From Carriage to Truck: Milk Hauling in the Last Century
If you lived outside a city in the mid-1800s, chances were you owned a cow … or two, to provide plenty of fresh milk for your family. But urban folk would not have had this luxury. Dairy farming grew out of a need to supply the growing urban population with milk, cheese, and other dairy products.
Milking It at the Turn of the Century
Initially, farmers hauled their milk along with their neighbor in any vehicle they possessed. The same truck or cart that hauled hay or grain was used to ship milk. Ten-gallon drums called churns or metal milk cans were used on flat-bed, horse-drawn carriages.
By the mid-1920s milk had advanced to the point of being hauled in cans in an uncovered truck. There was no protection from rain, heat, or cold. Only in 1937 did we start sheltering our milk from the elements with the advent of insulated covered trucks. Milk haulers developed a mean set of muscles – at that time a single milk can could weigh more than 80 pounds.
It wasn’t until 1957 that bulk trucks began to be used for hauling milk.
The bulk tank forever changed the role of milk hauling. Suddenly milk could be transported on an unprecedented scale. New shipping businesses sprouted up to transport milk from dairy farms to larger, centralized milk processing centers. Since these new bulk tanks could hold immense quantities of milk, new hauling routes were set up so that a single driver could stop at multiple farms and load up their tanks.
In recent years specialization has gone even further. Special bulk tanks are used for conventional, organic, or hormone-free milk and can even address special concerns like collecting milk from Amish farms.
Ain’t No Rest for the Milkman
Over the years the duties of a milk hauler have changed. Gone are the days when a driver just picked up their cans of milk and brought them to market.
Nowadays, a milk hauler has a complex job. They must have proper certification to do the job they do. That’s because they are far more than just a driver. They must visually inspect the milk and ensure that it is being stored at the correct temperature. They agitate the farmer’s milk tank to blend the milk and cream together before taking a crucial sample of the combined mixture.
This sample establishes the levels of butterfat, protein, and whether there are any bacteria or antibiotics present in the milk they are pumping into the bulk tank. These levels determine how much the farmer is paid for their milk.
The dairy farmers and milk haulers of the 1800s would find it difficult to recognize their colleagues of today.