Will Edwinson

Author & Storyteller

Dairying the Old Way

One day A while back , as I was traveling, a milk transport passed me, and it  immediately brought to mind the subject for today’s post.  Conditions in the dairy industry have changed considerably over the past 50 to 60 years.  That milk transport reminded me of some of those changes.

Ten Gaallon Milk Cans

Photo image courtesy of Simon Howden/Free digitalphotos.net

When I was a youngster growing up in Grace, Idaho,  during the 1940s, much of the milk supply came from small family farm dairies.  A contract carrier with a two-ton truck and a flat-bed would drive to those farms and pick up the ten-gallon cans filled with milk that had been placed by the side of the road.  He and a helper, would load the cans on the truck by hand, and take the milk they contained, to the local creamery or cheese factory.

When the full cans had all been picked up and delivered, he would repeat his route delivering empties back to those farm dairies to be filled at the next milking.  As I recall, there was one creamery in Grace, and three cheese factories located around Gentile Valley. Now days, the driver of his stainless steel tanker pulls up to the dairy, hooks up a hose to a climate controlled milk tank, and pumps the milk into his truck.

Not all dairies of that era were farm dairies, however.  My grandfather Titus also kept a few milk cows on his property in town.  He had a small acreage with a barn, a small apple orchard, a couple of large raspberry patches, and a strawberry patch; as well as a large garden.  His dairy operation consisted of delivering milk directly to the consumer.  He had a room with a milk separator, where he would separate the cream from a portion of the milk and bottle it for those ladies who liked sweet cream for their husbands’ coffee, and for whipping and cooking.   Some of the ladies—my mother for one—would let the milk stand in the fridge for a while, and after the cream had risen to the top, would poor off what she needed.  Remember how we used to have to shake the milk in order to get the milk fat (cream) mixed back into the milk before we drank it?  No such thing as homogenized milk in those days.  That would come later.

PaPa Titus would filter the milk, pour it into glass bottles; then seal them with paper caps.  Remember those?   If I happened to be visiting around milking time, PaPa Titus would let me help with this filtering and bottling project; and of course, I always had to sample that filtered milk fresh out of the cow.  Seemed like that milk always tasted a little better than the milk today.  For the benefit of the younger set, the filter pads were round, about six inches in diameter, and were made of what looked like several layers of cheesecloth. After the filtering and bottling, PaPa Titus would deliver the milk to his customers’ doorsteps. (Dad had one of those milk funnels adapted to a fuel funnel and we filtered the diesel fuel as we poured it into the tractors.  That was in the days when we stored fuel in 55-gallon drums.)  But I digress, back to my story.

There was also another small dairy in town owned and operated by the wife of the local blacksmith.  She also delivered milk directly to her customers.  Her operation was somewhat larger than PaPa Titus’.  I can still see this lady in my mind’s eye as she walked past our house delivering her milk throughout the neighborhood.   I don’t remember her ever using a car; all her deliveries were on foot.   In the summer, she pulled her loads of milk in a small wagon.  In the winter months, she used a sleigh pulled by a couple of dogs.

Another of the things I remember about her was that she rarely wore a dress.  It was only on special occasions that I ever remember seeing this lady in a dress.  She most always wore blue striped bib overalls similar to those worn by the railroaders. She was a lovely lady, very beloved by all the townspeople; including this writer who was but a mere boy at the time.

For a short respite from today’s harrowing world, you can read more stories about rural America during the 1940s in my book, Buddy…His Trials and Treasures.  You can receive a free copy by clicking on the free download button at upper right of this page.     A print version of the book is also available for purchase at www.amazoncom.  Enjoy.

—Will

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