Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You might as well squeeze the cow

I'm not a million years old, but in many ways I might as well be.

I live in an era of tablets, social networks and i-this-and-i-that, and I have (very) imperfectly adapted. But I grew up in something else.

This was the kind of thing I heard, and saw, when I was a child. This is how we got our milk every day. Yes, this way.

Cloppa, cloppa, cloppa down the street every morning, very early. Snorting and whinnying. It was a little girl's paradise. Every morning I'd rush out the front door with a carrot.

Oh that smell, that I love to this day, the smell of horses!

I used to try to tell my children about this, and they rolled their eyes and said I was lying. Surely horse-drawn wagons ended some time in the 1890s.

But they didn't. They delivered milk, not to mention fruits and vegetables, well into the 1960s.

 This is a wagon from Bracebridge Dairy. All these wagons have a three-digit phone number on them, incomprehensible. I remember the name Bracebridge - somewhere in Northern Ontario, I think (a name I haven't heard in so long, like the old street names in Chatham, that it gives me an odd sort of thrill). We had Silverwood Dairies, mostly in southern Ontario but also, I believe, in parts of Alberta out west.

I just thought of something! My first real job was in the purchasing department of Silverwood Dairies in London, Ontario. My job had nothing to do with the milk, but I do remember filling out endless requisition forms for various ingredients. I was also on the taste panel for new products, one of which was artificial ham.

Supposedly, this is the very last Silverwood's wagon in existence. A picture both beautiful and sad. Accounts vary as to exactly when they were phased out: some say 1960, others 1964. If it was '64, I'd have very clear memories of it. But it seems incredible we got our milk this way right into the Space Age.

Bottles were still clinking together then, but no longer had the cream-top bulge that you skimmed with a little dipper. Later when I lived in Alberta, our post-war bungalow had a little cabinet at the back, the place where the milkman left the bottles and picked up the note for next day's order. Without the cabinet, the milk would freeze in the 40-below weather and the bottles burst open.

This is one of my favorites. By the look of the cars, it seems to have been taken in the early 1950s. The horse, looking intimidated, is completely surrounded by traffic.  I wonder how everyone managed. Did the horses have the right of way? What about the road apples?

Did any of them ever spook and take off at a gallop? Horses will be horses, after all.

More to the point, I wonder why everyone seems to have forgotten all about this. Like the elusive, mysterious Skeezix bird, it belongs to a past that now seems more like a mirage.

People collect dairy memorabilia now the way they collect old weather vanes or butter churns. I suppose back then, men with cold hands milked those cows every morning. It would be bottled by some primitive method, sealed with a cardboard cap. This was before the days of "homo milk", milk that had magically been homogenized so that you could no longer skim the rich yellowy cream off the top.

Just a model now, but I remember when it creaked and clopped and smelled like horses.

I wonder if there's still such a thing as "homo milk".



  1. I remember our morning milk deliveries, never by horse-drawn cart but by step van. The bottles did clink together and the cream pushed the cardboard cap up and my mom would dip it out with a little tin cylindrical dipper. And then the big deal when homogenized milk arrived. Articles in the paper, all the buzz. Never called it "homo" milk that I know of, and today, of course, we would say "gay milk" or something of the sort.

    Oh, and I'm sure you know that Skeezix was a character in the Gasoline Alley comic strip, the one with the girl who's jersey strap kept falling off one shoulder then the other?

    Gasoline Alley

  2. I knew that Skeezix was SOMETHING, knew I hadn't originated the name, but that's all. Don't remember Gasoline Alley. When was that, for fuck's sake, the 1890s?? Like the Katzenjammer Kids? I thought my milk delivery shit was bad, jeez.

    1. Hell, they were running Gasoline Alley and the Katzenjammer kids in our funny paper well into the '50s and probly beyond. Probly reruns.

  3. I do remember the name, so that may also have been true of us. I remember Prince Valiant. Henry. Nancy and Sluggo. Little Audrey. Little Iodine. Little Lulu. Little Whatever. And of course, the immortal Pogo.

    (And how 'bout Classic Comics?)

  4. Little Lulu was my favorite. A couple friends and I even painted No Girls Allowed on an old shed we used for a clubhouse.

    I always felt classy reading Classic Comics. They would compare with today's so-called graphic novels.

  5. I read the whole Bible in half an hour. By far the best version.

  6. Would they SHOW them begotting/begatting?

    1. I suppose you'd have to show your ID before they'd let you behind the fig leaf curtain to view those editions.