No. 129, February, 2010
Wandering and Restless Milk Cans
By Delores Miller
Since the beginning of the dairy industry in Wisconsin about 1900, containers were needed to transport the milk to the cheese factory. Separators were first used to divide the cream from the whey, and small cans were hoisted and transported by horse and buggy to the cheese factory. The first whole milk cans were receptacles were a twenty gallon can that took two people to lift on the buggy for the horse to haul to the factory.
Next came the ten gallon galvanized tin cans which weighed 15 pounds plus the 80 pounds of milk, making a mighty heaving load for one person to hoist up to the milk truck that came daily to the farms. The milk truck drivers were admired for their strength of hefting all those cans. Mike Polzin was our milk truck driver, we rode along to Sunrise School with him, a whole mess of us kids. Ray Draeger and Duane Miller were other drivers.
The Zillmer family shipped their milk to the Quarterline Cheese Factory with Harold, Elda and Jane Brown as Cheese Makers. Other factories in Dupont were Maple Valley, Green Valley, Spring Brook (by Elmer Piehls), and the South Dupont cheese factory which now in 2010 is still making good colby cheese and fresh cheese curds two days a week.
So in Wisconsin alone there must have been a million milk cans left over from those early days before pipe lines and bulk milk trucks holding 5000 gallons of milk. Oh, how different from the 8 gallons in a milk can.
I never thought to ask for a milk can when I left the childhood Zillmer farm. Russell inherited all his father's milk cans, and they have been divided amongst our 5 children and nieces and nephews. Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Missouri and Arizona these milk cans are gracing living rooms, reminding them of the early heritage of dairy farming. They are good receptacles for holding valuables.
Aunt Wilma Lembke and Uncle Clarence on one of their Wisconsin visits begged a Zillmer milk can. They hauled it over the rivers, deserts and mountains to California. Decorated with yellow painted daisy and sunflowers. For 40 years it graced their living room.
Alas, Uncle Clarence died in 1979, Wilma downsized in 2004 to a Military Veteran's home in Napa Valley, California. Needing to get rid of the Wisconsin Milk Can. She packed it up, UPS delivered over the mountains, rivers and deserts to the Miller house doorstep in Hortonville where it sits in our living room, reminding me of the Zillmer farm of the 1940s.
Our son Keith is a 4th grade teacher in Evansville. In social studies he asked the students to bring an artifact and Keith brought his milk can which sits in his living room. Ninety-eight percent didn't have a clue what it was. They did ask good questions about it, which was most of the point of the lesson.
copyright 2010, Russell and Delores Miller