SURING — For decades, the Hischke name was synonymous with milk hauling.
Eugene Hischke first regularly drove a milk truck on Jan. 1, 1952, as a bright-eyed 17-year-old eager to help his grandparents.
Along the way, his son, Bruce, followed in his father’s footsteps, first hopping in the driver’s seat of a milk truck at the age of 16.
By the time the last drop of milk was unloaded by Hischke Trucking on Dec. 31, 2018 — the family’s last official day of work together before retiring — Eugene had devoted 67 years to his craft and Bruce had dutifully put in another 47 years.
Faithfully supporting them every step of the way was Eugene’s wife, Joyce, who put in plenty of hours herself driving milk trucks and packing lunches whenever needed.
“Sooner or later I guess you have to retire, and I guess this was the time for all of us,” said Eugene, 84. “It’s going to take us some time to get used to this — not hauling milk anymore. It’s what I did almost my whole life.”
Bruce, 63, echoed similar sentiments, saying: “Our family was a cog in the milk production here in Wisconsin all these years, and that’s something we’ll always be proud of.
“I’ll always remember visiting with the farmers and hearing tidbits of news. Or hearing about whoever got their tractor stuck,” he added with a laugh.
On the day they retired, the family was picking up milk from five area farms, compared to 37 during their peak in the 1980s.
The Hischke family’s agricultural roots and respect for farming run deep.
Eugene and Joyce were born and raised on their respective families’ 80-acre dairy farms near the Oconto County village of Suring. Eugene’s family had 15 to 20 mixed breed cows, while Joyce’s family milked 30 black and white Holsteins.
As a youngster, Eugene regularly helped area farmers milk cows. His first hands-on experience hauling milk came as a 14-year-old, when his uncle, Tom Marcks, was sick so his grandparents, Frank and Colia Marcks, asked him to climb in the driver’s seat that day to help collect milk cans from their 20-farm route to Consolidated Badger Co-op in Shawano. The couple started hauling milk in the 1940s.
Eugene became a regular driver for his grandparents starting Jan. 1, 1952. He woke up at 5 a.m. each morning to haul milk, then attended classes in the afternoon. He graduated from Suring High School in spring 1952 with what he affectionately called “a degree in milk hauling.”
In March 1953, Eugene bought his own milk route in Green Valley that included farms acquired from his uncle Tom, who by then had purchased the main milk route from Eugene’s grandparents upon their retirement. Eugene started with about 150 milk cans per day using a 1952 Chevrolet.
Joyce graduated from Suring High School two months later. In 1954, the high school sweethearts — who knew each other since grade school — got married. Bruce was born the following year.
In 1956, the family moved into the rural home still occupied today by Eugene and Joyce. That same year, the couple bought a Suring milk route and had expanded to two trucks.
“I started out just hauling cans for the first couple years, so I figured, ‘OK, it’s going to be like this forever,’” Eugene said. “And then bulk came along.”
The Hischkes transitioned to hauling bulk milk in September 1957, starting with five farms, and by October 1958 the business was hauling only bulk milk. At the peak, Eugene was picking up milk from 37 bulk milk patrons.
In the late 1950s, young Bruce began getting a taste for the family business — literally.
“I used to ride along a lot when I was 4 or 5 years old,” Bruce said, “and I got chocolate milk at the plant. That was my lifestyle. I thought it was fun.”
Bruce began driving milk truck for his family part time in the summer of 1971 at the age of 16. After graduating from Suring High School he took auto technology courses at Fox Valley Technical College for two years, but kept driving part time.
Bruce started as a full-time milk hauler in 1975 (about the same time his grandparents Leonard and Leah Hischke sold their cows and retired from farming). In 1983, Bruce bought his own milk truck and worked in coordination with his parents.
For much of their working days, the Hischkes hauled about 125,000 pounds of milk per day.
They hauled to several different cities and companies in Wisconsin over the years, but Eugene remains fond of his years with Morning Glory and Alto.
Eugene said he’ll most remember “just getting up and going in the morning.”
He doesn’t recall taking a single day off from when he started his own milk route in 1953 until 1964.
“I probably deserved one day off after 11 years,” he said. “That’s just the way it was back then. You hauled every day and didn’t think twice about it. Even if you didn’t feel like it, you did it. You had to. The milk had to get hauled.”
Over time, the Hischkes recruited a couple of dependable drivers to help relieve some of the workload. Mike Clements was a full-time driver for 20 years, and Eugene’s brother, Dale, was a part-time driver for 15 years. Bruce’s son, Klint, also drove part time for a short while several years ago.
Among the highlights of Eugene’s milk hauling career was being included in the 1974 film “Things in Their Season,” a Wisconsin farm-related movie starring Patricia Neal. Eugene and his milk truck were included in one of the scenes. He banked $50 for an afternoon of work.
“I usually didn’t have big movie cameras following me around like that,” Eugene joked.
Eugene has modest plans for retirement — he bought a new chain saw and can’t wait to log hardwood in his 40-acre forest. Up until last year, he raised 15 to 20 steers each year since the mid-1960s; neighbors rent the land now.
Meanwhile, Bruce intends to hunt and fish when he isn’t spending time with his two grandchildren.
And Joyce said she’ll miss one thing from her daily routine. “I’ll miss packing sandwiches and lunches for them every day before they got in the trucks,” she said.
When all is said and done, the Hischkes hope their reputation reflects a family who worked hard, was always on time and displayed pride in the community.
“We’re proud we were milk haulers,” Eugene said.