Boxcar was a man who loved to listen to and play bluegrass music. He lived for it. In 1990 we lost Boxcar to cancer. He is greatly missed, but we know he would smile over this festival we hold in his honor.
Boxcar / Thomas N. Pinion, was born March 28, 1923 and died July, 1990 near the Tennessee/Georgia state line on Burnt Mill Road. He got the nickname Boxcar from his high school classmates while playing football. A teammate tried to tackle him and said, “That’s like trying to throw a Boxcar off the tracks”.
The name stuck – even his wife called him Boxcar, as that’s the only name she knew him by for years. Boxcar met his wife, Frances Wimpee, when she was 11 years old, riding a pony in a horse show as he stood in the rain to see her perform. They rode horses together because there was no other way for them to date. They eloped at age 19 on January 31, 1943 and kept their marriage a secret for six months. By that time, Boxcar had been drafted into the Army and he left for service on February 6, 1943. Frances wasn’t even invited to his going away party, as not one knew of their marriage. She still was not allowed out after dark without a chaperone.
Boxcar was stationed in Texas and got his first trip home in June of that year. He was awarded the expert rifleman good conduct medal and made staff Sergeant during the following years. He saw combat in both the European and the Pacific theatre. He was honorably discharged after 37 months of active service and then served three years in the Army Reserve until he had a motorcycle accident and received a medical discharge from the reserves.
Boxcar had played music since a young boy, having taught himself to play the guitar on a little Gibson owned by a neighbor, “the herb doctor” Liston Carver. He even carried a guitar all during his time in the Army, a Shepherd Special that has its share of war scars. At one point, Frances received a letter from Boxcar saying “The Gerries started throwing shells in on us and some clumsy lug stuck his big foot through my guitar and if I ever find out who did it, I’ll have his neck!” She said she could just see Boxcar in a hole in the ground with bullets whizzing overhead and he was worried about his guitar.
Boxcar became a “Jack of all Trades”. He had skills in a variety of areas. He was a welder for local industries, a blacksmith and operated several types of heavy equipment. If you attended rodeos or horseshows, you often found him serving as “master of ceremonies” or as a judge, as he was very fond of horses. He became involved in the “Circle-T Saddle Club” and early on, played in a country band for square dances. One weekend, Boxcar and Frances went to a fiddler’s festival in Henagar, Alabama and Boxcar fell in love with the bass fiddle while watching a bluegrass band perform. He went to a pawnshop and bought on an old blonde “Kay” bass that he nicknamed “Ole Yeller”.
Boxcar became a father for the first time after thirteen years of marriage in 1955 when Inez was born. Three years later he had a second daughter, Ruth, and a year and a half later Cindy was born. Ruth and Inez followed their father’s footsteps and talents learning to play instruments at early ages while Cindy and Frances became their biggest fans and supporters. As a family, they all grew to love and appreciate this music, which is part of our southern heritage.
Boxcar played the bass fiddle in bluegrass bands with “Ole Yeller” most of his life. His great love and talent for bluegrass music touched many. He was happiest in a jam session with friends or strangers; it didn’t matter as long as he was pickin’. Strangers quickly became friends to Boxcar. He traveled all over and made friends wherever he went. Some fans would bring him peacock feathers that he proudly wore in his hat and became one of his trademarks. The Fall Color Cruise was an event that Boxcar participated in since it’s beginning. He was pictured in a Tourist Information Booklet distributed by the Visitor’s Bureau. He had such an impact on the Color Cruise that several years ago, an award for the top string band was presented in his honor.
Boxcar also touched many people with his helping hand and fun loving nature. He was always willing to help a friend when he could and quick with a smile. He played numerous benefits for many good causes. Through benefits, he had the opportunity to form a friendship with Dalton Roberts who has an etching of Boxcar, picking “Ole Yeller”, entitled “Rocky Top” hanging in his office. Boxcar had a zest for life and did not give up easily. He picked and enjoyed music right up until a few months before his death. He was too weak to play his bass fiddle, but he still went to festivals to give his support to his oldest daughter, Inez, who had taken his place in the band he had been with for years, “The Grasscutters”.
Because Boxcar wanted to keep bluegrass alive and gave those around him the same desire, this bluegrass festival is held in his honor. The intent is to promote bluegrass music and give enjoyment to those who don’t often get the opportunity to hear it. Since Boxcar died of cancer, a portion of the proceeds goes to the American Cancer Society. Cancer is one of the leading causes of death in America and research is essential to keep moving forward with new technology to fight this deadly disease.