My clock-radio comes alive every morning at 7:00 a.m. tuned into DuBois’ WCED, now commonly known as “Connect Radio.” I like to catch the brief morning national news and the locals. Then I drowsy along for a while until I feel forced to get up for corn flakes, breakfast according to the plans for the day that follow. There are a variety of features aired on the radio throughout the week but Thursday is always special.
Announcer Joe Taylor hosts a talk-show that day sponsored by Beaver Meadow Creamery of DuBois. He opens with, “When any of us travels up and down the east coast and is served with butter for their dinner roll, we usually find the name ‘Beaver Meadow Creamery’ on the wrapper – and it is made right here in DuBois!” Then that day’s interview continues until the radio clicks off at 9 ‘o clock and my feet had better be on the floor.
I have known about Beaver Meadow Creamery for most of my life because my mother and dad were in the milk business of various stages. It seemed that they always kept a milk cow so we had milk for the table. Now and then, they had more than one milk cow and there was more milk than we could just use, so we had an occasional calf or a pig around to feed. Boys and girls of my generation will likely recall how a standing jar of whole milk would soon develop a golden layer of cream on the top – a layer that could be dipped or siphoned off the top. It was used for coffee and all sorts of delicious baking recipes.
When our herd of dairy cows grew to a slightly higher number, my parents invested in a hand-cranked cream separator, probably from the Sears-Roebuck catalog, sort of the Walmart of that time. A centrifugal separator had been patented by Gustav DeLaval in 1878 in which manual rotation of the handle causes a set of discs to spin at a high number of revolutions per minute. The discs spin and the heavier layer of milk is pulled outward against the walls of the separator and the lighter-in-weight cream collects in the middle. The cream and the milk then flow out of “separate” spouts where they can be caught on cans or buckets and saved.
We found the chilled “skim” milk to be refreshing and used it on our table for drinking. My mother used the cream for cooking and baking. Then along came a “churn” which started out as a barrel with a plunger inside which was sloshed up and down by hand, and later with a revolving paddle. First the cream would turn into a whipped cream stage with soft, and then stiff peaks. With further turns one would begin to hear a sloshing sound and then begin to feel something more solid hitting the sides of the churn.
If an operator could see inside the churn, he or she would see butter beginning to cling to the beater. There was still more to it such as adding a little salt to the preferred taste and pressing extra liquid out of it to finish the butter. My dad made the work a lot easier by redesigning our standard churn by setting it on a wood frame and attaching an electric motor to do the turning. Today that outfit is retired to a place of honor and rest in a corner of our (also retired) milk-house.
Meanwhile, Joe Kirk Sr. of DuBois, opened a creamery which he named Beaver Meadow due to its location, on November 11, 1937 – another reason for celebrating that day. It became a good place for farmers like us to sell our cream and take turns hauling it to DuBois. I was always impressed by Mr. Kirk. He moved around the creamery with notepad in hand, always dressed in dress hat, suit and tie under a long, white lab coat. He never went to work unless he was properly dressed,” Joe’s Grandson Bob recalls.
I took my turn to haul milk in the back of my pickup from time to time. One day, I picked up several cans of cream at the Britton farm down the road and, I still have no clue what happened, but one 5-gallon can started to move. It left its spot in the bed next to the cab and slid back – not to the tailgate, but rolled right off the wheel well instead. Ever a philosopher, my neighbor Burton Britton offered an appropriate comment with a little grin on his face at the same time. I think you could guess what he said.
Bob Kirk is running the place these days. Most of the cream these days arrives in tank trucks but the plant still operates pretty much the same way. Beaver Meadow holds the record for having the first computer-controlled churn in the United States, shipped in from Denmark in 1982. They did experiment with some other products but they weren’t as profitable as hoped, so the primary business today is right back to butter in many packages as customers demand.
Meanwhile at our place, we have gone through many changes. For years, my family and I did the field and barn work while my parents took care of the raw-milk customers. We had somewhere upwards of 100 families who drove out to our farm through the week and enjoyed a craft-visit with my parents where my mother usually had some pot cooking on the old coal stove. After my dad passed away, my mother felt isolated on the farm and eventually bought a house in Brockway and moved to town.
We had moved the butter-making process into the milk house and Evelyn became the butter maid and she made and sold a lot of that popular spread until her hands and arm ached. With my mother gone and our kids off to lives of their own, we realized that Evelyn and I just couldn’t continue the load. We were always running the only state-licensed raw-milk operation in the area, and we were required to take quality-control samples to the state each month. We took them to the V.T. Smith Dairy in DuBois where they were picked up with Smith’s. One day, we inquired about signing on as a supplier for V.T. Smith. Manager Vince Anderson was well-aware of our reputation and said, “Can you start with us tomorrow?”
We gave our customers a month’s notice and we were done. Today we do our chores at the grocery store and we meet friends (and former customers) as we go out the door with milk and eggs, we say, “Well we’ve just done today’s chores.” A couple nights ago when I started to reach for some more meat and potatoes, my little finger caught the rim of my milk glass and I tipped it over. I thought of my former neighbor and remembered his thoughts from many years ago, “There’s no use crying over spilt milk!” Even cream! Right?