Everyone knew the milkman
Gone but not forgotten, remembering Onstad Dairy
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 6:10 AM
June is Dairy Month and even though most people's minds leap to the farmers that milk the cows that produce the milk, what about the dairies that handled and sold the milk?
Carlton and Beulah Onstad, owners of the former Onstad Dairy in Spring Grove, with some of the mementos from that business that they sold in 1967.
When Belle and Otto Onstad moved to Spring Grove in 1927, they brought along their cow.
At that time, small barns were not uncommon within the city limits of rural towns, Beulah Onstad noted in a recent interview.
Mrs. Onstad's cow settled into town life, unaware of how many lives she would affect over the next 40 years by helping to begin a brand-new dairy business.
Belle and Otto also had a 2-year-old son with them when they made their move, Carlton, better known as Cardy.
"The cow she came to town with was a milking shorthorn," he said. "My mother would process the milk in her basement."
"Neighbors would come with their little pails and pick up milk," Beulah added. "Mrs. O.K. Dahle lived nearby, and Cardy began delivering milk to her when he was 5 years old."
For Carleton, he'd found a job for life.
"I think she had a little trouble walking," he recalled. "The only thing between us was an old apple orchard, and the kids had a trail through there...
"My mom's sister lived in Sheldon, and they had Guernseys. That influenced my mother, so we got them, too. They were a mild breed except for the bulls. They produced rich milk.
"It just kind of grew by people asking," Carleton explained.
"We started buying milk from local farmers, because we couldn't produce enough. I think my dad quit the oil business in 1944. The dairy had gotten big enough by that time...
"We had our daily delivery routes in Spring Grove. People came and asked us to deliver to stores in Eitzen and Dorchester (Iowa), and the country schools asked us to deliver those little half-pints to them.
"We wound up delivering to Caledonia, Mabel, Highlandville (Iowa), Eitzen, Dorchester and Hesper (Iowa). Those school routes got to be close to 100 miles, three times a week."
When Carleton and Beulah were wed, she also became a full-time (and over-time) employee.
"She married me on Saturday, and we were back to work on Monday morning," Carleton grinned.
Beulah agreed. "There's no days off in the milk business," she said. "When they had a flat tire, I'd have to wrestle a good one into the truck and take it out to them."
Industry changes during tenure
Before the advent of homogenization, cream would rise to the top of the bottle.
"We had the franchise on the cream-top bottles," Beulah said. "There was a specially-designed spoon that fit in the bottle so that you could tip it up and pour off the cream without the milk coming out.
"I like my milk in glass," Beulah said, "although we went to paper too, in the early '50s."
There were other changes that came along - pasteurization and the "Grade A" designation basically came in at the same time, Carleton said.
For farmers, it meant pipelines and refrigerated bulk tanks and eventually the end of cans.
For the dairy, it was the advent of bulk trucks and the end of twice-a-day runs to the farms (after each milking).
"We wanted to go to bulk milk. We paid our farmers a premium for Grade A, the highest price we could find and gave them free hauling.
"Pasteurization (at Onstad Dairy) started in around 1946," Carleton said. "Mother cooled and bottled raw milk - with raw milk, we used to pick up (cans) morning and evening, seven days a week.
"We would bring it to town and cool it. We had to do that for all the dairy farms we bought from, pretty much all the farms within about 17 miles of Spring Grove."
There were nine or 10 dairy farmers who expected to see the Onstad truck every day. For both farmers and dairy employees, it was labor-intensive work.
"We were busy," Carleton said. Besides himself, two full-time drivers were eventually employed to pick up and deliver products, which included Spring Grove-made cottage cheese and three grades of cream. Three people, including mother Belle, also worked at the plant.
Everybody trusted the milkman
"Everybody knows Cardy, to this day," Beulah said. "They still remember him... One customer had four boys, and she said, 'You just walk in, and when you leave, I want at least four full quarts in the refrigerator.' (Chuckling) He had those types of standing orders. It was based on trust."
"Most folks would just set out as many empties as they needed," Carleton added. "We bought insulated containers for our customers where we would leave milk."
"Those are now hard to find," Beulah said as she walked into the den. On the mantle are Onstad Dairy glass bottles. A milk delivery box sits on the floor.
"We sold the dairy in 1967," Carleton said.
"We didn't save any of them," Beulah said of her mementos. "We had to search around to find the bottles and the milk-box. My daughter had to bid for this bottle-cap on the Internet."
Gone but not forgotten, Spring Grove's dairy still holds memories for many residents who awoke to the clink of chilled glass bottles each morning.
Fresh local products and personal service were the norm over the 40-year run of the Onstad Dairy.
"We were just friendly, outgoing people," Beulah said. "When somebody moved to town, we'd give them a free sample. They (the employees) just knew everybody. Every Christmas everybody got a free half-pint of whipping cream delivered... Everyone knew the milkman."