Buttons pin-up festival’s colorful history

Museum continues tradition

By Seth Schmidt

Chauncey Muedeking and his 1936 John Deere are puttering into Box Car Days history.

A picture of the Monroe Township farmer, behind the wheel of his 82-year-old tractor, spotlights the 2018 Box Car Days button. Produced by the Wheels Across the Prairie Museum, the button is good for museum admission Friday through Monday during Box Car Days.

The Box Car Days button is a tradition that has endured for at least seven decades, although it is uncertain when the buttons were first adopted.The earliest known BCDs button in a collection at the Wheels museum is inscribed with the year 1944.  The two-inch, metal pin shows a white boxcar outlined in red and blue ink, with the message “Buy Bonds at Tracy’s 17th Box Car Day.”

A red boxcar button touting Box Car Day, 1945 has no mention of war bonds, likely because America had celebrated the end of World War II that August.

A similar-sized white button in the collection depicts an ox-pulled covered wagon, with the message “Box Car Day, Tracy, Minn., Labor Day” is undated. Was this the Box Car Day button for 1943?  Could this be the first Box Car Days button?

Research has been unable to determine whether Box Car Days produced a promotional button earlier than 1944.

The post-war brought a change to the Box Car Day button format.  The 1946 Box Car Day button was a round, metal pin, 2.25” in diameter, featuring a railroad tramp in front of a boxcar. The round-pin format would endure to the present time, with sizes of up to 3.5 inches.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.