Jennie’s Boxcar isn’t just a Mexican restaurant with a colorful menu of tacos and other tasty items. The business also serves up memories of the community’s railroad history. The restaurant, located at 545 12th Ave., East Moline, opened in November 2019 with sisters Crystal Reickard and Marguerite Dasso as owners. The sisters set out to […]
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Jennie’s Boxcar isn’t just a Mexican restaurant with a colorful menu of tacos and other tasty items. The business also serves up memories of the community’s railroad history.
The restaurant, located at 545 12th Ave., East Moline, opened in November 2019 with sisters Crystal Reickard and Marguerite Dasso as owners.
The sisters set out to create a restaurant that serves good food and drinks to the community. But they also wanted a business that honors their family’s ties to local railroad history. The business name is a tribute to their late grandmother, Jennie Garcia, who lived in and around the railroads for much of her life. And it’s also a reminder that her grandmother and other family members had to live in train boxcars when they first arrived in the Quad Cities region.
“I thought the culture of living in a boxcar was just here, but it’s everywhere,” said Ms. Reickard. “I’ve had people from Pennsylvania come in here and say ‘Oh, my grandfather lived in a boxcar.’”
Recently, Ms. Reickard and several family members gathered at Jennie’s Boxcar to reminisce about their family history. Several members of the family recalled how their parents and grandparents lived in the railcars because they had no money for homes, and Mexicans, who were recruited to the area to work railroad jobs, were not welcome to live in many Silvis and East Moline neighborhoods at the time.
Some of that history is depicted in wall art inside the restaurant. That history comes from “scribbles of Grandma Jennie” found in the back of a notebook after her death, according to the family history display.
Part of that history tells of the lives of their grandparents, Charley and Jennie Garcia, in the 1940s: “In May of 1942, Charley got a job with the Rock Island Lines in Silvis. They were given a boxcar to live in, which was shared with Charley’s brother and wife. They lived in the boxcar for over a year until they had their first child. The railroad told them they had to move because more men were coming from Mexico to work.”
The living conditions in boxcars were tough. Ms. Reickard said the boxcars each had a small wood-burning store and almost nothing else. There was no electricity, plumbing or running water.
Even though those boxcar days were trying the family members believe it’s important for today’s generation to know and honor that local history. But the problem is many younger people don’t know about the hardships and sacrifices that were made in past decades. Additionally, the generation that experienced boxcar living is fading away.
But there is a solution, according to Bonnie Patton, who is the mother of the restaurant’s two owners and Jennie Garcia’s daughter. That solution is to take a boxcar, refurbish it to re-create a boxcar that served as a family home from the 1940s.
“A lot of people want this … and time is running out,” said Ms. Patton.
Passionate about preserving this history, she added that she was thrilled to learn that a Minneapolis-based railroad heritage organization recently purchased the National Railway Equipment (NRE) complex in Silvis.
The Railroading Heritage of Midwest America/The Friends of the 261 group has plans to expand its operations to the NRE complex, which spans the 90-acre facility and once was home to railroad lines. One of those plans is to eventually establish a train museum in Silvis.
It just makes perfect sense, Ms. Patton said, to add a refurbished boxcar home to that museum so people can get a look at an important part of the local train heritage.
It’s all about keeping the history alive, added her daughter Ms. Reickard.
The East Moline business owner has more than family stories to help keep the family’s railroad history alive. Jennie’s Boxcar also features a large painted mural covering an entire wall.
That mural, created by local artist Nick Seabolt, depicts many images of family and local history. It shows scenes of railroads, Hero Street and the grandparents, Charley and Jennie Garcia. The young couple in the mural is shown near a box of Swisher cigars – Charley’s favorite cigars, and near a bottle of liquor with the brand name “Hot Sex” – that was a favorite drink of Jennie.
“Every day I come in here, I remember my grandmother,” Ms. Reickard said.
She added that Jennie’s Boxcar is also about serving the community with quality food and drinks. Some of the specials include: the Rock Island Line, a taco dish with chicken slathered in a chipotle sauce; the Happy Fresca, slow-cooked pulled pork tacos in sweet and tangy Korean sauce; and the OG, a taco dish with slices of marinated steak. There are also drink specials, like Margarita Wednesdays and Tequila Thursdays.
Jennie’s Boxcar, which has about 11 employees, also has begun bringing in live music provided by local bands.
Ms. Reickard said the good food, service and local music are all part of trying to get the restaurant past the tough times created by the pandemic.
“We’re slowly trying to get better all the time and bring in new stuff,” Ms. Reickard added.