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Small town creamery

Susan Davis
Inman, Kan.

As a young farm girl, I remember going into the Capital Hill Creamery in Sterling, Colo., the business intrigued me, because it was very different from the other businesses I typically went to.

My parents, like many other small farmers in the area, sold their separated cream to the business. Dad selected the best milk producers from our herd, and we hand milked about five or six cows at any given time.

Mom and Dad had two five gallon cream cans. We separated the milk from the cream with an electric separator. Each separating would only fill a portion of a can. We continued to use the same can until it was full and then we switched to the other one. The skimmed milk was fed to our hogs, which they thoroughly enjoyed.

During the colder months of the year, the cans sat out in our porch beside the separator. We took our saved cream into town once a week. Mom recalls that during the hotter months, she carried the cream cans down to our cool cellar so that the cream wouldn’t get “really sour.” During the summer, they took our cream into town twice a week for that same reason.

I recall that the local creamery had a distinct, kind of sour smell. It was usually steamy in the building, because they washed out the empty cans with hot water. They then hung them upside down on a rack so that they would dry. Once in a while, the cement floor was wet, because they had hosed it down recently.

After we dropped our full cans off, we did other errands around town. While we were gone, the business tested our cream and poured it into large containers.

Mom remembers that our cans would be ready for pick up in about an hour. The owners of the business paid according to butterfat content, and they paid a higher price for sweet cream. My parents only sold them sour cream. I asked Mom if they ever told her our cream was too sour and she simply said, “No.”

A check was always ready when my parents picked up their cans. Mom recalls that it was usually between 25 to 30 dollars. Like most of the farm families who sold cream to the creamery, my parents went right over to the grocery store and spent it there. They then headed back to the farm.

The owner’s oldest son, Bill, told me that he helped out at the creamery after school. The business became a very busy place around 2:30 p.m. That’s when they received a daily train shipment from Julesburg. The cream had to be tested, poured into larger containers and then loaded on a truck. It was then hauled to Denver the same evening. Beatrice Foods and Carlson Frank were two of the dairies, which purchased their cream.

Bill also recalled that the business received a shipment from Cheyenne twice a week. It was a two-car train called the Prairie Express. One of the cars was filled with mail, while the other one had cans of cream loaded on it. Bill also told me they received some cream by truck.

Another farm-raised item that Capital Hill Creamery purchased was eggs. Mom sold her extra eggs to them. I remember the wooden box she had. It had cardboard inserts, which were dimpled. The eggs fit nicely in the dimples, and the cardboard could be stacked upon each other. The creamery candled the eggs and then paid her accordingly. They then sold them to a dairy.

Basically, Capital Hill Creamery was a middleman between the farmers and the big dairies. In the end, the farmers’ cream and eggs ended up at the big city dairies where it was processed into cheese, butter, ice cream, etc., and then sold to grocery stores.

For my parents and those farmers who lived near a creamery, it was much more convenient than having to tag their cans to identify them and ship them by railroad or truck.

I know Mom and Dad appreciated the fact that Capital Hill Creamery was only located in a small town 15 miles from our farm. The cash they received from selling cream and eggs came in handy. It helped my parents to run a diversified small farm.


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