Prime Time: September festival stills rings familiar
Box Car Day was a celebration each Labor Day weekend. We celebrate the beginnings of Tracy which resulted from the railroad industry.
We loved going out to the railroad yard and looking at the trains and watching them roll around. On the west side of the yard was a building where the engines were turned around. The engine entered the building, and then a large pulley system turned the "table" on which the engine stood and rotated it to face the opposite direction. This was a bit of real-life magic for us kids to watch. And, of course, we loved the caboose where the workers lived while on their journey. They always waved to us as the train slowed down in the city limits.
When the "400," the fast train, which extended 400 miles from Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul and traveled up to 90 miles an hour, was extended to go into eastern South Dakota and ran through Tracy for the first time, around 1950, there was a huge celebration. We were invited to go into the passenger cars to see what luxury the passengers would experience as they traveled about. The "400" showed the great advancement the rail system had developed, but unknown to us at the time, it also revealed the eventual demise of the railroad industry. Gradually trucks began carrying our food, machines, lumber and other supplies across country. The trucks were able to go right up to the back doors of their customers and deliver the goods. Refrigerator trucks were developed so even ice cream and other frozen foods were carried from city to city. Consider the Schwan's Dairy Co. in Marshall. I was surprised to see their trucks even up here in Bemidji when I moved here. And I think I heard that they are a regional or national company now.
Well, once upon a time, the railroad came to southwestern Minnesota, and we had a great time watching these huge machines rumble down the tracks. When the tornado hit Tracy in 1968, Mom said that it was like a dozen trains coming right at them. The rumble is hypnotic when there is only one train but not that many.
Tracy developed right along with the railroad. I bought a couple copies of the Front Page which is published by The Headlight Herald and presents the front pages of the paper all the way back to 1879. Also, the Headlight published a history of Tracy many years ago which was written by one of the older citizens which also covered the development of Tracy around the rail system. I think those books should be on the reading list for the high schools. The younger generations going back to 1960 have devalued history - a tragedy. They have so little sense of who they are, a result of this lack.
Of course, the rides, game booths and definitely food booths abounded, and I took advantage of all of them. The potlucks at church have always been a winner for me, and so were the food booths sponsored by the churches and other organizations in Tracy. For some reason, hamburgers tasted so much better when they were bought at these tents. I heard a program on TV about the fast food companies and how they have 40-70 chemicals in their hamburgers. The meat they use is scrapings from the bone and the last meat left after all of the other cuts have been made.
A couple weeks ago, my puppy (3-year-old Reggie) and I went to Lake Itasca State Park for the day. On our way home I stopped at a bar in a Wilton, which is a few miles west of Bemidji, for the express purpose of having a hamburger. Fresh meat, and it was so much better than the alternative. When I worked at First National Bank in downtown Minneapolis, a friend told me to go to such and such a bar for a hamburger. I wasn't old enough to drink and had not spent time in bars so was unfamiliar with it. A few days later we went to there, and I was flabbergasted. Wow! I was sold on the idea, and this was 10 years before the first McDonald opened in southeast Minneapolis where the University of Minnesota is located. The other restaurants did have good burgers, but the ones at this bar and at Box Car Day were especially good.
When Valley Fair opened in Apple Valley, I took two busloads of kids from my church in Brooklyn Center out there. I swore that I would just watch the kids have fun. But finally I went on the Ferris Wheel. Well, I did not stop riding all the rides until the park closed at ten in the evening. As I was flying around the rides, I remembered all of the good times we had at Box Car Day, and the last time I was there for the holiday was 1957. How deep those old memories are! We never forget them.