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The 1947 Friendship Train in Texas
by Dorothy R. Scheele

The Friendship Train is a unique and fascinating event in American history. It traveled across the United States from Los Angeles to New York in November 1947. The purpose of the train was to collect food from every household, city, county, and state in the United States to give to the starving people in France and Italy. The idea for the Friendship Train was created by Drew Pearson, a noted columnist and broadcaster. (See the first and second entries of this website for a detailed history of the Friendship Train.)

When Texas residents heard about the train, they responded with unbridled enthusiasm. Their very first response, however, was not enthusiasm but indignity: the train was not coming to their state. Indeed, as was stated in a memorandum about the train, the closest it would be to the Lone Star state was 800 miles. (Actually the nearest proximity which can be determined at this point is about 550 miles, the distance between Amarillo and Omaha). To Texans, the fact that their state would not play at least as big a part as any other state in the country was unfathomable. The unknown author of this same memorandum emphatically stated, “TEXAS CANNOT BE IGNORED.” A letter from the Methodist Church in Wortham, Texas, signed by R. O. Seely and three others to Gov. Jester expresses similar thoughts: “. . . . urge you to take action and make necessary arrangements so that the state of Texas, that is recognized abroad for her warm heart and sympathetic understanding . . . . We believe it is unthinkable that Texas fail to have a share in such a project.”

Texans seem to have learned about the Friendship Train long after the idea for it was publicized. Although it was announced as early as October 11, 1947, earnest work to collect food did not begin until late October and early November. A letter from one of the Lions Clubs, which would be the foremost organizers for this incomparable humanitarian event, declared that immediate action was imperative. In the letter the train is referred to as the ‘Food for Peace’ train. In another letter dated November 6, 1947, Gov. Beauford explained to Mr. R. O. Seely that he was in contact with relevant persons and organizations to begin the food drive. In another anonymous letter the writer states that Melvin Jones, founder of the Lions Clubs, had just issued a plea to the Texas clubs to participate.

Various cities and Lions Clubs had different names for the trains which they sponsored or helped to sponsor: the Texas Food for Peace Train, the Train of Mercy, the Panhandle Train, the Wheat Train, and the Southwestern Friendship Train. Most likely the Panhandle Train and the Wheat Train eventually combined with the Southwestern Friendship Train keeping just that one name. The Lions Clubs decided that one train should start in Amarillo and the second in the South; they did not specify which city. Urged into immediate action and needing publicity, the clubs first contacted all newspapers and radios. Letters requesting information on who to contact in their community flowed into Gov. Beauford Jester’s office. The Governor promptly set about contacting people to help start the food drive. Word about the Friendship Train spread rapidly.

In Amarillo radio stations KGNC and KFDA advertised the train and encouraged giving. At a meeting of 60 representatives from various organizations in the Panhandle, Mr. Lon Edwards of the Downtown Lions Club was chosen as chair of the collection committee.

Contributions of money and food began to pour in. School superintendent Charles M. Rogers received special permission from the school board to allow the children to donate. The Groom Lions Club donated $616. Some of the other Texas cities giving cash were Friona, Borger, Memphis, Stinnett, Clarendon, Childress, and Turkey.

Another organization also contributing to the Amarillo effort was the Panhandle Wheat for Relief which collected $1,000. In Hartley, Baptist and Methodist churches lead a drive resulting in 500 bushels of wheat. Amarillo contributed two cars of flour; the city’s final cash tally was $8,471. Childress and other small towns near it combined their collections with Amarillo’s. Some of the towns which contributed to the grain cars were Gruver, Vega, Hartley, Whitedeer, and Perryton, NM. Additional towns donating cash were Lubbock, Clarendon, Paducah, Hereford, Memphis, and Canyon. The plethora of communities participating in the Friendship Train campaign made listing them all nearly impossible. One could safely say, however, given the enthusiasm and the generosity that Texans had for the train, that almost every town in the Lone Star state donated.

Midland had held a food jamboree to raise money and to acquire food donations. The city named its train the Food for Peace Train. Almost certainly this was not a separate train, but the name for the boxcars originating from Midland. Probably the Midland boxcars and also the cars from nearby Odessa joined the Southwestern Friendship Train in Ft. Worth.

The Southwest Friendship Train left Amarillo on November 18th with at least 12 cars. It would pick up 10 more cars in Enid, Oklahoma, and at least five more from other towns before it joined the 114 cars waiting in Wichita, Kansas. As was typical throughout the country, there were ‘farewell’ ceremonies for the Friendship Trains. The one for the Southwestern Friendship Train took place in Newton, Kansas. Gov. Frank Carlson and Drew Pearson both spoke. Gov. Jester could not attend, but he sent a telegram expressing his gratitude and pride in Texas.

As far as can be determined, all the Texas trains passed through Ft. Worth; consequently, determining departure dates for trains and the cities from which a boxcar originated was problematic. For example, on November 18th, 11 cars, originating in the Santa Fe yards, traveled through Ft. Worth. Six cars had been sent earlier that week but their origin is indeterminable. In other states the towns and cities usually put their logos or names on their boxcars. One could assume that Texas towns did that also although there is no mention of it.

Ft. Worth was called the food arsenal of Texas. The city itself contributed one carload of grain, one of powdered milk, and one of miscellaneous food items. However, a note from an unknown Lions Club member declares that Ft. Worth sent four boxcars. Ft. Worth citizens had given $12,000 to the Lions Club. The money left over from that contribution, $667, was to be combined with other monies from other parts of the state. The state office received approximately $5,000 in contributions which it passed on to towns needing help filling their cars.

Some of the contributors to the Ft. Worth food drive were Waples-Platter Co. which donated 50 cases of condensed milk; Bewley Milk which gave $250 worth of flour, and the Ft. Worth Poultry and Egg Co. which donated 250 cases of powdered eggs. Taylor and Simpson Co. donated over $800 worth of powdered milk. Cars from Austin, San Antonia, Waco, Houston, and Galveston added to the number of cars from Texas. Brownsville donated an entire boxcar of grapefruit juice.

“Texas Lions were responsible for [sic] forty-six cars leaving Texas and joining the Southwest Friendship Train on November 17th. Also, another $10,000 has been sent to Drew Pearson which represents money received too late to purchase food . . . .” According to the Ft. Worth Star Telegram, Nov. 21, 1947, the Southwestern Friendship Train had 70 cars when it left Wichita, Kansas. Whether these cars went through Ft. Worth or had been sent before the 46 Lions cars is indeterminable as of this writing.

The monumental effort mounted by the Texas Lions Clubs resulted in the 46 boxcars and $10.000 donated to the Southwestern Friendship Train. With the Lone Star state flag donated by Ft. Worth flag dealer J. J. Langeveron attached to one of its cars, on November 17 the train joined the other 114 boxcars waiting in Wichita. KS. The next stop was Chicago, and from there to New York and the ships waiting in the harbor.

List of Works Consulted

“11-Car Texas Relief Train Rolls North” Ft.Worth Star Telegram Nov. 19, 1947: 1.
“13 Cars of Plains Donated Food Will Roll Toward Today” Amarillo Daily News Nov. 18, 1947; 1+.
“70-Car Southwest Food Train Rolling” Ft .Worth Star Telegram Nov. 21, 1948: 14.
Car Texas Relief Train Rolls North Ft. Worth Star Telegram Nov.19, 1947: 1
“Dallas To Donate Milk For Friendship Train” Ft. Worth Star Telegram Nov. 6, 1947: 5
 “Final Report ‘Friendship Train’” From the holdings of the Texas State Archives #2.
“Food Jamboree Set at Midland” Dallas Morning News Nov. 9, 1947: 9.
“Friendship Cars Filling Rapidly” Amarillo Daily News Nov. 14, 1947: 1+.
 “Friendship Food Shipment Leaves Here For Rendezvous” Ft. Worth Star Telegram Nov. 19, 1947: 1.
 “Friendship Food Train Being Loaded Here Today” Ft. Worth Star Telegram “Nov. 15, 1947: 1.
“Friendship Train Drive Intensified” Amarillo Daily News Nov. 12, 1947: 2.
 “Friendship Train Gifts Top $5,500 Keep Rising” Ft. Worth Star Telegram Nov. 16, 1947: 1+.
“Meeting Called Today to Plan Coordinated Gifts for Europe” Amarillo Daily News Nov. 7, 1947: 4.
“Meeting Called Today to Plan Coordinated Gifts for Europe” Nov. 7, 1947: 4.
“Plains Cities Add To Friendship Train” Amarillo Daily News Nov. 11, 1947: 2.
Weaver, Rufus. Letter to Beauford H. Jester. From the holdings of the Texas State Archives #9.

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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