Saving a portion of history and preserving memories is what veteran organization Voiture 333, 40 & 8 has in mind as they work toward the “Save our Boxcar” dinner and auction slated for Saturday May 21.
Don Barbour, 40 & 8 president, said the organization’s first ever fundraiser is being conducted to help restore the historical French boxcar located on the Missouri State Fairgrounds.
“We’re looking at a goal of $20,000,” Ernest M. Parker, the secretary/treasurer of the 40 & 8, added. “With that we’re going to try and renovate the boxcar. We hope to build some ramps so people can get up inside of it.
“The ultimate goal is to actually enclose the whole thing in plexi-glass, where we don’t have to ever renovate it again,” he noted. “That’s what we’d like to do.”
The boxcar built somewhere between 1875 to 1882 was used by the French in both World War I and World War II.
“I have found casting on the hub, the wheels themselves, that says 1898,” Parker, also a retired Major with the United States Air Force, added.
According to information provided by the 40 & 8 the small narrow-gauge boxcar is an important piece of American and Missouri history. It was a gift from the people of France after World War II. The project became known as the Gratitude Train or Merci Train and featured 49 railroad cars filled with gifts.
The Merci Train arrived in New York on Feb. 3, 1949 on a French freighter named “Magellan.” Forty-eight boxcars were given to each state at the time, with the 49th being shared by Washington D.C. and Hawaii.
When the Missouri boxcar, that now sets on the Missouri State Fairgrounds, arrived, it was filled with 5,200 pounds of gifts for the people of Missouri. Most of goods were divided up by state officials and vanished. Some are still on display in the Pettis County Historical Museum.
“Everyone of them had at least a wedding dress, they had paintings, and of course wines and cheeses,” Parker said. “All of the gifts in those boxcars were from individuals in France. Each had a little tag on them saying it was a gift from this individual.”
The Missouri boxcar is owned by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and is maintained by members of the 40 & 8.
Parker also said that the plaques on the side of the train that represent the Provinces of France need updating. He is hoping to have people buy a sponsorship of $250 or more for the project.
“A donation will get them a sponsorship of one of those (plaques),” he said. “There’s 28 of them I believe.”
“They represent the coat-of-arms of the Provinces of France,” Barbour added.
The rail cars were used in both World War I and II to transport soldiers and supplies. They could haul 40 men or eight mules at a time, hence the name 40 & 8. After France fell to Germany in World War II they were used for other purposes.
“In World War II … the French surrendered rather quickly,” Parked noted. “These boxcars were taken over and many of them were used to transport the POWs and the Holocaust victims.
“We had a gentleman stop by three years ago at the Fair,” he added. “He had actually been in the American Army and he was an engineer. He drove some of these trains, and he had a scrap book that showed many destroyed. They were obviously good targets for the Germans.”
“That old boxcar has a lot of history,” Barbour said. “It’s important history that people should know about … it’s quite a boxcar.”
The boxcar fundraiser, slated for Saturday May 21, at the Agriculture Building on the Missouri State Fairgrounds will feature a dinner and auction.
The 40 & 8 have already received many auction donations including Branson show tickets, gift certificates, resort stays and in-home wine tastings. Monetary donations are also being given.
“We’ve gotten some donations as far away as Cape Giardeau,” Parker said. “We have an individual from Oregon that’s been emailing me that is very interested in what we are doing. He’s going to try and get some cash donations.”
Many of the 40 & 8 Posts across Missouri have donated to the auction Barbour said.
“Mike Hawk and the Knights of Columbus are catering the meal,” Parker added.
The dinner will consist of a choice of two entrees, roast beef or honey baked ham. Sedalia Boy Scout Troops will help serve the dinner.
The cost for the dinner is $25 per person. Those who don’t wish to eat may attend the silent and live auction at no cost.
Parker added that this is the first phase in their fundraising efforts.
“Once we get this done we’ll actually start working on the renovation and restoration,” he noted. “We’ll try and determine the best way to get all the paint off the metal … we’ll probably be doing that by contract.
“Hawaii, right now, is in the process of renovating their (boxcar),” he said. “They are doing a full renovation, and I’ll be communicating with them. I’ve been told they have actually been able to get a copy of the blueprints.”
Parked also said the local 40 & 8 Post will have a new website up and running next week at: Voiture333Sedalia.com.
“It will have Post information on that, we’ll have copies of our minutes, our newsletter and different pictures of things we are involved in,” he said.
The “Save Our Boxcar” dinner and Auction is Saturday May 21 in the Ag Building on the Missouri State Fairgrounds. The doors will open for the silent auction at 4 p.m.; bidding ends at 7:30 p.m. The dinner is at 6 p.m. and the live bid auction at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the dinner are $25 per person. For more information call 619-3557.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss; photos by Faith Bemiss | Democrat