Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Friendship Train & Mennonite Central Committee Boxcars

The original Train Miniature Mennonite Central
Committee boxcar.

In the late-1980s, a friend gave me a gift: A Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) boxcar (see photo above).

As a former volunteer and employee with the agency, the relief and development arm of the North American Mennonite churches, I was grateful. But I was also mystified—why would anyone make a car for such a small organization?

Later, I discovered it wasn’t the only one. I was flipping through an issue of Model Railroader when I saw an N scale version of the car on Loren Neufeld's Ozark and Great Plains layout.

Some more research revealed that at least four versions of the car were made in HO, N and O scales.

Since the agency isn’t that well known, and it never actually owned a boxcar, I wondered: How and why did they come to be made?

To find an answer to that question you have to go back to the late 1940s, and to the Friendship Train.

Two years after the end of World War II, France and Italy were still suffering from the effects of the German occupation and the fighting.

Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson suggested that Americans should help people in those countries through something he called a Friendship Train—a train of aid donated by ordinary people.

The train began its journey from Los Angeles to Chicago with on Nov. 7, 1947. It was met by enthusiastic crowds at stops along the way, where more cars of food, medicine and clothing were added.

By the time it got to Chicago there were so many cars of donated aid that two trains were needed to transport it all.

In the end 270 boxcars of aid arrived in New York City in November for transport to Europe.

Sending off a car from Pittsburgh.

The trains were easy to spot; communities along the way put banners and signs on the cars to let people know where the gifts came from.

“Carload of Raisins from Fresno,” said one. “To the people of France and Italy from the hearts of their friends in Stockton,” said another.

“From Pittsburgh, U.S.A.: Food For Friends” was on the side of a third.

The Fresno car.

In gratitude, the French created the Merci Train. The Merci Train was a collection of 49 French boxcars filled with thank-you gifts—one for each state.

The cars were shipped to the U.S. in 1949; a number of them still exist today. (Click here to learn more about the Merci Train.)

The Nevada Merci Train car.

But back to the MCC boxcar: Jan Gleysteen, an avid model railroader, wrote about the Friendship Train in the Sept. 27, 1959 issue of the Mennonite Publishing House children’s publication Words of Cheer.

He included a drawing of an MCC boxcar; children were encouraged to cut out the drawing and glue it to some stiff cardboard or a 2 by 9 inch piece of wood.

The car, numbered 146572, was emblazoned with the agency’s name and the locations of its four North American offices: Akron, Pa.; Newton, Kan.; Reedley, Calif; and Waterloo, Ont.

The owner was the Reading Railway—the railway that Gleysteen happened to like the most.

Jan Gleysteen's original artwork.

As far as I can tell, the next step in the car becoming a real model took place in the 1960s when Rule’s Hobby Shop in Mannheim, Pa., had custom decals made for an HO scale car by Walthers.

Sometime during that decade Train Miniature made the first version of this car, as part of its popular HO scale billboard series.

Other cars were made by Life-Like and Athearn (also both in HO); by Con-Cor (in N scale); and Williams (O scale). I own two of the Train Miniature version, and one of each of the other HO and O scale models, but not the Con-Cor N scale version. (Find photos of the various cars below.)

I also own newer versions of the car that I helped to make.

In 1995, when MCC celebrated its 75th anniversary, I worked with others (Willard Martin, David R. Dyck, Ken Epp, Frank DeFehr and Loren Neufeld) to make versions of this car to raise money for the agency's relief and development work around the world.

Four cars were made: Two in HO (Athearn & Con-Cor) and two in N (Micro Trains). One car was a 50-foot version with the agency's modern logo; the other was a version of the original Train-Miniature car. The artwork for the cars was created by Loren, an accomplished model railroader from Houston, TX.

Later, another model railroader in Washington state made a Great Northern version of the car (also by Con-Cor) to raise money for the agency. It was sold mostly in the Pacific Northwest.

Over the years, I've enjoyed researching about and collecting the cars, and learning more about the Friendship and Merci trains. But the question remains: Why were so many versions of the MCC boxcar made?

If you have any information about the cars (e.g. when they were made, or why), or own one or more yourself—including a version I don’t know about—let me know.

And I’m still looking for the original Con-Cor N scale version; let me know if you have one of those for sale. You can contact me at jdl562000 at

Click here to learn more about the Friendship Train.

Click here to see a video of the train.

The new Con-Cor version, made in 1995 as a fundraiser
 for MCC, MCCX 146595. 

The new Athearn version, made as a fundraiser
in 1995; MCC X 209575.

The Life-Like version, MCCX 146571.

The old Athearn version, MCCX 146513.

The new Con-Cor Great Northern version, made
in the late 1990s as a fundraiser, MCCX 46642.

The 2 Micro Trains N scale cars, made as a fundraiser
in 1995. (Numbers same as on HO versions.)

The Williams O scale version, MCCX 144371.

The HO MCC boxcars, with the Train Miniature
version in the foreground.


  1. I love French and the merci train boxcar

  2. I found my HO Athern MCCX 146513 in a box lot of ho trains at a flea market. I've always been curious about this car. Thanks for the background information!