CHARLIE WARNER/
BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP
Renata and Bob Voeltz stand next to an antique milk can, similar to the ones used by area dairy farmers for many years. Bob is wearing the protective chaps he utilized for many years while on the milk route.
CHARLIE WARNER/ BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPER GROUP Renata and Bob Voeltz stand next to an antique milk can, similar to the ones used by area dairy farmers for many years. Bob is wearing the protective chaps he utilized for many years while on the milk route.
For more than 20 years Bob Voeltz of rural Spring Valley drove his can milk truck to at least 25 dairy farms each day to pick up more than 300 ten-gallon, stainless steel cans, filled with milk and deliver them to the local creamery. Each can weighed 25 pounds empty and 111 pounds when full of milk.

“I’d have to handle each can two times when empty, and twice when full,” Voeltz recalled.

Voeltz would return the empty cans to the farmer, pick up his full cans each morning, then unload the full cans at the creamery and load the cleaned, empty cans back on his truck to return to the farmer the next morning.

“We sat down and figured it out one day,” Voeltz said with a smile. “When I was picking up over 300 cans per day, it came real close to 50 tons. And I was doing this seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. I guess I gave my arms a pretty good workout.”

And Voeltz didn’t handle just one 111-pound milk can at a time. He’d grab one in each hand, walk them from the dairy barn to his truck, swing the one in his right hand back like a PGA bowler and the momentum would land the first can up into the truck. Then he’d swing the one in his left hand back, bring it forward and with the help of his right hand and knee, lift the second can into the truck.

Voeltz started driving a can milk route for Lyle Clark on April 1, 1966. His route included dairy farms around the Spring Valley, Wykoff, Ostrander, Cherry Grove and Grand Meadow areas. He’d haul the milk to the Spring Valley creamery, making three trips each day.

When Land ‘O Lakes brought the Spring Valley creamery and switched to bulk milk, Voeltz took the milk to the Wykoff creamery. The Wykoff creamery closed in the late 1970s so Voeltz started delivering to the creamery in Racine.

“When I started, there were a lot of small dairy farms that weren’t far from each other,” Voeltz recalled. “Most of the farms had between 20 and 30 dairy cows. A big farm had 40. I’d pick up six to eight cans at each place.”

Battling Minnesota winters was one of the major challenges, according to Voeltz. He remembered getting stranded a number of times when the hilly country roads, covered with ice and mammoth snow drifts, made it impossible to motor through. Several times icy roads got the best of him, putting his truck on its side and spilling its contents down a steep ditch.

“I never had a bad accident, but there were a few times when I had to get a couple of tow trucks to get me out of a ditch or ravine,” he said.

Voeltz’s wife, Renata, rode “shotgun” with him on many a delivery. She said one of the most enjoyable aspects of the can milk route was how well they got to know the various families they served.

“The can farmers were more like family,” she observed. “If the roads were rough in the winter, they’d have us in to warm up, to have breakfast or coffee and treats. And at Christmas time, they were always giving us cookies and candy to take home for our kids. Our kids were always excited at Christmas time, because we were always brining home treats for them.”

The can milk business came to an end for Voeltz in 1985 when the Racine creamery closed that summer. Area dairy farmers were forced to switch over to the bulk system. Clark switched completely over to bulk trucks and Voeltz continued to pick up milk.

“When I first started hauling bulk milk, I thought it was harder than the cans,” Voeltz said. “I guess I was used to carrying the cans down below my waist. And suddenly, I was using different muscles wrestling with that heavy hose, sometimes still filled with milk, putting it back in the truck, up over my head.”

Voeltz continued hauling bulk milk until 1996. As more of the area creameries were closing, the closest creameries were about 75 miles away (either Caledonia or Zumbrota). Voeltz was having to get up at 2:30 a.m., making the 90-minute trip to the creamery, unloading, then returning back to Fillmore County to begin his morning route.

“It just got to be too much driving,” Voeltz said. When delivering milk to a creamery meant driving all the way to the Twin Cities or even St. Cloud, Voeltz decided it was time to hang it up.

“I drove for Lyle Clark for 30 years and two months,” Voeltz stated. “For the most part, it was every day of the year.”

Voeltz did recall one time, back when he was hauling cans, he became quite ill and couldn’t drive for a week. He was able to find a back up driver who could pick up the cans, but really didn’t know the route. The Voeltzes’ youngest son, Culum, was just five years old. He had accompanied his father on the route enough times to know where to go. So he rode along with the back up driver, telling him which farm lanes to turn into.

Looking back at over 30 years of delivering milk, Voeltz said it was an enjoyable career. It was quite demanding, working nearly 365 days a year for many years. But he was able to enjoy beautiful scenery every day and worked with some friendly, neighborly folks.