Monday, March 9, 2015

Milk Runs

Reading about the Pemberton and Hightstown, Lackawanna, M&NJ and NYO&W railroads, and the business of milk invariably surfaces. Milk could be considered white gold. It was a valuable commodity and remains so to this day.

The Port Orange Road, colloquially known as "the Wilsey" half a century ago, runs between route 209 and 211 a few miles from Otisville, NY. Near 209, a family of dairymen named Midosh, or Mydosh, had their home. The NYO&W track to Port Jervis ran about 50 feet away. Alongside the track were stone remains of what may have been a platform. Beside them was what looked at first liek a shallow foundation made of fieldstone. It was maybe 15 feet long and 8 to 10 feet wide, and only a couple feet deep. This was actually a cistern fed by a spring. Cans of milk would be placed there to keep it cold until the train arrived.

I have not actually visited this spot in close to 40 years.

The railroads were so good at handling milk that there would be only 1 degree of temperature change by the time it was unloaded. Of course, the word did not end there. Glass-lined refrigerated cars used to haul milk had to be steam cleaned. As little as a drop of milk left to sour could spoil a whole load.

Milk has been considered a form of wealth since ancient times. Excess milk could be traded ,sold, or made into butter and cheese to be sold later. It not only provided food for a family, but enough of it provided extra income. Modern dairies have refined the process to handle milk and create a range of food products: cream, skim milk, cheese, butter ice cream, etc.

The milk runs were usually done in conjunction with local passenger service. Milk cars would be among the other head-end cars. Railroads could pick up a load of milk quickly, so that there was no delay for passengers. The Lackawanna used its own fleet of glass-lined cars. When milk was picked up in milk cans, a regular refrigerated car was employed.

The milk runs ended for the railroad a long time ago. Trucks handle it nowadays. Most of the larger dairies are cooperatives of many independent farms. Trucks come right to the dairy rather than the farmer scrambling to meet the train. Milk is one of several commodities that had been valuable to the railroad, but are long since lost to other forms of transportation.

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