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Meals on Wheels

On this date in 1920, an ad in the Pioneer Express of Pembina urged threshers not to send away for groceries.  J.T. Cockburn and Company assured the public that they could provide “everything you need for the cook car.”

The cook car played an important role in the history of threshing. It was essentially a rolling restaurant. Threshing was hard, and the field hands worked up mighty appetites. So, owners of the threshing machinery arranged for a cook car to follow the equipment from farm to farm.

The cook car was usually staffed by two women. Their day began early, often by 3:30. Breakfast had to be ready by 5 a.m. Then the cooks prepared lunch and dinner, feeding 20-25 hungry men at each meal. The cooks’ days started by getting water, soap, and towels ready so the men could wash before they ate. The day ended for the cooks around eleven. They usually slept on cots behind a curtain at one end of the cook car. Average pay was 40 cents per hour, and that was considered good pay.

After a hearty breakfast of toast, bacon or sausage, eggs, pancakes, and hot cereal along with pots of coffee, the head cook tackled the day’s baking of fresh bread and biscuits while the other cook washed the breakfast dishes and prepared a lunch to send out to the fields. Then it was time to mop the floors and set the tables for dinner. Meals included platters of fried chicken, roasts, meatballs and gravy, bowls of mashed or boiled potatoes, home baked bread and fresh churned butter, soups, stews, and fresh baked pies.

There was no time to rest during the day. As soon as the men were done with their evening meal, the cook crew had to wash dishes and set the tables for breakfast. There was no refrigeration in those days. Someone had to make a run to town every day for food that would otherwise spoil – like meat and milk. The men worked hard in the fields, but no one should overlook the cooks in the cook car who kept the men going.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Pioneer Express. “Threshers!” 10 September 1920. Pembina ND. Page 1.

Cutler, Verl. “The History of the Cook Car.” https://www.jamesvalleythreshers.com/storiescookcar2.htm  Accessed 7 August 2018.

Solheim, Annie Onstad. “Cook Car Days with the Threshing Machine.” http://www.manfrednd.org/newsletters/Volume%2002%20-%20Issue%203%20-%20Sep%202002/Page%2007.pdf  Accessed 7 August 2018.

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