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The Adventures of a Milkman

Editor's note: Fewer and fewer of us remember a time when the milkman delivered milk right to our front doors. In this post, Royersford resident, Joe Evans, shares a "milk-curdling" adventure.

I was raised on a dairy farm just outside of Spring City from birth until I became a teenager. My first job was on a dairy farm near Collegeville, Walebe Farms. In 1976, when I was a senior in high school I got a job as a supervisor for the Montgomery County Dairy Herd Improvement Association. The farmers I worked for just called me the milk tester. I traveled around the county to a different farm each day… twice actually. I’d go in the afternoon or evening when they milked the cows for the first trip, then go back again for the morning milking. I’d weigh how much milk each cow gave and record the amount as well as taking a sample to send to Penn State University for testing.

In 1983, one of the farmers who I worked for and I had worked out a deal where I was going to buy his herd of cows and rent his barn and pasture from him so I could keep the cows there. I applied for an FHA loan to buy the cows that December. However, there was a milk surplus in the market at that time. Due to that surplus, a few days after I submitted my loan application, President Reagan announced there would be no more FHA loans for dairy herds until the milk market was stabilized. So I decided to get a job as a milkman and go door to door to sell more milk. Little did I know of the adventures I’d be in for!

I got a job working as a home delivery milkman for Bechtel’s Dairy, just outside of Royersford in Upper Providence Township. I’d start out at two o’clock in the morning by loading all of the glass bottles of milk and juice into the back of the truck then shoveling a few hundred pounds of ice on top of them to keep them cold. Then I would head out and make my deliveries. Nearly all of the customers had standing orders so I would pull up in front of the house, grab whatever they had ordered, run up to the house and drop it into their milkbox. It wasn’t long until I was able to carry two half gallons or three quarts in each hand.

Near the end of the routes, there were a few people who would have already left for work by the time I got to their house if I was running late. They would leave a note for me to go into the house and put the milk into their refrigerator, then lock the door on my way out. I also had a few customers for whom I always put it into their refrigerator. I’d just knock on the kitchen door, open it, and go in and make the delivery. Sometimes they’d be there and we’d chat for a minute; and sometimes I’d just put everything into the fridge and be on my way.

But the real adventures came from the old DIVCO milk trucks, themselves… and I do mean old! The trucks were all 20 years old or more and had several hundred thousand miles on them. You can see in the picture of the truck I was driving that it really was being held together with duct tape. The trucks were designed to be driven either sitting in the “fold away” seat, or standing up. One of the cool features of the trucks was their electric brake locks. When you were getting close to where you wanted the truck to stop, you would flip on the switch then step on the brake pedal. Whatever amount of pressure you applied on the brake pedal, the brake lock would keep the pedal in that position. That allowed you to apply the brakes then turn around and start gathering the customer’s order while the truck was coming to a stop. By the time the truck stopped you would have everything you needed and you could just jump out of the truck, run up to the milkbox and make the delivery. It took a little while to know exactly how much pressure to apply to the pedal so the truck stopped where you wanted it to, but once you figured it out it was a real timesaver. The problem with the electric brake lock was that it only worked when the brake pedal worked…

One morning when it was just starting to get light, I was driving down a road getting near an intersection when I stepped on the brake pedal… and nothing happened. The pedal just went all the way to the floor with no resistance at all. The intersection I was approaching was a T intersection; I couldn’t go straight, only left or right. But I thought I was going too fast to make the turn without rolling the truck over. And right behind me were all of the glass bottles of milk stacked there… and all I could think about was getting sliced to pieces by all of that broken glass. So I kept pumping the brake pedal hoping it would work. Pumping, pumping, pumping, but to no avail… I was at the intersection and had to make a decision.

Just slightly to the left of the road I was on, on the opposite side of the intersection, was a driveway and it went up a slight grade. I thought it just might be enough of a hill that the truck could come to a stop before I hit the garage. So, I swerved slightly to the left and headed up the driveway… still pumping the brakes, hoping they would catch and stop the truck… still nothing! And as I got closer to the garage I realized that the truck wasn’t going to stop. To the left of the garage was the house. To the right was a few feet of open space then a row of pine trees. I thought the open space and pine trees was a better option than the house so that was where I went. There really wasn’t enough space for the truck to fit between the building and the trees and the branches kept slapping against the windshield… thwap, thwap, thwap… and the trees also made it darker so I couldn’t really see what was ahead of me. But the truck was still moving.

Then the trees ended and I had one of those “Oh S#!t” moments… there, about 30 feet ahead was an in-ground swimming pool! Luckily by this point the truck was almost at a stop and there was open lawn to the right. I didn’t want to go swimming in the milk truck so I made a sharp turn to the right. It had rained the previous day and the ground was pretty soggy. At that point, with an open lawn ahead of me, my objective changed. I stepped on the gas pedal just enough to keep me moving. I did a wide sweep around the pool and could see the road on the far side of the house. I made a big loop around the back yard… leaving ruts in the wet lawn… but I made it back to the road and the truck coasted to a stop!

After taking a few deep breaths I got out of the truck and looked underneath of the truck to see if I could find the problem with the brakes. And there it was… the brake linkage dangling there, disconnected from the brake pedal. I crawled under the truck, screwed the linkage back together and was on my way. For the next few weeks I was pretty nervous every time I drove past that house. I was sure they would eventually figure out that it was me. Luck was on my side and apparently, they never did. That was more than 35 years ago… and I can still remember it like it was yesterday. And to think that I was disappointed when they decided to stop doing home delivery!

Bechtel's Dairy which was located on Lewis Road outside of Royersford often used their milk bottles for advertising. This was a common practice with many dairies. The picture of the building at the top was their ice cream store and milk processing plant. It's now used as a Spring-Ford Area School District administration building.

Joe Evans grew up on his grandfather’s and father’s farms outside of Spring City. He married his wife Mary Jo shortly after turning eighteen and purchased his home at 261 Washington Street in Royersford a year later. He and Mary Jo raised three children there, Joe Jr., Jim, and Elizabeth, and still make it their home today. In addition to his side jobs in photography, Joe worked in the food industry his whole life until recently. In addition to photography, Joe has always had an interest in history, especially local history and was one of the founding members of the Spring-Ford Area Historical Society.

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