Dairying in Eastern Massachusetts (Part 1)
Brian Wayne Wells
As published in the November/December 2003 issue of
Belt Pulley Magazine
The small hamlet of Concord, Massachusetts is famous in American history. In 1775, a British arsenal was located there. On April 19 of that year, British troops seeking to secure the arsenal from the increasingly rebellious Massachusetts colony, were marching from Boston harbor toward Concord, when they were met in Lexington, Massachusetts by a collection of militia, called Minutemen. The Minutemen had been roused from their beds early in the morning of April 19 by Paul Revere. At Lexington, on the road to Concord, a shot rang out which became known as the “shot heard around the world.” The battle that ensued at Lexington was the start of the American Revolutionary War.
In 1775, Concord was one of many small communities that dotted the Massachusetts colony. Farm families, living in or around the settlement of Concord and the other small villages of this part of Massachusetts raised food and products largely for their own use only—subsistence farming. Boston had little economic connection with Concord or any of the other villages of the area except in its role as a sea port. However, as time passed, Boston became more urban and was unable to produce the food required for its citizens. Thus, the farms of the Concord moved into the “market economy” and began producing goods for sale in Boston.
In its role as one of the major international ports of the United States, Boston grew rapidly into a major metropolitan area. One of the major food stuffs required by Boston was fresh milk—a great deal of fresh milk. Because of this demand for milk and because of the rocky and hilly, timbered lands of eastern Massachusetts, it was natural that farmers there specialized in dairying.
Although there was a settlement which was referred to as the village of Concord, the term “Concord Town” referred to the geographical unit, which included the rural area around the village of Concord. By 1938, Concord (1930 pop. 7,477) was beginning to lose its rural feel and was becoming a suburb of Boston.
One of the dairy farms that still operated in Concord Town in 1938 was operated by a particular farmer. He lived on the 80-acre farm that had been in his father’s family dating back to the early 1800s. He was married with four children. Dairying had been a major part of his family farming operation since the beginning. This job meant not only milking his herd of Guernsey cattle twice a day, but it also meant pasteurizing the milk in a large vat and then bottling the milk and delivering to the door of their customers along the milk route which was largely contained in the village of Lexington.
Chores began at 5 a.m. when our Concord Town farmer would leave the house to check on the fire in the boiler in the milk house prior to heading for the barn. As he walked to the milk house one January morning in 1938, he noted that this January was having its share of unusually cold mornings. Arriving at the milk house, he could hardly wait to get inside and close the door behind him. Once inside, he found that there continued to be some warmth still emanating from the firebox of the boiler. Good! The fire wasn’t entirely out. He carefully removed the ash from the stove, revealing the red embers from yesterday’s fire. After adding a handful of cedar single kindling and loading up the firebox with an arm load of wood, our Concord Town farmer, adjusted the air vents on the door of the ash compartment. Both vents controlled the size of the fire in the firebox and, thus, controlled the heat in the boiler. Early in the morning on a cold winter’s day like this our Concord Town Farmer would open the air vents slightly more than usual to bring the fire quickly up to normal heat.
The firebox heated the boiler reservoir water tank located directly above the firebox. Pipes leading from the reservoir water tank, wrapped themselves around a stainless steel tank in the milk house. This tank contained the fresh milk from the previous evening’s milking. Our Concord Town farmer now opened the valve on the water pipe to allow the water to start flowing through the pipes again. The water from the boiler would flow through the pipes wrapped around the stainless steel tank would slowly begin to raise the temperature of the milk. Raising the temperature of the milk to 72ºF would “pasteurize” the milk. Pasteurizing the milk greatly reduces the microbial growth within the milk and prevents diseases that might be caused by drinking “raw” (unpasteurized) milk. The temperature of the milk must be maintained at 72ºF for 12-15 seconds to be effective. However, the temperature must not get above 72ºF, or the milk would “cook.” Ever mindful that he did not want the temperature of the milk in the stainless steel tank to rise above 72º F, our Concord Town farmer positioned the air vents on the boiler to allow for a carefully controlled fire. Checking the temperature of the milk in the stainless steel tank, he found that it was below 40º F. On a morning like this there was no trouble keeping the milk cold enough.
Then he was off to the barn where his son had already begun feeding the cows silage and their ration of feed grain in the bunks in front of their stanchions. Our Concord Town farmer took the mechanical milkers from their drying racks, where they had been placed after dismantling and washing following the previous evening’s milking chores. The mechanical milkers were now re-assembled by placing the rubber inserts into each of the teat cups on the mechanical milker. Then he started the little “hit and miss” engine that ran the vacuum pump. The vacuum pump was connected to a pipeline that ran down each row of stanchions on either side of the alleyway in the barn. These pipelines contained valves and nozzles located at each stanchion. With a hose connected to the nozzle, the mechanical milker was placed on the first cow to be milked. Vacuum held the mechanical milker on the teats of the cow being milked. A “pulsator” converted the vacuum into an action of vacuum and release. This pulsator action when applied to the rubber inserts inside the four teat holders, milked the cow better than if the cow had been milked by hand. It took only a couple of minutes for the mechanical milker to empty all four “quarters” of the udder on the first cow. Our Concord Town farmer then turned off the vacuum valve near the nozzle of the vacuum line and then removed the milker from the cow. He then opened the lid of the milker and dumped the milk into a pail setting in the center of the alleyway of the barn. Then, he attached the milker to the next cow to be milked. While the milker was milking the next cow, our Concord Town Farmer took the pail out to the milk room in the barn and dumped the contents of the pail into the milk strainer which sat on top of a 10-gallon milk can. The strainer would remove any large impurities, like a stems of straw, that may have made its way into the milk during the milking process.
Following the milking of the entire Guernsey herd, our Concord Town farmer would take the mechanical milkers up to the milk house. There he would bleed off some of the hot water in the boiler reservoir tank and begin the process of disassembling, washing and disinfecting the various parts of the milkers. The milking machines would then be hung up on the racks to allow the water to drain off and completely dry all parts of the mechanical milkers.
Meanwhile, his son harnessed up the horses and brought them around to the front of the barn and hitched them to the sled that contained all the milk cans that had been filled during the morning milking. The sled would then be driven up to the milk house where the contents of each milk can would be dumped into the stainless steel tank with the milk from the previous evenings milking.
Our Concord Town farmer’s son would open the vents on the firebox of the boiler a little more to increase the heat of the fire. He then added some more wood to the fire and then checked the thermometer in the stainless steel tank. The temperature of the milk in the stainless steel tank must reach 72º F, but must not rise any higher. The hot water circulating in the pipes leading from the boiler to the stainless steel tank and returning to the boiler, would gradually raise the temperature of the milk to 72º F. It would take about three hours. Time enough for the empty milk cans to be thoroughly, washed, disinfected and placed in a rack upside down to completely dry.
While he washed the milk cans, his son unhitched the sled and took the horses down to the barn, hitch up the Case No. 3 manure spreader, he then let all the cows out of their stanchions and allowed them to walk out of the barn to stretch the legs and to get a drink of water at the stock tank outside the barn. Then he pulled the manure spreader into alley way of the barn.
On such a cold morning, his first task after crawling down from the manure spreader was to immediately close the barn doors behind the manure spreader in order to keep the warmth of the barn inside. While the horses waited patiently harnessed to the front end of the manure spreader, he would clean out the gutters on either side of the alleyway. Before loading the manure from the gutters into the manure spreader, our Concord Town farmer’s son slid his fork under each of the steel slats of the apron on the floor of the manure spreader. He needed to make sure that none of the steel slats was still frozen to the wooden floor of the manure spreader. He knew from experience that a broken apron chain would mean that the manure would have to be unloaded by hand, and that was something that he did not want to experience again.
After the gutters had been cleaned, he untied the reins of the harness from the left side of the manure spreader and drove the horses and the manure spreader out the doors at the opposite end of the barn into the cow yard. Then, he returned to barn and put out fresh hay for the cows. Meanwhile the lactating cows were starting to make their way back into the barn. They moved by habit to their appropriate stanchion in the barn and began to eat the fresh hay that was being laid out for them. On a usual morning, the lactating cows would have been in no hurry to get back into the barn. And he might have to allow them to be outside for a while longer. However, on this cold morning, the cows were gathered around the barn yard door, anxious to return to the warmth inside the barn. Their coat of hair was rather thin and compared with the non-lactating cows and the yearlings who were used to the weather outside the barn. After all the cows were back inside and fastened in their stanchions again, he would head to the fields with the load of manure.
He remembered to swing by the milk house on his way to the fields, just to pick up the pan of wood ashes from the boiler, which his father had places outside the milk house earlier in the morning. The breath of the horses created visible steam as the horses walked out to the fields. It was a cold morning, however, the sun was finally beginning to rise in the east. He looked at the neighbors house on the next farm and saw that the smoke from the chimney was rising up into the clear sky in a tall straight ribbon.
While, our Concord Town farmer’s son was taking the manure to the field, his father was cleaning up around the milk house and kept watching the temperature of the milk in the stainless steel tank. After about three hours, with the temperature at 72º F, the heating of the milk was stopped and then he began the bottling process. Now, the newly pasteurized milk was bottled in one-quart bottles. Our Concord Town farmer had ordered his bottles from the Warren Glasswork Company in New York City. These glass bottles had been made with our Concord Township farmer’s name embossed on the side of the bottle.
As the individual bottles were filled with milk and capped, they were each placed in a bottle crate. In summer these crates full of warm milk would have been moved immediately to the ice house on the farm to cool. The “ice house” on the farm of our Concord Town farmer’s farm was really a cavern excavated out of a nearby hill. On a winter’s day like this one, however, the bottled milk could merely be placed outside the milk house to be chilled. On cold mornings like this one, the problem was to avoid having the bottled milk get too cold and to freeze inside the bottle. Following the bottling process our Concord Town farmer went into the family’s house to get cleaned up and to change clothes.
After changing clothes, he went out to the shed and slid into the seat of his Divco Model S3 delivery truck. The cream colored truck had his name emblazoned on both sides in bright red letters.
Divco had been designing motorized delivery vehicles since 1926. The company had improved its basic truck model on many occasions in the intervening years. In early 1931, the company ceased production of its Model G delivery truck and had introduced the Model H truck. The Model H was a revolutionary new delivery truck. It was the first truck with Divco’s patented “drop frame” design that allowed the operator to drive the little delivery truck from either a standing or seated position. The dropped frame design allowed for the door of the delivery truck to be low to the ground that the floor of the cab was almost level to the average street curb. This made for easy entry and exiting from the truck. The Divco Model H was an ideal delivery vehicle.
However, only 702 Model H trucks had been manufactured by Divco. Milk dealers still preferred the traditional horse and milk wagon to deliver their bottled milk. It was the initial price of a truck that deterred our Concord Town farmer from mechanizing the delivery of milk by the purchase of a delivery truck. The recent economic depression had made the purchase of a new truck even more unsupportable. A Divco Model H truck cost $1,525. As the economic depression stretched on over the following months, Divco reduced the price of its Model H truck to $1,295 in an attempt to become more competitive. However, our Concord Town farmer continued to defer decision on buying a delivery truck. He continued to use Mable, his old brown mare, to pull his DeKalb Company milk delivery wagon.
However, in 1935, the new Divco Model S truck was introduced. The Model S was manufactured in two versions. The larger heavier Model S4 truck was made to haul 47 cases of milk bottles. The smaller Model S3 delivery truck could haul 39 cases of milk bottles. The Model S3 Divco delivery truck weighed 500 pounds less than any previous delivery truck made by Divco. The suggested retail price of the Model S3 truck was $1,140.
Considering the recovering economy and this new low price, our Concord Town farmer began to seriously consider how the purchase of a delivery truck, might greatly reduce the amount of time spent on the delivery route every morning and make his farming operation more profitable. So, just a few weeks ago, he purchased a 1936 Model S3 Divco delivery truck. The old horse-drawn milk wagon was retired to the grove of trees on the farm.
The little Divco certainly paid for itself on cold mornings like this. From the operator’s seat of the little delivery truck, our Concord Town farmer reached down with his left hand, through the spokes of the steering wheel and pulled the choke. With his right hand, he pulled the starter switch to the “on” position. A further pull on the ignition switch engaged the electric starter motor. On this cold morning, the four cylinder 143 c. i. (cubic inch) engine turned over rather slowly. He held the choke in the full choke position until the engine fired. As soon as the 18 hp. (horsepower) engine sputtered and started to come to life, he adjusted the choke control to the “halfway” position. He left his hand on the choke control and listened carefully to the engine for any sign that it may cease running. He made sure that the transmission was in neutral and then slowly released the clutch/brake pedal. There was a slight decrease in the speed of the engine as the main shaft of the transmission began to turn in the cold thick oil of the transmission. On such a cold morning even the oil in the four speed transmission needed to be warmed up. After a bit, he drove the truck out of the shed and down to the milk house. There he loaded all the crates containing the bottled milk into the racks in the little Divco truck and secured them in place. Then he drove the little delivery truck out of the yard and down the road in the direction of Lexington to start his delivery route.
Once he was headed down the road, he reached down and pushed the choke all the way in to the “off” position. The truck was running fine now. With its little engine humming along, the truck was reaching 25 mph. (miles per hour). Riding inside the Divco with the doors closed, the air inside the truck become warmer from the running engine, our Concord Town farmer reflected about how much faster and more convenient the truck was for making deliveries than was his old horse-drawn milk wagon.
He could now cover the distance to Lexington in a fraction of the time that it would have taken with a horse and wagon. The motor truck gave our farmer the edge over some other dairy farms in the competition for milk customers. Most other dairy farms were still using horses for the delivery of milk. Indeed, across the nation, the horse was still dominant in the door-to-door delivery business. Use of a truck for deliveries gave our Concord Town farmer an important edge over even those dairy operations that may be located closer in proximity to the customers in Lexington. The truck allowed him to come from a further distance and still have the milk on the door step of his customers in time for a late breakfast. Yes, the Divco had made his dairy operation much more efficient.
He had inherited the milk route from his father, who had operated the dairy farm before him. Over the years, his father and he had learned that the most successful advertising method was “word of mouth” between his customers and their neighbors. In the winter of 1937-1938, a good four years after the worst portion of the Depression, he saw that his customer base starting to increase. Indeed, in the nearly two years of his use of the Divco delivery truck on the milk route, our Concord Township farmer had been required to hold back some yearling heifers rather than sell them. These heifers were needed to expand his milking herd to accommodate the new customers.
Turning down the street into one Lexington neighborhood, he depressed the single pedal on the floor of the truck. Pushing the pedal part way down disengaged the clutch. Pushing it down more applied the brakes of the vehicle. He really couldn’t stand the idea of wasting gasoline, by leaving the truck running as he left the truck during the frequent stops along the route. Accordingly, he turned the engine off while making each delivery. Now that the engine was thoroughly warm he need not worry about re-starting the engine after the short stop.
With the pedal depressed in as far as possible, he slid the gear shift lever into the neutral position. This procedure locked the brake petal in position to hold the brakes on while he left the truck to make the delivery. In this way the emergency hand parking brake did not need to be applied during the frequent stops along his milk route. This procedure speeded up the delivery process along the route.
He, then, picked up a wire basket and loaded it with three full bottles of milk and departed the truck. He walked up the sidewalk leading to the front door of the house, but then detoured off onto the sidewalk, which lead around the large two story house to the back door, near the kitchen. On the step of the back door, our Concord Town farmer found two of his empty bottles, which he picked up and placed in the wire basket he was carrying. In their place he left two full bottles of milk. Then he returned to the truck.
Once in the truck, he quickly closed the folding door and placed the empty bottles in the crate for empties and then put some more full bottles in the wire basket and then placed the wire basket back in its frame mounted on the floor of the truck. Thus, the wire basket was held secure while he drove the truck to the next stop on his route.
Warm from the drive to Lexington, from the farm, the Continental engine in the little truck started almost immediately. On the route, our Concord Town farmer preferred to drive the truck from the standing position as he drove from house to house. Thus, he folded the collapsible driver’s seat up out of the way. Divco trucks were famous for two sets of controls which allowed the driver to operate the vehicle from either the standing or seated position. Thus, he slid the gear shift lever into first gear and touched the clutch/brake pedal with his foot. This released the brake and gradually engaged the clutch all in one motion and the truck started moving off to the next stop on the route. This next stop was his favorite stop on the route. The woman that lived at this house had done a good job of advertising among her neighbors. Accordingly, there were a number of customers’ houses at this single stop and he could make a number of deliveries without moving his truck.
He knew, by heart, how many bottles of milk to leave at every stop. This usually resulted in leaving exactly the same number of full bottles for the number of empties that he found on the door step of each house.
However, if there were any special requests for more or less bottles of milk from any of his customers, there would usually be a note stuck into the opening of one of the empty bottles, advising him of such requests. After about two hours of making deliveries he would reach the end of his route. He then unfolded the operator’s seat and locked it into position.
He would sit down as he drove the little truck back to the farm. He hunched forward, grabbed the top of the steering wheel with his hands, with his arms crossed at the wrists. He leaned thoughtfully forward resting his forearms on the steering wheel as he drove back to the farm.
As he drove along his thoughts turned to the tasks that lay ahead on this day. Following the morning chores and the delivery of the bottled milk to the customers, there was left only the early afternoon to complete any work on the farm. In the early evening he would have to start the evening milking chores again. This early afternoon period of time was the only time he had to accomplish anything not directly related to milking. During the summer, all field work, all putting up hay in the barn and silo filling would have to be done only during the small amount of time available to him in the early afternoon. He knew that he needed to make this short period of time in the afternoon as productive as possible. He was aware, from the experience of some of his neighbors, that owning a farm tractor was one way in which his time in the field could be used more productively. He speculated that the purchase of a farm tractor might prove to as productive as had the purchase of the Divco truck had already proved. Arriving on his farm and after removing the crates of empty bottles into the milk house, he put the truck back in its own garage and went into the house for dinner.
In the same year, 1937, on a farm further west in Massachusetts, near the village of Winchendon. The Earl and Clara (Wright) Whitaker family were sharing most of the same experiences as our Concord Town farmer. Prior to 1937, they had lived on a farm near Prescott, Massachusetts, where Earl served as the local postmaster while dairy farming on the side. He used a horse and buggy to deliver his milk around the community of Prescott.
Later Earl and Clara would have a family that would consist of two sons, Raymond and Newell Vaughn Whitaker. Raymond, the oldest son, would follow in his father’s footsteps. As he grew up Raymond became more and more involved in the farming operation. Eventually, he would take over the farming operation from his parents. First, however, there would be many changes.
The whole community of Prescott had to face a challenge not familiar to farmers in most other parts of the nation. In 1926, for the fourth time in its recent history, the metropolis of Boston was extending westward in Massachusetts to seek a source of fresh water. Planning for a massive dam and a 412 billion gallon reservoir called the Quabbin Reservoir began in 1926. Ten years later, in 1936, the Massachusetts legislature voted to start construction of the dam which would flood the entire Swift River Valley and obliterate the four towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott.
Earl and Clara and their family were forced to move from their farm in 1937. They moved north to the town of Winchendon, near the border with New Hampshire. On a 300-acre farm they established their farming operation called the “Winchendon Dairy.” Although the farm comprised of a total of 300 acres, only about 80 acres were arable. The rest of the land was hilly and became permanent pasture and about 50 to 60 acres of the farm was a permanent wood lot. The only alternative available to the Whitakers, other than retailing milk to local customers in nearby towns, was to sell the milk to large wholesalers who would pick up the milk in cans and ship the milk to Boston.
If sold to wholesalers, the milk would ride to Boston aboard “milk trains” that passed through mid-Massachusetts on railroad lines that connected Vermont with Boston. Under the management of Earl, and later, Raymond, the Winchendon Dairy grew. Their Holstein dairy herd grew to about 65 head of cattle. Indeed, the dairy herd outgrew the ability of the farm to produce all the feed needed for the dairy cattle. Thus, supplemental feed was purchased, from the citrus-growing area of Florida. The feed was largely composed of orange peels and other citrus “waste” or by-product of the citrus production process. However, the feed was proved to be quite palatable to the cows and actually smelled like raisins. The feed arrived in bulk on board a train from Florida.
During each milking session—morning or evening—the Whitaker farm employed four of five milking machines to milk the entire herd of lactating cows. Approximately 50 to 55 gallons were gathered from the Holstein herd at each milking session. Even though all members of the family were involved in helping out with the farming operation on the Whitaker farm, it was still necessary to employ a hired hand to get all the work done. In the post-World War II period, the Whitaker farm was sending two dark green International Model K-1 panel trucks out on local routes to deliver milk to customers. The Winchendon Dairy slogan, “From Moo to You in an Hour or Two” was emblazoned on the sides of both panel trucks. Later these trucks would be replaced with newer International Model R-1 panel trucks.
Raymond came of age on the Winchendon farm and married Phyllis Hall. In the following years their family grew to include eight children. In about 1948, Raymond took over operation of the farm himself.
Besides offering milk to their customers at the doorstep, the Winchendon Dairy farm offered their customers other food products such as eggs, chickens and vegetables all raised on the farm. Every year about three acres of the farm was devoted to raising potatoes. The potatoes, too, would for sold to their milk customers and to the public at large. In the early spring, when temperatures began to fluctuate between 32ºF at night and 50ºF during the day, the Whitaker family knew that the sap in the maple trees would be starting to rise. Each spring with the snow still lingering on the ground, the whole family, including the family dog—Cindy and later Blackie—would head for the wood lot. There they would tap all the maple trees and then return each day, after tapping, top collect the accumulated sap. From this sap, maple syrup would be made. The syrup would, also, be offered for sale to the public. Furthermore, the wood lot could be used to collect wire wood. Of course, the family used some firewood themselves, but the surplus would also be sold to the public.
Both the Whitaker and the family of our Concord Town farmer found that the milking of their lactating cows, the processing of the milk and the delivery of the milk to customers occupied most of their day. Our Concord Town farmer had always said that dairy farming was not as much a job as it was a “marriage.” Dairying enveloped the whole life of the farmer.
Clearly, our Concord Town farmer’s day was crowded with work. Thus, he was forced to means by which he could accomplish his farm work more efficiently. Use of a farm tractor, as a source of power on his farm, offered the promise of making his work on the farm much more efficient. Consequently, our Concord Town farmer began to seriously consider the possibility of purchasing a farm tractor.
He knew that some years earlier, the International Harvester Company had begun manufacturing a new little Farmall tractor—the Model F-12. This tractor was appealing to him because of the mounted two-row cultivator that would accompany this tractor. Cultivation of corn occupied a great deal of his summer each year. With horses he cultivated one-row at a time. It was his hope to get over his corn tree times before late-July. By mid-July the corn was too tall to cultivate. Cultivation at that stage tended to do more harm than good to the corn. In reality, it was unusual that he ever completed three full cultivations of his corn field. There just was not enough time. The promise of cultivating two-rows at a time with a tractor meant that our Concord Town farmer would be able to cut the cultivation time in half. His plan to purchase a farm tractor was much on his mind during that January of 1938. Over the last year or so, he had also been attracted by the cheap price of the Farmall F-12. For a small farm like his, our Concord Town farmer knew that the Farmall F-12 was the right size. If he were to make the investment in a farm tractor, it would appear that the tractor would have to be an F-12.