Jim Shulman | Baby Boomer Memories: Fresh milk came via horse drawn wagon, then DIVCO

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When we were kids, home delivery of bread, milk and other staples was not uncommon.

Milk was delivered in pint and quart bottles. Many dairies provided customers with printed cardboard inserts listing dairy items that they would put in an empty bottle and leave outside by the door to indicate the needs for the next delivery.

Some dairies also provided aluminum-insulated boxes to put outside in which the delivery person would leave the milk bottles to keep relatively cool until brought inside by the resident.

Our Fairdale Farms milkman, Mr. Kirchner, used to come right into the house, check the refrigerator and leave us bottles of milk and other dairy items that we needed. He would replenish our usual order unless a note was left for other items. Who locked their doors back in the 1950s in Pittsfield?

Some of the local dairies that delivered were actually owned by larger farms such as High Lawn in Lee. High Lawn still offers Jersey cow milk, the highest in butterfat content.

Smaller farms like Allessio Brothers, Rhineharts and Jacoby's also sold their bottled milk in the baby boom years, But most smaller farms either closed or sold their milk to larger dairies with processing facilities like Model Dairy, Crescent Creamery or Pittsfield Milk Exchange.

In the 1950s Pittsfield and other towns still had many independent milk vendors who did home delivery, but purchased their milk and had it bottled elsewhere under their own names. Some of these included Central Creamery, Clement, White Cross, Newton and Wendover dairies. In 1959 five of the smaller vendors merged to operate their own processing plant and called it the Dairy Center.

In our parents' days, the milk deliverymen had enclosed wagons with blocks of ice to keep the milk bottles cold. Horses that knew when to stop along the routes pulled the wagons. I don't remember any dairies delivering milk with horses and wagons in the 1950s. Many friends, a few years older, recall that Model Dairy, Pittsfield Milk Exchange and others still did those deliveries into the 1940s.

Mr. Kirchner and other milkmen drove trucks in the 1950s and one style in particular was unique to milk delivery. These were snub-nosed trucks called DIVCOs. Pittsfield Milk Exchange, Crescent Creamery and High Lawn Farm had fleets of this style truck and used them almost up until home deliveries ended. High Lawn Farm even delivered milk to homes beyond the life of DIVCOs and was perhaps the last local dairy to do home delivery.

DIVCO had an interesting history. In 1922, George Bacon, chief engineer for the Detroit Electric Vehicles Co. designed a milk delivery truck to run on batteries to replace the horse and wagon. It could be driven from four positions, front, rear or either running board. But battery power was no match for winter weather, heavy loads (such as milk) or long days on the city streets.

His employer balked at making a gasoline-powered truck, so Bacon and other investors formed the Detroit Industrial Vehicles Co. (DIVCO) to produce his invention that used a gasoline engine. By 1937 the DIVCO milk truck was designed with a welded, all-steel van body and a snub-nosed hood. This design continued with virtually no change for nearly 50 years up to the end of production in 1986.

By the 1970s and 1980s with the widespread use of automobiles and the accessibility of larger markets and neighborhood convenience stores, people no longer needed home milk delivery. Also the cost of trucks and fuel drove home delivery prices up as well. So home delivery came to an end, as did the DIVCO and other milk trucks.

Now days the few DIVCOs that have survived are collector's items often seen in antique car shows. There are only a few rusting hulks of any home delivery milk trucks in the Berkshires that remind us baby boomers of our home milk delivery.

Jim Shulman, a Pittsfield native living in Ohio, is the founder of the Berkshire Carousel and author of "Berkshire Memories: A Baby Boomer Looks Back at Growing Up in Pittsfield." If you have a memory of a Berkshire baby-boom landmark or event you'd like to share or read about, please write Jim at jesjmskali@aol.com.


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