Remember the milk man!

In days gone by milk was actually delivered to homes in town. I grew up in a small town and remember the milk man fondly. My mother worked at a dairy in town. The owner of the dairy lived next door to my grandparents.

The dairy had a fleet of trucks like that one they show in the ad on television for salad dressing. They fascinated me because the milk men stood up to drive. Although the back was not refrigerated, it was insolated. Often the doors on the front were open so that the milk man could jump in and out as necessary.

I knew our milk man since he worked for the same company my mom did. We never saw him because he arrived early every other day. There were four dairies in town and each of them operated about the same. One very small company was along the route that I walked to get to grade school. We often stopped to look in the windows. We could watch the milk bottling machine and it was fun.

I loved to visit my mom at work. I used scraps of paper to create my own little route books. If they happened to be bottling milk I looked through the windows that were overhead to watch the process. That was where I picked up my love of buttermilk. I was allowed to go to the cooler to get something to drink. I either chose chocolate milk, orangeade, or buttermilk.

In later years the dairy also had an ice cream parlor. After I finished high school I got to work at the dairy during the summer months. I checked the route books when the drivers returned after their daily deliveries. Some of the men preferred to have me check their book because I could do it fast, but accurately. By the time I worked at the dairy my mother was working somewhere else, but I could ride in every day with my aunt.

During the lunch hour I had to operate the ice cream parlor. I was allowed to have a sundae or milk shake if I had time to make it.

What an interesting summer that was. I really got to know the drivers. It must have been a very nice place to work because the drivers tended to stay for a long time.

In those days customers received an insulated box from the dairy that was set by one of the doors to the house. When the milk man arrived he put the ordered products down in the box for safe keeping.

Our house had a milk box built into a side wall by the driveway. It had a door on the outside and another door on the inside. The milk man put the milk in the box, then, we took it out when we got up. It was done by standing orders. If we wanted something in addition to the order, we left the milk man a note and the products appeared. Often we bought cottage cheese as well as buttermilk and egg nog during the holidays.

They had several promotions on cottage cheese through the years. I have a whole set of metal glasses that we received as a reward for purchasing cottage cheese. We used these glasses at home, then, when my grandparents’ home was broken up I ended up with the glasses. They were very helpful in the day of the hayers. I assigned each person a colored glass for the day. After the last meal was finished I washed them up to be ready for another day.

Another premium was a soup bowl with a handle. Actually it was a small casserole that could be put into the oven. We did not get a whole set of those, only a couple. I used them as my cereal bowls if I ate cereal. They were still around when the grandchildren came along.

I remember when the first wax-coated cartons were introduced. We usually bought our milk by the quart in those days. We were allowed to request glass bottles if we wanted them. My family continued to receive the milk in glass. Those bottles were placed in the milk box when they were empty to be picked up on the next delivery. They went back to the dairy to be sterilized and refilled.

I also remember when the use of gallons was introduced. They were made of plastic and were not recyclable. When they were empty they were thrown out. People were slow to accept the wax-coated cartons and plastic bottles. I think that trend helped the milk companies maintain their daily deliveries.

The milk came into the dairy on trucks that carried the old-fashioned milk cans. The cans were emptied, then washed, and returned to the farmer. The bulk tanker had not yet made its debut.

By the time I moved to the country our milk was being picked up by a bulk truck. The cans were no longer in use. Farmers kept some of them for their own use, but many of them found their way to sales. They were a piece of Americana so they were highly valued.

I think the dairy I worked for had about ten delivery trucks. That meant there were twenty routes. The drivers also supplied the stores. They were responsible for rotating the stock when they made the delivery. They had to account for any milk returned that was past its expiration date. It was part of their bookkeeping. I had to be sure to deduct it so that they were not charged for it.

When my husband milked cows I had my own delivery system. I sent a metal milk can with him so that he could bring milk home from the bulk tank. I really appreciated having my own fresh milk. I think I learned to cook a lot of things that contained milk because we always had a ready supply.

My children did not need to be encouraged to drink milk. It was just part of the routine on our dairy farm.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at