By BECKY KISER
Hays city commissioners were more than happy Thursday night to approve using funds from the City Commission Capital Reserve Fund to put a roof over the Kansas Merci boxcar, now located in Veterans Park.
The 40 & 8 boxcar is one of 49 from France donated in 1949 to thank Americans for sending much-needed supplies to the French at the end of World War II. The Kansas boxcar, which settled permanently in Hays, is considered one of the top five of the 39 that remain in the nation.
Originally placed at Fort Hays State University, the car was moved in 1975 to the American Legion. When that building closed and was sold this fall, the boxcar was lifted by a crane and swung over to the adjacent park.
The volunteer 40 & 8 non-profit group, led by Ed Holzmeister, 87, grand director of the Kansas Merci Boxcar, and Vance Chartier, 40 and 8 Chef de Train, has raised $11,000 for a roof, concrete, and permanent security fencing. The city will match funds up to $13,565 to finish the project.
According to Parks Director Jeff Boyle, much of the labor and supplies has been donated.
“In addition to the $11,000, the group did receive confirmation of donation to install electrical and lights from RDH Electric, which is a value of $2,000. Also, Darrel Christin from Advanced Land Surveying provided the land survey and the design layout to us free of charge, a value estimated at $1,500,” Boyle told the commission.
“That’s awesome,” Mayor Shaun Musil said. Commissioner Sandy Jacobs also thanked the volunteers and donors.
“In visiting with Mr. Holzmeister,” Boyle said, “I understand this boxcar is top five in the nation on its aesthetics and the way it’s been maintained. When other folks come to Hays to see this boxcar, they’re amazed at the condition it’s in.”
“A lot of them don’t have the coat of arms anymore,” Commissioner Lance Jones added, saying he’d done some independent research about the Merci boxcars. “This looks exactly like it did when it came over from France, so it’s been very well taken care of. It’s beautiful and the stories behind it are amazing. I’m proud to have it in our community.”
Boyle related that other towns in Kansas showed an interest in obtaining the boxcar. “When they were talking about having to move it, they had some large cities that were trying to get this boxcar during this process,” he said.
“They can’t have it,” Musil quipped. “It’s ours.”