In the Cook Car

Cook cars were restaurants on wheels where food was prepared for a threshing crew.

Mrs. Frank Nierenberg (Minnie Clemens) worked with Mrs. Charlie Louden in the cook car.  Hours were long and the days were hot.

The day began at 4 a.m.  Minnie's first job was to see that there were clean towles, soap and water outside for the men to wash.  This job was repeated at noon and again in the evening.  She then had to set tables and wait on tables while the men were eating.  There were seventeen men to cook for, three meals a day plus lunches.

Sourdough pancakes were made.  Mrs. Louden always kept some sourdough for a new batch.  They baked all their bread, cookies, and pies.  Baking was done on a coal and wood stove.  They had lunch ready morning and afternoon to send out with the grain haulers.

The women who cooked in cook cars went right along with the rigs.  Forty cents an hour was considered good wages for a woman.  "I made $75.00 one fall and thought I'd made lots of money," Minnie remembered.

When the late Gunhild Gilbertson (Auren) was cooking at the Steen Nelson farm, she was up early to start the breakfast, 4 a.m.  One morning she opened & cook car to find a man lying on the floor by the range.  Frightened, she ran to the house to get Mr. Nelson and upon investigation they found it was only a stuffed dummy placed there as a prank by the threshers.  They were properly reprimanded and the matter was never discussed in the presence of Gunhild.

Gunhild also used to tell about traveling from one place to another with a batch of bread dough rising in the cook car.  She always worried that the bread would fall after being hauled over rough roads, but it turned out all right anyway.

Breakfast was toast or pancakes, eggs and bacon or hot cereal for 20 to 25 men every day.  The men sat at a long table with benches at each side.  Amanda Fadness (Hogie), who worked in a cook car when she was 15, would do the breakfast dishes while the head cook did the baking or started the forenoon lunch.  Meat and potatoes and vegetables were a big part of the menu.  The cooks baked all the bread, cookies, cake and doughnuts.  There would be pie or pudding with the noon meal.  Afternoon lunch was sent to the field with the grain haulers.

After the noon dishes were washed, the cooks washed the dishtowels on a washboard and then mopped the floor.

Flies were always a problem even with sticky flypaper, and the cooks would shoo them out with towel in hand.

Peaches and cream were often the dessert at suppertime.

They got milk, cream and eggs from the farmer.  The owner of the rig went to town almost every day for meat.  There was no refrigeration.  Cooking was done on a coal and wood stove.  All the water had to be carried in and the slop pail was always full, it seemed.

After the supper dishes were done it was time to set the table and turn the plates upside down over the silver.

Bedtime for the cooks, if they were lucky, was 11 p.m., and often it was midnight.  They were up again by 5 a.m.

The cooks slept on a cot behind a curtain at one end of the cook car.

Manda's wages that fall were a dollar a day.

Source: Cooperstown, North Dakota 1882-1982 Centennial Page 140

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