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Texas | Columns | Bob Bowman's East Texas

The Biscuit and Cornbread
Whistles

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

In the 1940s, the daily lives of Dibollians were punctuated by the shrill blasts of a siren affixed to a 100-foot water tower owned by Southern Pine Lumber Company.

The siren was likely blown for loftier reasons such as personnel shift changes and fires, but Dibollians came to know the sounds as “the biscuit whistle” and the “cornbread whistle.”

The long-standing story is that the whistle was blown as a signal to the town’s housewives that it was time to mix up the bread and place it in the oven in preparation for the midday meal known as “dinner.”

In those days, lunch was “dinner” and the evening meal was “supper.” Breakfast was always breakfast and apparently there wasn’t a whistle for ham and eggs. The whistle was usually blown at 11:15 a.m., giving the town’s womenfolk enough time to prepare a suitable meal.

It has been said that on a fateful day, when the whistle was not blown, chaos spread through the households of the sawmill workers.

Husbands came home for their noonday meal, but the biscuits and cornbread had not been prepared, the stove was cold, and the kids were still playing in the yard. Chastised by their husbands for failing to prepare a hot meal, the wives had a solid reason, “Why, the eleven-fifteen ain’t blowed yet”

Whether the whistle was “the cornbread whistle” or the “biscuit whistle” has been debated for years in Diboll.

But one of my high school teachers, Julia Schinke, whose father started the practice of blowing the whistle, once said that “it had to be the cornbread because biscuits don’t take that long to bake.”

While working on a book about Diboll, the Diboll Historical Society agreed to stick with cornbread. Some members argued that white flour was too expensive for the sawmill families.

Years later, Vernon Burkhalter probably settled the matter with this observation: “I agree with Ray Rector that the biscuit whistle was at 5: 30 a.m. and the cornbread whistle was at 11:15 a.m.”

But then again, there are likely some Dibollians who remember the old whistles in a different fashion.

But one question remains: “Why didn’t they have a whistle for supper?”


© Bob Bowman March 25, 2012 Column
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of more than 50 books about East Texas history and folklore.)

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