The Cook Specials
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Corn shellers have always had their advantages over combines, however. Combines have been known to harm the kernels, cutting into the profits of those fanners growing seed corn. Popcorn, also, seemed perfect for the corn sheller. Orville Redenbacher thought so, buying his own 'Cook XL Special' just a few years before the company went out of business.
The family tried to keep the company afloat. After Marvin Cook retired, Don Cook took over and fought market trends, steadfastly refusing to violate his grandfather's principles and convert the business to mass production. Near the end of the company's run, he told a reporter that assembly lines would never be seen in his family's shop. 'This is the way things used to be done,' he said. 'There's real pride in what we make here.'
An obituary for the company would be a hard one to write. Its 'time of death' depends on which witness you ask. As inflation began rising in the late 1970s and continued to rise in the early 1980s, the company's orders for new equipment began to drop off sharply. One day workers looked around and saw only repair work to be done. The next day, even the repair work had quit coming in.
Don moved on to a carpentry job and Marvin, looking to leave the shop in the hands of a Cook, sold it and the remaining equipment to Randy, who, though he had never been employed at the company, still had fond memories of it. As a self-proclaimed 'nostalgic guy,' Randy has been working to find homes for a number of the old Cook shellers, but, like a man giving away the puppies of a beloved dog, only wants the best homes for them. He recently turned down a man's offer to buy one sheller, because the prospective buyer only wanted the truck to which it's attached, a 1947 REO Speed wagon.
And Randy knows that home is out there. His grandfather was a collector of antique farm machinery himself. The CMC Special attached to the REO Speed wagon was actually shown at the first ever Old Steamer's Reunion (now called the Central States Thresherman's Reunion) in Pontiac, Ill. Amer served repeatedly as the emcee of the festival.
Randy Cook says that, although he never worked in his family's shop, he always knew that there was something special about the place, something more than just well-made machinery. At the end of a long day of work, he says, the men who put the Cook Corn Shellers together, both family members and employees alike, would gather, still dirty from their labor, to shoot the breeze. It seemed they weren't ready to leave, no matter how hard the work; it seemed as if it was all more than a job. It was something that, like machines made one at a time by hand, Randy says 'you just don't see anymore.'
Randy Cook can be reached at email@example.com.
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