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The Heart of the Friendship Train in Utah
by Dorothy R. Scheele

The date was November 7, 1947.1 The most extravagant gala ever seen in Hollywood was about to begin. The one hundred and fifty movie stars who participated received special permission to perform from the president of the Screen Actors Guild. Their president, Ronald Reagan, immediately assented.2 On Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea to Vermont Avenue and on Sunset Boulevard from Vermont to Silverlake Boulevard, thousands watched a symbolic train with flag-draped boxcars and nearly a dozen bands. Gov. Earl Warren of California swung the lantern, the signal to start the train. Other officials present were Mayor Fletcher Bowron of Los Angeles, Charles Luckman, head of the President Truman’s Citizen Food Committee, and Harry Warner, President of Warner Bros. Studio.

The festivities had begun about 9:00 p.m. Fanning the sky were 160 searchlights, forming the letter V. Lauritz Melchoir opened the ceremony by singing The Star Spangled Banner. The actors and actresses entertained for two hours. The list of celebrities was impressive: Eddie Cantor was master of ceremonies; Margaret O’Brien spoke on behalf of the occasion; Lionel Barrymore emceed the program on coast-to-coast radio. Some of the other celebrities present were Mickey Rooney, Elizabeth Taylor, Red Skeleton, and John Wayne.3 The ceremony, staged for national publicity and intended as a kick-off rally, ended about 11:00 p.m.

In another part of Los Angeles on this day and for the entire week before, at 619 Antonio Avenue, teamsters, volunteering their labor, were loading cartons of food into the boxcars of another train.4 The people of southern California had donated the cartons, which the men were so carefully stacking. Throughout much of southern California, fire departments and businesses with trucks had voluntarily picked up the cartons at collection points and delivered them to the train sidings. Cash donations that had been given in place of the food gifts were sent c/o Postmaster Los Angeles, 53.5 Why were the food and money being collected? Why were so many Hollywood stars and thousands of spectators out on this warm Los Angeles evening? What kind of extraordinary gala were they attending?

The thousands of people were witnessing the send-off of the Friendship Train, America’s forgotten, majestic contribution to France and Italy, also one of the greatest humanitarian movements in history. Utah did its part in this nationwide movement.

The Friendship Train appeared on the American historical landscape because of the economic conditions in Europe after World War II. Subsequent to this world changing war, much of Europe was structurally flattened and most of its population without basic necessities. The most serious deprivation was a grave shortage of food. The severe drought of 1947 compounded the misery of a continent already made chaotic and bereft by the war. Flour to bake bread, foremost in a European’s diet, was restricted to six ounces daily. If a family wanted a few more ounces to bake something else, it was taken off their rations.6 Americans who had been abroad publicized the stark needs of the Europeans.

George Welsh, then president of the United States Conference of Mayors, returning from a conference in Paris, described conditions as serious. Twenty Iowa farmers who traveled to Europe at their own expense in order to assess the situation corroborated Welsh’s observation.7
Learning of the misery of the Europeans and hearing that Russia had sent tons of grain free to France, Drew Pearson, a columnist, broadcaster, humanitarian, and one-time nominee for the Nobel Peace prize, saw no reason why America could not make a similar contribution. Thus, the crystallization of the Friendship train, which by the end of its journey, had collected 40 million dollars’ worth of food to send to Europe.8

Publicizing his idea in his syndicated column and weekly radio broadcast, Pearson and others had the plan in action within five weeks. The collection and shipment of food to France and Italy was not in any way carried out by the United States government, and it had no connection with the 12 to 16 billion dollar Marshall Plan being discussed in Congress at the same time.9 Instead, in an effort to help the French and Italians, the people of the United States, the ordinary, everyday John and Mary Citizen, donated this enormous amount of food, which consisted among other donations of items such as pastas, grains, condensed milk, and dried fruit. The people gave with startling generosity and enthusiasm. They gave as if they had been contributing to their own hungry grandchildren.

The Friendship Train, also known as the Food Train and occasionally the Relief Train or Bread Train, beginning its cross-country journey in California, raced across country in just 11 days. The 12 boxcars the train had when it left Glendale had increased to over 270 and three separate trains by the time it reached New York. Ships waited in the harbor to transport the food.

Giving to the Friendship train exploded into a national passion. Cities and counties competed to see which would give more. Many citizens in towns which were not on the train route felt indignant at the perceived sleight, and made various plans to have their contributions included. Money to buy food was collected in churches, football games, and movie theaters. In some towns, citizens placed barrels on corners for people to drop in money. Newspapers sometimes reported individual stories about collecting for the food campaign. In Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a ten-year old boy spent his day off school collecting food. When his wagon was full, he took it to a collection point and then went back for more. In Spencer, Iowa, an engineer on the Milwaukee line stopped his train so the crew could trudge through the snow to give money to a radio station having a fund drive. Washington state, fearing that the Northwest would be left out of giving, by November 5th had a boxcar ready to meet the train at Ogden, Utah.10 Sioux Indians in Nebraska, when presenting their gifts, also carried a sign, “Tell Europe we want peace.”11 Those towns not on scheduled railroad stops insisted on giving, an occurrence causing many unscheduled stops.

Businesses and industry gave as unstintingly as private citizens. The railroad companies donated their boxcars and the use of their rails, and the two shipping companies United States Lines and the American Export Lines, donated their ships and manpower to transport the food across the Atlantic. Members of the local teamster unions loaded the boxcars at their own expense.12 Without charge, California Eastern Airways flew the food, which had been collected too late to meet the train, across the country to New York.13 Goodyear Tire and Rubber donate pliofilm, a material used for waterproofing the packages.

Children were also part of the spirit; the November 5th Los Angeles Times has a picture of the daughter of actress Eve Arden holding a toy Friendship Train. Most certainly many children had this toy.

While Los Angeles enjoyed the festivities, the actual Friendship Train was preparing to depart. Glendale, at the foot of the Verdugo Mountains and part of the Los Angeles metropolitan area, was the send-off point for the Friendship Train. Most likely Glendale was the departure point for the train because it was well suited to handle freight. As spotlights brightened the sky, the celebrities entertained, the fifteen-float parade glided by, and the happy crowd watched. In Glendale, the train was preparing for its historic journey. In addition to the food cars, the train pulled eight others for the crew and news teams: five Pullman cars, a flat car, a dining car, and another locomotive. The farewell celebration began. H. F. Green, the very first engineer of the Friendship Train, drove the train to the station. The words of Rev. Clarance H. Parlous of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church revealed both the solemnity and enthusiasm for this special occasion, “God bless this endeavor. God speed this train. God speed this peace!” Frank R. Kirkland, station agent, expressed the climactic and simple words for the enthusiasm for the train, “This is it.”

The Friendship Train, its cargo reflecting humanity at its best, roared into the California evening at 11:00, its cross-country odyssey launched, its final destination New York and the waiting freighters bound for France and Italy.

According to Drew Pearson, each package of the Friendship Train would carry this message:

All races and creeds make up the vast melting pot of America, and in a Democratic and Christian spirit of good will toward men, we, the American people, have worked together to bring this food to your doorsteps, hoping that it will tide you over until your own fields are again rich and abundant with crops.14

With Characteristic Kindness

Utah’s contributions reflected its citizens’ concerns for humankind. The Friendship train arrived in Ogden, its only stop in the Beehive state, at noon on Monday, Nov. 10, 1947. Local bands from Weber College, Ogden High School, and Weber County High School heralded the historic occasion.15 Moving pictures, intended for viewing later in Europe,
recorded the festivity.16 Local radio station KLO recorded the ceremony and broadcast it at 7:30 that evening.17

As was customary, governors and/or mayors joined the train in advance of its arrival in their state or city. So doing enhanced the excitement of the Friendship Train and also made the ceremony warmer and more personal. In keeping with the developing tradition, Mayor David S. Romney, who was also chairman of the Ogden Friendship Train committee, had flown to Reno Sunday evening so that he could ride the train to Ogden. Some of the other dignitaries present were Drew Pearson and Jean Dupard, who was chief of the French food mission in the United States.

Speaking through a cluster of microphones, Pearson stated that the most important feature regarding the Friendship Train was that the food came from the citizens of the United States and that the Europeans should definitely be aware of that fact. He thanked Union Pacific railroads for the unflagging help. He also noted that the Southern Pacific claimed that the Friendship train on its journey between Reno and Ogden was the fastest freight train in history.18

Gov. Herbert E. Maw presented Utah’s three Friendship train cars. The contribution included one carload of wheat from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, another carload of wheat donated by the Lions Clubs within Utah, and one of evaporated milk from the citizens of Ogden.19 Because of the short notice of the existence of the Friendship Train and thus brief preparatory time, many western states caught up with the train later, sending cars to meet it at other junctions. Consequently at this stop, three boxcars from other states were also added: a carload of wheat from Burley, ID, a carload of flour from Salem and Halsey, ID, and one of flour from Los Angeles.20
Collecting food and money for the train was problematic for the leaders of the campaigns. With a mere 48-hour notice, Ogden and Salt Lake City had only a short time to prepare for their contributions. The chairman of Ogden’s local committee was S. C. Steward; the assistant chair was Ted Kirkmeyer.21

Other Utah committees seem to have been aware of the Friendship Train but were not involved in donating or even knowing that their state was included in this effort. The Reading Eagle (Nov. 13, 1947: 11) reported only that the Friendship Train was heading for Green River, Wyoming. The only notation in Vernal Express (Nov. 13, 1947: 11.), was that the train had left Los Angeles and was expected to have 70 or 80 cars by the time it reached New York. This estimate indicates how modest were the original expectations for the train. Ultimately, in addition to the three trains to reach New York in November, as word of the Friendship Trains spread throughout the country, the final total was approximately 270.

The Richfield Reaper (Nov. 13, 1947: 1.) stated only that the Elsinore Lions Club participated. None of these papers nor others in Utah, such as the San Juan Record, the Beaver Press, or the Times-Independent [Moab, UT], refer to the train in anyway, or if they do, their comments do not reflect the state-wide pride and enthusiasm which was evident in most other states.

The absence of the contagious spirit of the Friendship Train might be attributed to the short notice Utah had to prepare for it. More significant may be that the Latter Day Saints through its welfare organizations had already shipped 85 cars of food and clothing to Europe.22 The 85-car donation occurred earlier than the Friendship Train and may be the cause of the relatively small campaign for contributions in November 1947. Nonetheless, the Friendship Train arrived in the Beehive state with 29 cars and departed with six more, three from Utah and three from other states. Green River, Wyoming, was its next stop.23

1 “Friendship Train Given Send-off in Hollywood” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 8, 1947, Part I: 6. [Hereinafter “Friendship Train”] Unless otherwise stated, the information regarding the send-off is from this article.
2 Pearson, Drew. “The Washington Merry-Go-Round” Nevada State Journal, Nov. 9, 1947: 4.
3 “Film Stars to Aid Food Train Parade Tomorrow” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 6, 1947, Part I: 6. [Hereinafter “Film Stars”]
4 “Film Stars”
5 “Friendship Train Loading to Begin” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 5, 1947, Part I: 2.
6 “Long, Tania. “Pictures of an Average French Family” New York Times Magazine, Mar. 14, 1948: 13.
7 Pearson, Drew. “The Washington Merry-Go-Round” Illinois State Register, Nov. 18, 1947: 1+.
8 Pearson explicitly stated some of his thoughts regarding the founding of the Friendship Train in the “Merry-Go-Round” column appearing in the Advance Register [Tulare, CA] Oct. 27, 1947: 1. “…the people of western Europe [will] get the full significance of this American generosity, [sic] there won’t be any doubt as to whose side they will be on. That, of course, is one of the big reasons for the Friendship Train, and why newsreels of the train will be shown in European theaters, and why the French and Italian embassies are working on the ideas of meeting the food shipments on the other side with two European ‘Friendship trains to carry the cargoes from the French and Italian seaports through Italy and France.’”
9 A very loose connection with the United States government existed in that President Truman heartily endorsed the Friendship train. “’Friendship Train’ to Roll Out of Valley” Advance Register, [Tulare, CA] Oct. 27, 1947: 1.
10 “Seattle’s ‘Friendship’ Car of Food Departs” Seattle Daily Times, Nov. 6, 1947: 20.
11 “City Awaits Arrival of Friendship Train” Evening Bulletin [Philadelphia, PA], Nov. 17, 1947: 1.
12 “Good Will Train Grows” York Dispatch [York, PA], Nov. 10, 1947: 1.
13 Pearson, Drew. “The Washington Merry-Go-Round” Intelligencer Journal [Lancaster, PA], Nov. 1, 1947: 10.
14 Pearson, Drew. “The Washington-Merry-Go-Round” Gazette and Daily [York, PA], Nov. 7, 1947: 28.
15 “Thousands of Utahns Greet ‘Friendship Train’ Today” Salt Lake City Tribune, Nov. 10, 1947: 1.
16 “Friendship Train Given Enthusiastic Reception” The Standard-Examiner [Ogden, UT], Nov. 10, 1947: 1. [Hereinafter “Enthusiastic Reception”]
17 “Lions Pledge to Buy Wheat As Friendship Train Gift” Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 7, 1947: 26.
18 “Enthusiastic Reception.”
19 “Utahns Donate 3 Carloads To Food Train” Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 8, 1947: A-16.
According to Melvin B. Wright, district governor of northern Utah, No. 28-A Lions International, and G. Clifford Juhlin chairman of the Friendship Train committee, the state Jr. Chamber of Commerce may also have contributed to this carload. The list of donations conflicts slightly with an article in Salt Lake Tribune (“Utah Cars Join Relief Train” Nov. 11, 1947: 1.) which states that Utah’s contribution included a carload of milk from Ogden, one of wheat from Lions Clubs, and one of seed wheat for Greece from Latter Day Saints. H. Alvah Fitzgerald, district governor of southern Utah district 28-B Lions International, supervised donations.
20 “Thousands of Utahns Greet ‘Friendship Train’ Today” Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 10, 1947: 1.
21 “Enthusiastic Reception.” The Salt Lake City Jr. Chamber of Commerce had urged citizens to contribute money to purchase another carload of grain before the Friendship Train arrived. However, only $333 had been donated. Campaign chairman G. Clifford Juhlin stated that the money would either be returned or used to buy care packages. (“Lions Pledge to Buy Wheat As Friendship Train Gift” Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 7, 1947: 26.) The Lions Club had lent $3,380 so that Utah districts 28-A and 28-B in the northern and southern parts of the state respectively could contribute. Lions Club members were supposed to repay the loan by contributing $1.20 each.
22 “Latter Day Saints Welfare Sends Food To Japanese Families” Salt Lake Tribune, Oct. 26, 1947: B-20. The LDS as of Oct. 1947, had sent 85 cars of food and clothing to other LDS families in Japan, Hawaii, Germany, Finland and other countries.
23 “Thousands of Utahns Greet ‘Friendship Train’ Today” Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 10, 1947: 1.

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 has information about that train.

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