Forty & Eight Boxcar


By Beverly Pfingsten, November 12, 2010        
1. Forty & Eight Boxcar Marker

Inscription. This car is one of 49 given to the American people by the citizens of France in
thanks for aid rendered during and after World War II. Utilized for hauling military cargo
during two world wars, they were known for their complement of “forty men - eight horses.”
The “Merci” or Gratitude Train was assembled by French veterans, who decorated each car with
the coats of arms of the provinces of France. On February 12, 1949, the citizens of Delaware
formally welcomed the gift-laden offering at a ceremony held in Wilmington. A statewide
exhibition tour followed. The car is owned and maintained by the American Legion’s Society of
the 40 & 8, Voiture #1320 (Marker Number SC-94.)

Location. 38° 38.659′ N, 75° 36.552′ W. Marker is in Seaford, Delaware, in Sussex County.
Marker is at the intersection of Front Street and Poplar Street, on the right when traveling
south on Front Street. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Seaford DE 19973, United
States of America.

See also:
http://www.mercitrain.org/delaware.html

From the Bi State Weekly February 11, 1949

FRENCH GRATITUDE CAR TO VISIT DELMAR THIS SUNDAY
TO BE ON DISPLAY FROM 4:45 UNTIL 6

"Commander Ralph Good, of Glen Rayne Post No. 15, The American Legion, announces that plans have
been completed for the reception of the Delaware car of the French Gratitude Train, which is to be in Delmar,
Sunday February 13. The car which is being taken on a tour of Delaware cities and towns during the week of
February 13, by the 40 and 8, the American Legion organization, will arrive in Delmar at approximately 4:
45 p.m. and will be on display in front of the Avenue Theatre until 6:00 p.m.

All residents of Delmar and vicinity are urged to view this expression of the gratitude of the French people for
the Friendship Train that was sent to France by the by the United States.

Welcoming ceremonies by the Mayor and Town officials of Delmar and Glen Rayne Post have been arranged
by past commander, Francis E. Nunvar.

The hundreds of gifts which the car contains are to be distributed to the State of Delaware, the archives,
commission of the state, schools, hospitals, orphanages, Veterans administration hospital, catholic Diocese of
Delaware, Wilmington Lodge, BPOE, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and libraries. There will
be no general display of gifts at one place, but each institution which receives a gift will be asked to display
them. The gifts will be distributed during the tour.

The State Highway Department will provide the trailer-tractor to be used in transporting the Delaware car on
its tour of the state."

As the article stated the French Gratitude railcar came to Delmar. In November 1947, citizens of
the United States embarked on a private relief effort to provide aid to war torn France and Italy.
This aid was $40 million dollars in supplies filling 700 cars was sent to Europe and was called
the "American Friendship Train". There was also a short film documentary called The
Friendship Train.

The Freedom Train, painted red, white and blue in Salisbury Maryland in 1947.

A French rail worker and World War II veteran, Andre Picard was so touched by this gesture
he suggested France reciprocate. A French veteran’s organization quickly embraced his idea and
developed a committee to collect the gifts. A search was conducted to commandeer boxcars from
rail yards and depots throughout France to restore them in preparation for their journey. The
Railcars themselves were built between 1872 to 1885. Over 52,000 gifts totaling 250 tons were
collected to fill 49 boxcars bound for all the states in the U.S. including one car to be shared by
the District of Columbia and the territory of Hawaii. Because the French Railcars were too
narrow of a gauge to fit our railroad tracks they were carried around to the States on flatbed
trucks.

The care of the boxcar was later placed with an independent veteran’s organization, La Societe
des Quarante Hommes at Huit Chevaux, referred to as, “The Forty and Eight” society, which
was organized in the 1920s by World War I veterans that rode aboard the cars throughout
Europe.

The "Forty and Eight" draws its origin from World War I, when the United States had
Americans in France to fight "The War To End All Wars." The first thing they ran into was a
Voiture boxcar. The narrow gauge railroads of France had box cars that carried little more than
half the capacity of American boxcars and these were used to transport the soldiers to and from
the fighting fronts. Each boxcar carried carried 40 men or 8 horses (40 hommes et 8 chevaux).
The cars were stubby, only 20.5 feet long and 8.5 feet wide. The cars gave their name to a
fraternity formed within the American Legion — La Société des Quarante Hommes et Huit
Chevaux.



The Delaware Gratitude railcar resides in Seaford at the American Legion there. I measured the
car and it is about 8 ft by 20 ft which would give a square footage of 160 ft. If they packed 40
soldiers, with rifles and field packs into each one that would give each person 4 sq ft, or a space
2 by 2 feet. I don’t see how you can even stand in that space.

The Coats of arms on the boxcar represents the provinces of France.

The State of Delaware has a historical sign by the car.

A good website on the cars is at
http://www.mercitrain.org/


Merci trainVOITURE LOCAL 1320 SUSSEX COUNTY

The old 40 and 8 Locomotive, The "Blue Hen Special" once traveled all over the Eastern United
States. It has logged hundreds of thousands of miles since it was built in 1952. But, now it needs
help so it can run again. The Locomotive which brought much joy and happiness to the
children of Sussex County is a "cripple", and sad that he cannot run. We now store it in the
Georgetown area. The man in charge, Les Stickels is ready to make it run again. It's a tired old
Warrior; it needs many repairs to be well again. The Engine is tired; the steering needs
replacements and hopefully power. Also, the seats where the children sit must be rehabilitated.
The Blue Hen Special has given many, many children the joy of a train ride. At schools, parades
in Seaford and other towns, including the Milford Hospital Fair, plus many towns in and
beyond the Sussex County area, were all blessed with joy to the children when they rode the
Locomotive.

The 40 et 8, the Fun and Honorable organization composed of members of the American Legion,
draws it heritage from the French Railroad, which pulled Box Cars all over FRANCE during
World War I. Not many cars and trucks in those days, so the Locomotive and the Box Cars
(there is one parked at American Legion Post 6, in Seaford) were responsible for most all of the
Troop Movements in WWI, in France. Each Box Car, though small, carried either 40 Men or
Eight Horses. Our Fathers, the heroes of World War I, rode in these Box Cars on their way to
battle.

This particular Locomotive is important because it is a copy of the Original Locomotives used in
World War I. In 1952, Delaware's Governor and later U.S. Senator J. Caleb Boggs, wrote and
got a copy of authentic plans for the Locomotive from the French Government. Voiture Locale
1320 of Sussex County, began the chore of having it made and assembled. The members of
Voiture 1320, some old and some younger, want to see it rolling again. It's a big job. But, we
can do it with the support of the people and businesses in Sussex County. We need funds.
Those willing to help, may send their donations to Les Stickels, 96 N. DuPont Hwy,
Georgetown, DE 19947 or to our Treasurer Carl H. Platner, P.O. Box 507, Dagsboro, DE
19939.

A poem from World War I:

“Hommes 40, Chevaux 8"

Roll, roll, roll, over the rails of France,
See the world and its map unfurled, five centimes in your pants.
What a noble trip, jolt and jog and jar,
Forty we, with Equipment C in one flat- wheeled box-car.

We are packed by hand,
Shoved aboard in 'teens,
Pour a little oil on' us
And we would be sardines.

Rations? Oo-la-la! and how we love the man
Who learned how to intern our chow in a cold and clammy can.
Beans and beef and beans, beef and beans and beef,
Willie raw, he will win the war, take in your belt a reef.

Mess kits flown the coop,
Cups gone up the spout;
Use your thumbs for issue forks.
And pass the bull about.

Hit the floor for bunk, six hommes to one homme's place;
It's no fair to the bottom layer to kick 'em in the face.
Move the corp'ral's feet out of my left ear;
Lay off, sarge, you are much too large, I'm not a bedsack, dear.

Lift my head up, please.
From this bag of bread;
Put it on somebody's chest.
Then I'll sleep like the dead.

Roll, roll, roll, yammer and snore and fight.
Traveling zoo the whole day through and bedlam all the night.
Four days in the cage, going from hither hence ;
Ain't it great to ride by freight at good old Unc's expense?
Delaware Military History