About 30 years ago in Belgium, my bicycle tour group visited a farm. Our guide opened a stall door and said, "This is where we keep the bull." A student asked, "Mrs. G. The bull, what does he do?" Startled, I explained that bulls were the fathers of baby calves and that mothers produced milk for their babies. That explanation of male and female roles in milk production prompted two other bicyclists to admit that they also thought that all cows gave milk! I vowed to help city dwellers understand old-time milk production and distribution, as I recall it from my childhood: Orlando Denver Meyers was a farmer in Lincoln County when he and Nancy Henry, a high school graduate from Centralia, married in February 1912. They were both 23 years old. "O.D." had been reared by four stepsisters after the early death of his mother. He finished eighth grade in a country school. A flood destroyed the couple’s row crops that first spring, so they moved to Columbia and bought half interest in a small retail dairy in partnership with Nancy’s brother, John Henry.
They lived west of a brick manufacturing plant and north of the large Gordon/Evans/Stephens property, which is now a Columbia city park. O.D. was the dairyman, and John worked in county government.
This was when flickering kerosene lanterns were the only light in milking barns and men sat on one-legged stools to milk cows with both hands, and it was decades before milk was available in stores. A single black horse pulled the delivery wagon that looked like a lidded box on four wheels. Similar rigs delivered ice, fresh vegetables and groceries to homes. Meyers’ dairy prospered, and in the spring of 1913 the couple had a baby boy, James Denver Meyers. When he was 16 months old, they had a baby girl - me - Sue Emelyn Meyers.
Before World War I started in 1914, several other farmers also operated one-man family dairies, each with about a dozen cows. They raised most of the cows’ food, did the milking, straining, cooling and then delivered the final product. I was too young to recall our move to an 80-acre farm four miles east of Columbia after Dad bought Uncle John’s half of the dairy business.
It was a difficult, confining enterprise, but Mom and Dad worked hard and their bank credit was good, so Dad stocked their farm with a few more cows. He still produced food for our family and maintained the work horses, poultry and cows. He milked by hand, one squirt at a time, while sitting on a one-legged stool and holding a metal bucket between his knees. I remember the sound of the first streams of milk hitting that bucket! He strained the milk into a container that sent it over a metal cooler - filled with ice water - and stored it overnight in a chilled room in eight-gallon buckets. He was proud of the product he delivered to customers in town, and those customers became our friends.
Mom was a city girl, and her parents feared she’d be lonely! In her letter to them in 1916, she set them straight by saying that she had hens setting, a garden growing and had picked wild greens for supper. She said she took Jim and me to the woods to watch "Lando" - short for Orlando - cut poles for the telephone line. "We go to the woods at every opportunity and all love it. She screams when I take off her sweater."