode Island, the smallest state in our country, seems to have not been aware of the Friendship Train (FT).  Societies and organizations which collect and archive historical and community events contain no references of the FT.  The Rhode Island State Historical Society stated that it has nothing in its files about the Train, as did the State Library.   Web site suggestions from the Historical Society, such as  www.rihs.org/library/ yielded no information, nor did local papers and historical societies.             

The lone reference to the FT which I could find appears in an article in the Providence Journal, Nov. 26, 1947.  At a meeting of the Pawtucket Citizens’ Club, then Governor John O. Pastore was asked to contact governors of the other New England states to determine if they would be willing to form a New England Friendship Train.  Probably a response exists for this request; if so, it could not be found.  Gov. Pastore’s official correspondence offered not a single reference to this idea.  At the same meeting, the presiding member announced that the Lawson Trucking Company offered to lend one truck to transport 18 tons of food to New York.  The committee decided it was too late to activate this proposal and settled on the idea of the aforementioned New England Friendship Train.­­

According to the Hartford Daily Courant, Nov.24, 1947, Gov. Pastore told Gov. James L. McConaughy of Connecticut that Rhode Island’s food drive would begin on Monday, November 24.  Similar to the other proposals and ideas, no further information exists.

Despite the near oblivion of awareness about the FT, Rhode Island newspapers reported widely of the arrival of the Merci Train.   The Merci Train was a thank you symbol from French citizens to American citizens for their food donations.  Had it not been for the FT, the Merci Train would never have come into existence; there would have been no progenitor of it.  This train arrived in America containing one boxcar of gifts for each state.   On the evening of February 8, 1949, Mayor Dennis J. Roberts of Providence proclaimed February 9 as an official day for welcoming the state’s Merci boxcar.  This boxcar is exhibited at Boothbay Railway Village Museum.  

Web site www.MerciTrain.org, founded by the late Earl Bennett, Sr., has pictures and locations of all the remaining boxcars.  Three were destroyed and the fate of the other three is not yet determined.  The web site is a treasure of Merci Train information.

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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