How an overabundance of frozen turkey begat the TV Dinner

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One very poisonous externality of Swanson frozen dinners:


The anecdote about the refrigerated train cars got me thinking about how one goes about running a refrigerator on a railcar and what an interesting problem it is. The cars don’t have access to any significant amounts of electricity because the only place it could be generated is the engine, and then you would have to run thick cables through every car if you wanted to distribute it, even through the cars that don’t need it. Plus it would complicate connecting the trains together (each junction point would be a potential source of failure). You could install a gas generator on each car, but then you have to refill each one regularly and that’s too much work.

So instead you can direct drive a compressor off of the traincar’s axle, although I guessing they would instead hook a generator to the axle and run the compressor off of an electric motor, if for no other reason than you need to make it work regardless of which direction the car is moving. In the end the work is still coming from the train’s engine, but it comes indirectly through the motion of the car.


At the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento there’s an early refrigerator car that just has a compartment in which to dump a bunch of ice. I guess they probably weren’t going cross-country at that point.


The most recent styles that are in use (albeit, in a far more limited way than they were in the 1950’s) use diesel engines to generate electricity to power the AC compressors individually on each car. But because of problems with rail transport in the 60’s and 70’s and entire trains of spoiled goods arriving at destinations, most shippers moved to trucks instead for refrigerated deliveries.


Actually, most if not all, refrigerated box cars have diesel generators and fuel tanks so they are stand alone. Cars often spend a lot of time in sidings, and loading docks.

This is the same as refrigerated trailers for trucks, which carry there own fuel, and since they have a generator they can be easily switched over to building electric if used as a cold storage box at a dock.

I serviced a chocolate warehouse that used to ship out by rail cars and trailers in the summer.

EDIT Cepheus42 obviously types faster than I



As a kid I was a sucker for almost any television ad, I even secretly wanted my mom to buy Mighty Dog dog food because of the image of the cattle brand stamping “Pure Beef” into the dog food.

And TV dinners were kinda fun as a kid, once in a while. But I’m sure if we were eating them regularly I would’ve felt differently. It’s like eating airline food.


Hey, Chuck Wagon had the best dog food commercials.


This was the 60s and 70s. Everything was a gimmick. It was actually harder, and more expensive to make Jiffy Pop popcorn than just pouring some kernels in a pan with oil. As a kid we would all gather around as our mom made Jiffy POP.

Other examples were Tang, and since you mentioned dog food, we had Gaines Burgers, which required an extra step of breaking it up, but it was so cool that they looked like hamburgers.


Sufferin’ succotash!

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Oh man. I had fond memories of Tang as a kid, then as an adult I saw it in the store and bought some for a camping trip.

So I’m miles from a paved road, hiking through Vermont, and I take a sip of Tang out of my Nalgene bottle and. . . blecccch, not as good as I remembered. I eventually drank the whole bottle and felt sick, abandoned the rest in a hiker box at a shelter.

Yeah, well. . . the dog sure ain’t gonna go to the store and buy the food, the commercials are made to appeal to their human caretakers. And it works.

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Seems like it must be a hassle to keep the fuel tanks topped off on hundreds of railcars, and to keep up on the maintenance of those diesel generators (changing oil & belts, topping off DEF, fixing them when they break, etc…).

It seems very labor intensive. For a refrigerator truck it’s not so bad because you already have one guy assigned per load–the labor costs are baked in. The big advantage of the train is supposed to be the efficiency.

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This is a side story in East of Eden (and a fairly major part of the film). Figuring out how to get produce out of the big valley for distribution changed California agriculture in a way that perfectly fits the thinly-veiled biblical allegory East of Eden is.


“You don’t have leftovers, you have reruns.”


I had similar experiences to @pesco. “TV dinners” were a rare “treat” that my mother only resorted to in extreme circumstances.

There used to be quiet a variety of them, even in the pre-microwave era. I remember one line that catered to kids. It came with a packet of chocolate milk powder.



Also: TIL there’s a TV Dinners Wiki.


I like to think that microwaving a TV dinner is pretty close to the convenience of the jetsons robotic chef. And surely less maintenance.

Then I taste them.

It’s turkeys all the way down…this turkey as an externality of an excess of frozen turkeys…

And just imagine that, running trains back and forth, rather than — I dunno — donate the meat or something. The Boomer Era was something else.

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