Jo Ellis, a columnist for the Joplin Globe newspaper, reported about a sometimes-overlooked but cherished part of the history of Carthage, Missouri — the rare Chicago Coin’s Band-Box, also known as “Strike Up the Band,” in the Pancake Hut restaurant along Route 66.
The Band-Box is a coin-operated miniature, robotic big band that’s been in Carthage for about 60 years. It first was installed at Red’s Diner, Ray’s Cafe, and finally Wanda Baugh’s Pancake Hut. Even though it moved around a bit, it always has been on Route 66.
The Chicago Coin’s Band-Box was manufactured only from 1950 to 1952. It is in reality a remote wall-mounted speaker for a jukebox, and it was activated when a coin was inserted into the jukebox and a selection was made. The original miniature figures were made of sponge rubber. Dressed in stylish green jackets and suave bow ties, they sported the slicked-down hair style of the big-band era.
When the sponge rubber deteriorated, Baugh replaced the original musicians with similar sized figures. She found GI Joe dolls, discarded their camo and dressed them in Ken’s spiffy (Barbie doll) clothes. She also was able to replace the background drop, an ocean scene with waving palm trees, through Brad Frank Restorations in Chatsworth, California.
Here’s a video of the Band-Box in action, with the audio swapped out because of a television show blaring nearby:
Here’s another one in British Columbia:
Gene Autry and Clark Gable both saw the Carthage Band-Box when they dined at the restaurant after a night in the nearby Boots Motel, also a Route 66 icon.
A full restoration would cost about $5,500. Frank has offered to donate labor for the restoration if Baugh can raise the money for parts. Frank is supposed to return to Carthage in November to do more work on the machine; hope springs eternal that someone can come up with the cash for the full makeover.