Growing up on a dairy farm

Ann Swanson

My father-in-law grew up on a dairy farm. In fact, the farm has been in the family for nearly 100 years. He told me his father bought it when he was three years old. In turn, he bought his dairy farm when my husband was three years old. We continued the tradition purchasing Hickory Heights when our son was three years old.

The farm I live on is no longer a dairy farm. The barn was torched shortly after we bought it. We did have insurance so we did get that out of it. In the early days, we put our heifers out to pasture at Hickory Heights. The men had to build a fence from scratch but it was worth it as the pasture was good and the young stock thrived up here. It was my job to count the heifers every day to be sure they were all still inside the fence.

I recall on one occasion going through the barbed wire fence with a heifer. I ended up with a nasty cut on my face. I had to go teach school the next day. I sat at my desk with the cut facing the blackboard. I did not want to keep explaining what happened. When I stood up and turned around, I heard a collective gasp from the children. I guess it looked pretty bad. I explained to them what happened and went on with my day.

Great Grandpa Swanson had a milk route. He picked up milk from his neighbors and delivered it to the local creamery in Akeley. During the summer the milk traveled by wagon. In the winter he used a cutter bob, a type of sleigh, to transport the milk. Both of these tasks were accomplished with the use of horses. When the price of milk was lowered, he decided to keep his milk and make butter to sell. At that time butter sold for $.55 a pound. He made more money on that than he could on raw milk.

His son, my father-in-law, got to sell the butter. He had a butter route. Friday was butter making day. The milk and cream were separated by the hand turned separator. The old wooden churn with the wooden dasher would make about twenty pounds at a time. It took four or five times to churn all of the cream into butter.

If you have ever churned butter you know that it is not easy work. The dasher goes around and around until the cream becomes butter. Then you have to pour off the whey. If you added some salt to it, it made a passable substitute for buttermilk. Nothing was ever wasted in those days. If only we did as well with our food today.

My mother-in-law had a glass churn with a wooden dasher that we used every once in a while. If the milk truck for some reason did not pick up our milk, or if the power was out too long, we separated the cream from the whey and made butter using that little churn. I also remember having a little thermometer that helped us get the milk to the right temperature.

On Saturday the wagon was harnessed to the horses early in the morning. On his well-established butter route, he exchanged the crocks of butter for the empty ones. It took a full day to deliver 90 – 100 pounds of butter. If he was able to sell all of the butter, he made a whopping $55.00 for the day. That of course, did not include the labor of churning the butter in the first place. One consolation was that the only fuel he used was some hay for the horses.

In later years my father-in-law delivered the butter in a truck. He had many fond memories of his jaunts into town. I remember him telling me that he sometimes stopped to visit a cousin. He and Goldie were about the same age. Sometimes she was allowed to ride back to the farm with him. Her parents picked her up the next day. She really appreciated the visits I found out later when I began to visit with her.

Goldie and I became great friends. I entered her life when she was in her nineties. I went to visit her to find out about some paintings that we found in the house and a small clock. I instantly took a liking to her. This was not the first time I met her. I had been to her apartment with my in-law’s a couple of times.

Goldie was such an interesting person. She watched the news to keep up with current events. We talked about everything. I recall the day the Casey Anthony verdict came down. She was disgusted with the verdict.

She was upbeat even though diabetes had taken some of her vision. She always enjoyed hearing about my travels. Early on she enjoyed looking at my pictures. Once her eyesight got worse, she just enjoyed hearing about them so I always complied.

She often told me that she wished we could have traveled together. Of course, that was not to be because she no longer traveled. In the days that she was traveling my husband was alive so I would not have been able to go then either.

Goldie lived to the ripe old age of 105. I still miss visiting with her. She often asked me why I thought she was still alive when all of her friends were gone. I told her the Lord was not finished with her yet. She enriched the lives of all who visited with her.

The old ways were time-consuming, but they made for a close-knit family unit. Everyone worked together in those days. Today, everyone seems to go their own direction. That is a sign of the times!

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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