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Boomer’s Journal: The milkman cometh

Picture it. A 17-year-old, 185-pound farm boy at 7 a.m. on Christmas Day, 1962.

The milkman cometh.

Truman Hanson, in his younger years. Contributed photo

Truman Hanson, a kid who graduated from Battle Lake High School in 1963, had his chauffeur’s license (today’s equivalent would be a CDL). The license was the first qualification for becoming a substitute milk route driver for the Battle Lake Co-op Creamery in the early ‘60s. However, in anyone’s right mind, the first qualification was being a farm boy who was used to hoisting 20-pound cans filled with 80 pounds of milk, equaling about 100 pounds per can when it’s all said and done. That’s lifting 200 pounds total (one in each hand). As this farm boy hoisted the filled cans of milk onto the truck, Truman Hanson didn’t need any other kind of weight-lifting program, that’s for sure.

Hanson drove a 1959 Ford milk truck for his routes. His routes were on the south/southeast side of Battle Lake, and of course, he knew the roads pretty well. A typical morning started at 7 a.m. as he checked the truck lights, brakes, latches and other things. The secretary of the creamery gave each driver the check stubs from the previous day, stacked them in order, and sent each milkman on his route. Each truck held 66 cans, and each driver had 15 to 20 stops per day. After the first route was complete, Hanson would drive back to the creamery (around 10 a.m.), unload his full cans, and head out for the second route.

Each farmer had two sets of cans. The milkman drove up to each farmer’s milk house, strategically, so the truck lined up with the line-up of cans. The milkman unloaded the empties and reloaded the full cans. “We knew which way to drive up, alongside of the milk house. Each stop was unique,” said Hanson. Each can had a red number on it, and once it was emptied at the creamery, it was sanitized before reloading and returned to the farmer the next day, on the next day’s route. “Luckily the truck I drove only allowed for one level of cans, so I didn’t have to jump up and stack them. They were lined up in the truck according to the route,” said Hanson.

It was a pretty efficient system of loading, unloading and reloading. “We just had to make sure we latched the doors of the truck so cans wouldn’t fly out once we had the cans loaded. We had to make sure no cans would tip over,” Hanson explained. He only had one instance in his entire “career” as a milkman where a can did tip over. In that case, he had to report it to the secretary at the creamery, and the farmer got credit for what was on his check stub from the day before.

Milk cans. Contributed photo

The creamery recorded everything, including the number of pounds of butter, fresh cream and cheese that the milkman took along with him each day, just in case people wanted some of those necessities dropped off at their place. “People would leave hand-written notes. We had a box of butter, cheese and cream with us in the truck. We would fulfill people’s orders, and they, in exchange, would leave the correct transaction amount in an envelope. It never failed to work. Butter was 66 cents a pound back then. It wasn’t at all unusual that the exact chunk of change was sitting there waiting for us along with the note. One farmer would put a chair at the end of his driveway with an envelope attached. The note inside the envelope told me what the farmer wanted, and whether it was for 1 pound of butter or cheese, or 6 pounds, the exact amount of change would be in the envelope,” Hanson said, reminiscing about how things used to be.

And so, Truman Hanson remembered a time long ago when he drove a milk route on Christmas Day, 1962. Because the cows wait for nothing, and never take a day off, neither could a substitute milk route driver.

“On that Christmas Day I was given a new route and didn’t know the farmers or the farmers’ yards. I was scrambling to figure out where to go in the county…it was in the complete opposite direction of my regular route.”

“I carried a plat book of Otter Tail County with me,” Hanson explained. A young kid on Christmas Day with a tight schedule to keep. Lo-and-behold, only after one or two wrong turns during the entire route, one farmer invited the 17-year-old in for Christmas cookies and coffee. Turns out, even with that, Hanson was only 15 minutes late in getting back to the creamery that Christmas Day morning before he headed out a second time.

Whether it’s Christmas Day, or an ordinary day, the cows deliver and the milkman cometh. Hanson had many a memory of his driving the milk truck years, including another holiday, Easter Sunday, when he was singing in the choir for Trefoldighed Church near Battle Lake.

Marcia and Rachel doing chores, no matter the weather conditions. Contributed photo

“I told Irene, our choir director, I couldn’t sing because I had a milk route. She not only said, ‘You will sing,’ she found a way for me to sing AND drive my route. I drove the milk truck up to the side door of the church, rushed in at 9:15, found my choir robe hanging where Irene said she would put it, slipped it on, sang, and slipped out the side door right after the song…and jumped into my truck and continued my route.”

Truman Hanson continued driving milk routes, from 1962 to about 1967. He furthered his education at Wahpeton School of Science, graduating in 1967 as an engineering tech and going on to a successful career in that field. Today he is retired, living in Alexandria with his wife, Karen, and working part time for Anderson’s Funeral Home.

Hanson will always remember his days as a milkman. He is no longer on a cow’s schedule, but he is happily reminiscing about the good old days “with the guys” over morning coffee at McDonald’s. (I wonder if they add fresh cream.)

And me, well, as a dairy farmer’s daughter who helped with the assigned milking chores, whether it was a holiday or not, I realize we weren’t the only ones with a schedule set by the cows. I didn’t think about the milkman so much. Until now. Since the cows wait for no one, neither can the milkman.

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