Dairy farming in Wisconsin has undergone a slow transition over nearly two centuries. At first the family cow or cows were the responsibility of the women in the family. Fresh milk became a family staple and cheese and butter were made in the home for the family. When the herd size increased, the male family members became employed in dairying, and either whole milk or cream were taken to a nearby creamery or cheese factory and sold. Obviously, the first transportation to milk processing plants was by a wagon pulled by a team of horses.
The above picture, that has my father’s name on the back, Goodwin Waller, was taken on the west side of the farm home of his uncle and aunt, Jens (John) and Olava (Ollie) Toppen. The Toppen farm is at the top of Toppen Coulee in the community of Glasgow in the southeast corner of Trempealeau County. This scene was most likely from the 1920s. Such large 30-gallon metal containers were used to transport milk or cream to the creamery. During the first half of the twentieth century, the North Bend Cooperative Creamery was processing most of the milk or cream from all the nearby farms.
I contacted Jerry Apps for an explanation about the large milk cans shown in this picture. He understands that farmers transporting their own milk to nearby creameries or cheese factories used such 30-gallon milk cans. When milk haulers driving trucks began picking up milk from many farms, and this became their business, there was then a switch to the 10-gallon milk can. In his book “Wisconsin Agriculture,” Jerry Apps has a picture of four wagons at a cheese factory in Richland County all bringing their milk there in these 30-gallon milk cans.
The high-wheeled wagon pictured here is very familiar to me. State Highway 54 runs through Glasgow east to west north of the route of the Black River. The best farm land is along this paved road, and these farms were purchased in the 1850s by settlers from Scotland. Three coulee roads extend north to hilly land up near the base of a large bluff. I remember dirt roads about one mile in length going up to the Byoms, the Toppens, and the Wallers families that came to Glasgow later from Norway These roads were very muddy every spring, and after each rain and very dusty during any dry spell in the summer. The high-wheeled wagon seen here was excellent for hauling our milk out to the paved highway when the mud was too deep for the milk truck. Our milk then went on the truck going to North Bend about five miles east of Glasgow. When the mud was frozen real hard, our milkman, Vilas Suttie, would come with his Model A Ford car and take our cans of milk out to the highway.
Two of my uncles and one older cousin were owners and operators of can milk routes. They picked up milk from farmers who were members of the North Bend Cooperative Creamery. Prior to about 1950, canned milk was hauled in open stake-bed trucks. The truck owners could then remove all the empty cans and replace the milk rack with a stock rack and haul cattle in the afternoon. When finished with that, they had to remove all the bedding and manure and clean the truck bed in preparation for another morning of hauling milk. This, of course, ended with the requirement that milk in cans had to be picked up from the farms in an enclosed truck. Near Augusta we have a receiving station for milk that comes there in 10-gallon milk cans hauled in such enclosed trucks. They collect this milk from nearby Amish farms.
I must admit that I have no first-hand knowledge about the 30-gallon milk can, but I sure did have experience with the 10-gallon milk can. As a teenager, I really enjoyed going along with my uncles on their milk route and proving-up my manhood throwing 10-gallon cans of milk up onto their truck. One neighbor cooled his milk in a stock tank in the middle of his barn and he had us carry the 10-gallon cans full of milk half the length of his barn. Our farms then had no milk houses, no electric milk coolers, and some had no electricity.
Our milk hauler came every morning at approximately the same time, so we could often depend on him for a ride to school in his milk truck or sometimes in his Ford Model A car. Living at the end of our one-mile dirt road, now called “Waller Lane,” we had no traffic going by and very few visitors. Mother would order cheese or butter from him to be delivered the next day. Since our mail box was two miles from our farm, mother never hesitated asking our milk man to mail a letter or two for her. We would sometimes send a parcel to a neighbor with him, also.
The mismatched team of horses hitched to the wagon as seen on this picture is not like the well-matched teams of large draft horses one would find at a horse show or pulling a wagon in a parade. My father bought broncos brought to Wisconsin from the western states on a train that he then broke to become our draft horses. I remember one of those broncos being part of a mismatched team on our farm. King was his name, and he was the smallest work horse that we had, but he could pull with the best of them. King was often hitched alone pulling a single cultivator or pulling hay from the wagon up into the hay mow of our barn. Such are the memories of a Depression Era farm kid now an octogenarian great-grandfather who never forgot “King,” our last surviving bronco draft horse!