Russ' Vintage Iron

Vintage Milking

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Ever since I was a kid I have been attracted to old stuff. This includes vintage iron as well as other somewhat related items.

I'm guessing it all stems back to having been raised on a farm with several outbuildings full of items that could now be housed in an agricultural museum. Smaller objects like antique hand tools and larger things like various grain cleaners were in these buildings.

We still have most of these items, albeit they are now stored on a different farm today.

Like many families, we had a complete set of early 1900s buildings. In addition to the farm house, there was a detached two-car garage, barn, corn crib, milk house, a small wooden machine shed, chicken house, cob house, wash house and of course an outhouse.

I felt very much at home both times I visited the Living History Farms in Des Moines, Iowa, once when I was a little kid, and recently, when I took my family there a few years ago. The 1900 farmstead is where I grew up, well minus the horses and dairy cows but with tractors, beef cows, electricity and indoor plumbing.

The barn was a basic Midwestern barn with one side having the old milking stanchions, an alley way in the middle and the horse stalls on the other side. A set of narrow, steep stairs right inside the door took you up to the haymow.

The corn crib was again a basic design with two large sets of doors at each end and two sets of bins on each side of the open middle. Ear corn (then later shelled corn) was stored at the one end, and other crops like soybeans and oats were stored in smaller bins on the other side.

The chicken house consisted of three different rooms. The biggest room with two doors had the nests, a smaller room was the brooder room and third room, with another door leading to the outside.

But perhaps the most interesting building was the smallest building on the farm -- the milk house. The inside of this building, minus all the stuff we had put into over the years, was a snapshot right out of the 1940s and 1950s.

Probably smaller than most walk-in closets today, the tiny building housed three larger items -- an electric, metal can cooler, a wooden bookshelf, and a bench with a metal rack to hang milk cans after they were washed out. The can cooler took up most of the room and looked a chest-style freezer with a door and handle on the top.

All of this was way before my time, but from asking lots of questions over the years, I learned the cows were milked in the barn and then it was poured into milk cans, which according to the internet, held 10 gallons and weighed roughly 86 pounds when full of whole milk. These full cans were put into the can cooler and the milk was kept cool until the milkman came. He got the set of full cans out of the cooler and returned another set of emptied cans to the farm to be filled once again with fresh milk.

The strange thing about this milk house was that it was all the way across the place from the barn.

Carrying multiple 86 lbs. cans full of milk that far couldn't have been much fun, especially in snow or rain. I would have thought the milk house could have been right next to the barn or maybe the cooler could have been put in the barn itself.

Regardless, this was the set up.

At some point in the 1950s or 1960s, it was mandated that a closed system had to be in place on dairy farms to keep the nation's milk supply clean and safe. Farmers built new milking facilities (my grandparents built a milking parlor on their farm in 1958), altered existing buildings to accommodate this new regulation, or they stopped milking cows all together.

This is what the old bachelor farmer who owned the farm before us did. He must have stopped milking one day, and decades later, his milk house was still like it was the day he stopped milking cows.

While the cooler, bookcase and the bench were all still in there during my childhood, my dad used the little building to store our various oils, filters and other related items in there. But under the jugs, buckets and cardboard boxes were the remains of a distant time with a different way of operating.

Russ Quinn can be reached at

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