My brother and I rode to town with Dad in his milk truck and attended the
University of Missouri Elementary Laboratory Schools. Mom came after us at 4
p.m., and we’d hurry home to help in the dairy. My chore, after school and on
weekends, was to rinse the glass milk bottles. I’d eat a snack, pull on bib
overalls and rubber boots and report for duty, seven days a week.
Some~ older person did the first wash in hot lye water, two bottles at a time.
He’d hold a bottle in each hand and push them onto two rotating bottle
brushes. A third rotating brush washed the outsides while the two scrubbed the
interiors. He’d pull the bottles off and turn the bottoms to the brushes as
the hot water drained out.
Then he’d put both of them into my first tub, which had chlorine in the water.
I’d grab one bottle in each hand, dunk them and then shake the water out and
inspect to be sure they were absolutely clean and free of foreign material.
Some customers liked a different amount of milk occasionally, so they bought a
book of tickets. These were made of heavy yellow paper, postage-stamp size,
and the customer put one or two in the rinsed bottles each morning so Dad
would know how much milk to leave.
For example, one woman took milk from another dairyman for herself and a pint
three times a week from Dad. We all laughed at this because Dad supplied Boone
County Hospital from the day it was built, and we said, “The cat will outlive
Those paper tickets occasionally made it through the hot water, and I’d get
them out in my first rinse. In my second tub, I gave bottles a similar
dunk-shake-drain then placed them, upside down, into milk crates that were
wooden stacking crates with wire bottoms.
Most crates held 12 quart bottles, and we usually did more than a dozen of
those plus two or three crates of pints and one of the little half-pint
bottles used for whipping cream. All bottles had the same size tops and would
later be capped with inexpensive, standard size cardboard bottle caps.
Dad’s advertising bill was almost zero. He used run-of-the mill glass bottles
that cost six cents each and had raised letters stating the bottle size and
the admonition to, “Wash and Return Daily.”
White Eagle Dairy, Central and a few of the seven or eight family dairies had
more expensive bottles with personalized letters in the glass. They got mixed
with the plain bottles, sometimes, and we’d sort out those in the washing
process. Occasionally the delivery men would stop and exchange bottles to get
the marked ones back to the owners and the plain ones to the fellows who used
Feeding the cows, milking them, cooling and bottling the milk and washing
empty bottles -- all of that and more had to be done every day of the year.
Dad didn’t have vacations. The rest of us didn’t have many. If any kids had
allowances in the late 1920s I never heard of it. Dad paid me 25 cents a week
for rinsing those bottles, but there was another reward: I felt proud to be
needed, doing something worthwhile in our family enterprise. Self-esteem
wasn’t even invented back then, as far as I know.
I now realize the job was more a work ethic device than a way for us to amass
a fortune. The hot water withered my fingers, and the steam boiler that heated
the water overheated the room in summer! Nevertheless I was happy, and still