The Standard-Examiner received a letter to the editor the other day about the French Gratitude Car in Union Station’s collection. The letter is on their web site and will likely run in the paper any day now. Here’s a link:
Union Station’s Gratitude Car has an interesting history. As you can read in the letter, they are called “40 and 8” because they were able to carry 40 soldiers or eight mules, and from what I’ve read they often did both without cleaning in between loads. The car is small, so 40 guys all had to stand up.
A book I am reading about World War I “The Last of the Doughboys,” refers to them a time or two, not with a great deal of joy. The trips were days long and they had to stand the whole way.
After World War II the French people put together a train of 49 of these cars, one for each of the then-48 states, and one for District of Columbia and Hawaii (a territory then) to share.
Hey, what about Alaska? Oh well.
Utah’s car was presented to the state in 1949. It was built in 1885 in Lyon, France, and very likely saw service during both World Wars. After being brought to this country it was displayed in Salt Lake City, but a decade ago or so (sorry, I don’t know the date) it was moved to the official Utah State Railroad Museum at Union Station in Ogden and restored.
It looks quite lovely today, with placards representing the French provinces on its side.People who diss on France now, calling them cowards and unfaithful allies, forget that more French died in the first year of World War II than all Americans who died in the entire war, and the war was fought pretty much over their whole country. They truly were, and still are, grateful for our help.
Some of our International visitors seek it out. In 2010 a French couple, Pierre and Francoise Leclercq, from Lorainne, France, stopped by for a visit, got their selfie shot in front of it, and even inspired a little write-up about it in their hometown paper. If you can read the article you’re way ahead of me, but it sounds pretty positive.
The car is displayed right off Wall Avenue on the north end of our campus. You’ve driven past it a thousand times, maybe once you should stop by and take a peek. With the anniversary of the end of World War II coming up, it’s a lovely reminder of our history.