Updated: Sep 26, 2022
Adapted from the original email-letters from Paul Ovaitt - Original date October 4, 2021
Gentle readers: a couple photos have trickled in. Thus, I’m inspired enough to resume the Dressel-Mt. Pleasant story. But not today. When Lucian was talking about how commonplace it was for local farmers to have a dairy cow or two, and to have a cream separator, I got whey-laid by my own curiosity.
I found this entry on Wikipedia to be useful. If you read it, please note that Gustaf de Laval was the first to produce cream separators. I have also included a photo, courtesy of Leroy Nadler, who lives at the centennial farm just east of Augusta. If you enlarge the photo, you’ll clearly see the de Laval brand.
Now I know some of you might appreciate more continuity in the order of my stories, but I don’t think there are any rules to what I’m doing. I don’t even think there’s a name for what I’m doing. Rest assured; I’ll finish my Mt. Pleasant story when I finish it.
This week I sent a few emails to Lucian to further quiz him on the topic of small farm production of cream. On Tuesday, 9/28/21, I wrote: Good morning. Woke up this morning wondering about the cans. Capacity? -Made from? -Each labeled for each farmer? -Who cleaned and returned to farmers? -Ever turn sour? -Was box at union sta. refrigerated?
To which he replied: Milk cans were 10 gallons each, weighing in at around 100 lb when full.
They were all steel that was tin coated.
The cans were all tagged. When coming in with origin and when going out with contents, always liquid "ice cream mix".
That was one of my summer jobs. Inside on a long trough filled with hot dirty smelly water. We inserted them sideways on to a worn-out brush and them steam cleaned them. The area was next to the boiler room, and I remember coming home and my mom saying that the temperature that day, July 14, 1954, set an all-time record for St. Louis, 114 or so. It was probably another 20 degrees hotter working on the can washer, but I was 14 and invincible so it didn't matter.
The ice cream mix that we put in there was pasteurized and full of sugar (a preservative in and of itself) and if refrigerated would not go bad before use.
Yes, the box was refrigerated. The US government had a standard then that said there could be no more than 25 flies in a 10 gallon can of cream. The cans were not refrigerated on the farms and the cream was sour. It was churned and known as sour cream butter, which is vastly superior in character to sweet cream butter. Only the liquid part of the cream went sour, the fat that the butter was made from was not attacked by the bacteria, but they gave it a great flavor. Sadly, this type of butter no longer exists. Lucian
PS The sour cream was poured through a strainer before churning to remove the flies.
To which I hastily replied: Did you constantly send empty cans back out to rural areas? Do you mind if I use some of your email from today in a story?
To which he replied: All the cans belonged to the dairy and had the dairy's name embossed into the metal, so if a milk hauler brought in 56 cans full of raw milk to the dairy, we would unload the cans and give him 56 clean empties and send him on his way. Then an employee would dump the milk from the cans into a refrigerated tank and cool it down. Most of the dairy farmers in those days did not have refrigeration at the farm so they would milk twice a day, put the milk in cans and the hauler would pick it up every day, 7 days a week including all holidays (the cows don't get days off). My dad would go to the dairy 365 days a year (366 on leap years) to check on things.
Use whatever you want. Lucian
Okay, I used it all, Lucian, but I like to milk the up-close and personal Augusta connection on everything I write, so I made a few phone calls: Leroy Nadler, Ellen Knoernschild, Kathy Kessler, Paul and Bernice Kemner, and Ellen Mallinckrodt.
Let’s start with Leroy. Now, this is a fun guy, and he immediately got on board with my inquisitive nonsense. (BTW, Tell It Like It Was did a live interview with Leroy and Cousin Dave Nadler at Harmonie Verein on January 21, 2020. That was way too much fun.)
Again, I digress, but here’s Leroy:
…it would have been in the mid to late 50s…some creamery would pick up their can and drop off the one from the previous week. We still have the cream separator in the basement…and we’d usually drink the skim milk, or it would be fed to the pigs, and we would sell the cream. My parents had two milk cows. We had a modern separator…it actually had an electric motor…but it had the crank, in case your power went out.
P: Nice! And one favor: would you take a picture of a milk can and your separator, please?
L: I probably better do it now since I’m getting old, and I might forget.
P: What about Dave’s (Nadler) family? Would they too have had a couple cows and a cream separator?
L: Yeah, they would have had the same thing. I think that’s why we all were a little bit chunky. We always put the cream on the cereal or on fresh blackberries.
And Ellen Knoernschild:
… that was a little before I came here, but I think Bob told me they didn’t have any dairy cows, just beef cattle.
And Kathy Kessler, founder of Halcyon Spa and former town chairman:
…I am not sure if we sent milk on the railroad, but likely. My grandfather was an orphan and taken in by the Struckhoff family. He bought land as a young man in the bottoms and cleared the bottoms by hand to create tillable soil for farming. Later he and my grandmother bought the farm on 94 on the courthouse steps from one of my grandmother’s Poepsel cousins. My father was born in 1929 and I think he was born in the bottoms, so after the dairy business started on 94, and my parents took it to a Grade A dairy.
I know my grandpa used to wait with the hogs on the bluff by Nona to catch the train. He pinched pennies and would ride in the cattle car to save money.
Kathy added that her brothers, Tom and Gerard, could share more, but I think I’ll leave that for another day. This job doesn’t pay enough for me to investigate every lead.
…I’ll let you talk to Paul…because he lived here in town…
But I didn’t get to speak with him. Instead, we had a three-way conversation, shouted back and forth, with me asking ridiculous questions, and them trying to look backwards nearly 70 years. Mea culpa. Or my bad, if you don’t speak Latin.
Ah, but I hit the jackpot with Ellen Mallinckrodt, daughter of Arthur and Erna Berg (listen up Augusta Shores folks), and wife of the late, legendary Hubie Mallinckrodt. Here’s Ellen:
…we sold cream, we sold milk…and we had 7 or 8 dairy cows. There was a time dad sold milk to…I don’t even remember the name of the company…someone picked up the milk, but we delivered the cream to Matson to be put on the train. They were smaller than a 10-gallon milk can. Dad brought them to Matson; there were certain days that he had to have it there. I don’t know what we did when the river was up. We had no refrigerator to keep the cream cold. We had a milk house, and we would pump well water in there in the summer. A couple times a day we’d drain it and put cold water in there. I can remember dad would take one of us kids with him to Matson, and then we’d pick up the mail and a few groceries.
Please notice that Ellen said the cream cans were smaller. Even before she said it, I was wondering how many farmers could produce enough cream to fill a 10 gallon milk can. So, I emailed Lucian one more time. And he kindly responded:
L: There was also a 5 gallon can, but they were very rare and I don't recall ever seeing one come into the dairy. The only places I have ever seen them are in antique stores, and also you would often see them out in the country where they were filled with concrete and used to hold a pole with a mailbox on it. The cans would go to the St. Louis butter plant so they might have been taking in some 5 gallons can, I would not know.
That’s all I’ve got, gentle and curious readers. I think it takes a village to write a history.
Now, it’s September 22, 2022, and I’d like to add some interesting remarks from Walter Kamphoefner which were forwarded to me by Bob Brail, editor of the Boone-Duden Historical Society newsletter:
“…I found the piece on cream production equally interesting. First of all, I didn't know Lucian Dressel grew up with the creamery business. But the production side sounds like the story of my family. We milked up to ten cows by hand. Bought ten dairy calves at one point and we kids tried to halter break them to lead them, but they ended up leading us. My brother Paul and I, the oldest kids, started milking about the time we started grade school; I forget whether he was 5 and I was 6 or he was 6 and I was 7. I'll copy this to him in case he has additions or corrections.
We had an electric separator in the cellar (dirt floor, no basement, and no refrigeration), so I guess we sold sour cream. Till the Katy passenger trains stopped, we took it to the Defiance depot; later a truck picked it up, and at the end we had to take it to Washington. I recall that the checks came from Aro; don't remember Dressel, unless it was Aro-Dressel.
I pretty much retired from milking at 14 except in the summers because I went off to a boarding high school and didn't miss it one bit, but a younger brother and sister also took up milking. When my sister went off to college in 1971, mom and dad continued to milk for another year, but then they had enough and sold the milk cows, so that was around 1972. We never sold any milk, fed the skim milk to young pigs, which they thrived on. As did the cats.
It's funny, lots of people are all thrilled and nostalgic about homemade butter. My mom actually had an electric butter churn, which she used occasionally, but she liked oleomargarine better. And she convinced Dad to drink his coffee black instead of with cream as he originally did."