Learning about neighbors through the milk house window

The small and cramped milk house included a balky water heater and sink. A window faced the gravel road that split the house from the outbuildings. The owners of the few cars that traveled on the road were well known to Mychal Wilmes, who sat inside "fighting milk stone."

Pixabay photo

“In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me; you restore my strength.’’ — a snippet from David’s psalm.

Those words, which comforted many soldiers on the eve of battles, and other prayers were uttered while I was trapped fighting milk stone. Despite good intentions, the bacteria multiplier and bane of processors seemed impossible to remove from the Surge buckets and bulk tank.

Acid, which burned when it touched cracked hands and fingers in winter, was no match for the enemy.

The small and cramped milk house included a balky water heater and sink. A window faced the gravel road that split the house from the outbuildings. The owners of the few cars that traveled on the road were well known. The one who drove like a bat out of you know where menaced the poultry and cats; the teenager in a hot rod with purple paint moved at a snail’s pace so gravel would not sully it.

To read more of Mychal Wilmes' columns, click here.


The family who lived next door opened the milk house door carrying two large glass bottles. They wanted milk in return for the few coins they fished from their pockets. The mother and two daughters apologized for their poverty but were reassured that a little money was more than enough.

The coins were kept on the windowsill to be hoarded until there was enough for us newly minted drivers to spend it at the root beer stand or the Dairy Queen, which were 10 miles away. Treats helped salve the aches of pains received in a long hay-stacking day.

Mother, who knew and appreciated the family’s situation more than I, unfailingly allowed them to use our telephone. On the other hand, her son grew irritated when they interrupted dinner or supper.

A weekly visitor driving a red pickup backed up to the milk house door with two milk cans in the back to be filled with water. His old well had played out years before and drilling a new one cost far more money than he had. He lived with an unmarried sister just up the road. A lifetime ago he had traveled far to learn mechanics and returned home.

Neighbors were happy that he did because he could repair tractors that threw pistons or blown out a clutch or rear end. A machine shed heated with wood and equipped with a hoist was all he needed because he owned his own tools.

If a tractor part could not easily be found, chances are Frank could find it in his barn, which was filled engine parts, tires, and an old motorcycle that he rode in reckless former times.

A big stogie or a pipe was constantly clenched between the few teeth that remained, and the smell of tobacco wafted around him.

It is said a great mechanic takes care of everyone else’s tractors and cars while ignoring their own. That was certainly the case with Frank. His pickup belched blue smoke and seemed on its last legs long before it collapsed in rust.


The bottomland beneath a hill south of his house offered a motherlode of adventure. It held junked DeSoto, Hudson and other cars from the 1940s and ‘50s and a half-dozen threshing machines — including one that bore the famous Eagle sitting on top of a globe logo.

Later, I rented the few tillable acres Frank owned and planted spring wheat. It was a dubious choice but worked out when the Soviet Union went on a buying spree. In those heady times, bins were swept until not a kernel was lost, and it was certain that land prices would continue to inflate because no one would be making more.

The house where the impoverished family lived has long been leveled, but Frank’s farmstead remains. The auction that brought an end to his estate was well attended. One could easily imagine that he was present at the sale, watching boxes being carted off by their new owners.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.

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