Famed ‘Merci Train’ subject of museum medallion, lectures

CARSON CITY, Nevada – Seventy years ago, on Feb. 21, 1949, a train arrived in Reno carrying a slate-gray boxcar adorned with brightly colored heraldic shields and loaded with gifts from the people of France to the people of Nevada.

Loaded aboard a special Virginia & Truckee Railroad flatcar, the historic WWI vintage French boxcar made its way to Carson City for a ceremonial welcome that included a parade down Carson Street led by the band from the Stewart Indian School and veterans’ groups marching with French delegates.

The boxcar, called the Merci Train, can be seen today at the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City. It was one of 49 (one for each state and one to be shared between Washington, D.C. and Hawaii) that had made the trip by sea and by land to every state capital. Each boxcar was filled with hundreds — perhaps thousands — of gifts from French citizens, which were to be distributed to Americans across the country.

The boxcar of gifts was a “thank you” to Americans for their efforts in World War II.

To remember and celebrate the anniversary of the arrival of the Merci Train, the Nevada State Museum is hosting a pair of events.

On Saturday, Feb. 16, the museum will begin pressing a commemorative Merci Train medallion on Historic Coin Press No. 1 and at 11 a.m. that day, Chris DeWitt, supervisor of restoration at the Nevada State Railroad Museum, will give a talk about the steam engine and the machinery that made the mint run.

Pressing of the Merci Train Medallions will begin at noon.

The second event will be a Frances Humphrey Lecture Series presentation on Friday, March 1, by Jane Sweetland, author of the book “Boxcar Diplomacy: Two Trains that Crossed an Ocean.”

Sweetland is a former dean and associate vice president at California State University Channel Islands. She has master’s degrees in Counseling and Writing and a doctorate in Education and has written three books.

She also has deep roots in Nevada. Albert Seeliger, for whom Carson’s grade school is named, was her great uncle. Her grandfather, Ernest Sweetland, was born in Carson City in 1880, and built the Sweetland Building just north of the capitol. In 1927, Ernest bought land at Lake Tahoe, from Henry Yerington because “land was going cheap since you couldn’t run cattle on it,” near where Jane lives today with her husband, in Zephyr Cove.

The cost for each lecture is $8 for adults; free for museum members and children 17 and younger.

Seating is limited; please reserve your seat by going to http://nvculture.org/nevadastatemuseumcarsoncity/events/