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JEROMESVILLE, Ohio — At 6 a.m. when my alarm clock goes off, I walk out to my kitchen and check the outdoor thermometer — somewhere between zero and 2 degrees.
Normally, I’d adjust my thermostat, or turn on the space heater inside my home office. But today that won’t work, because I’m headed outdoors.
I put on my insulated overalls and my Carhartt jacket, and my Carhartt hat and black Jersey gloves. I drop a lead pencil in my pocket, because it’s so cold the ink in my pen may not flow.
Then, it’s off to the rural town of Jeromesville, in Ashland County, where I meet Doug Paullin of Paullin Milk Cartage. Doug has been hauling milk since I was born — in 1983 — and the Paullin family has hauled milk since the 1920s.
It’s my first time just to ride in a semi, and I quickly discover how high up the cab really is, and how bouncy it can be when the seat is not supported with an air cushion.
But I don’t mind. What I really want is to haul milk — on a day when it’s cold and snowy — and the work must go on.
Most of the roads on this day are OK — a few drifts in flat areas — but nothing like the ice storm a week earlier.
The drifts can catch you by surprise, and you sometimes just have to maintain your speed and cross your fingers that you’ll make it through.
Today, it’s “too cold to be slick,” Doug says, explaining how the ice becomes slicker when wet.
“When it gets up to 40-50 (degrees), I’ll probably have a little more fun, if you can call it that,” he says.
Most of the farmers he serves do a good job of clearing their lanes — a big help in backing the 33-foot-long milk tank into place. Getting stuck is no fun, he says, and can require heavy equipment to get out.
He’s seen times when he parked the truck and began pumping milk, and the truck started sliding forward on the ice, damaging the hose and other equipment. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
We have 11 stops to make in Ashland, Richland and Huron counties. Most of the farmers appear to be indoors — probably thawing from the morning milking. But as we pull into each drive, out come the dogs — eagerly awaiting their daily biscuit from the milkman.
The procedure is pretty much the same at each farm — we back up to the milk house, attach an electric cord to the pump on the truck, attach the milk hose to the farmer’s milk tank, and go inside the barn to check the quality and quantity of milk.
Doug takes a sample from the farm’s bulk milk tank, pouring it into containers the size of small pill bottles, to be sent to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to determine the milk’s composition. A bar code also is attached to each sample, so if there are any issues, the milk can be traced back to the farm.
After the samples are taken and the amount of milk recorded, we begin the pumping process — collecting an average of 5,000 pounds per stop. Dairy farmers are generally paid per every 100 pounds of milk they sell, and every pound counts.
Many of the farms on this route are owned by Mennonites who use horses and buggies for transportation, but they generally have tractors or scraper blades on hand to plow their lanes.
Dairyman Arthur Leid said he hasn’t experienced much out of the ordinary this winter. Although it’s been cold, he’s glad temperatures have not fluctuated up and down, which can cause more issues with cow sickness and mud.
He likes Holsteins, but has learned they have strong appetites this time of year, after the seasonal grass is all gone.
“When you run out of grass, you get to feed them like a blast furnace,” he says.
In a sense, the cows are a bit like a furnace in another way. Each place we stop, it is noticeably warmer near the cows — whose bodies produce a significant amount of heat.
“A guy told me one time, you could heat a living room with a cow if you could put up with the mess,” Doug says.
After the 11th stop, we’re hauling about 53,000 pounds of milk and you can tell. The truck takes a bit longer to speed up, and there’s clearly something heavy behind us in that stainless steel tank. A divider separates the tank into two compartments, which helps keep the milk from splashing more than necessary, and sending waves of force throughout the truck.
The Paullins employ eight family members and three others. They typically run seven or eight milk trucks each day.
Doug says one of his favorite things about hauling milk is having a steady job and getting to visit the different farms. He didn’t grow up on a farm, but has learned a lot about it by interacting with the farmers he serves.
And, it’s a favorable alternative to working indoors.
“I prefer to be out doing this than standing in a factory somewhere,” he says.
Doug said he learned a lot by following his grandfather, Lemoine Paullin, who hauled milk into his 80s. The two would venture out together on Saturdays, and that’s how Doug learned the trade.
My milk hauling experience concluded after the last stop, and Doug dropped me off in Jeromesville en route to Brewster Dairy in Stark County.
On the way back, he pointed to a few of the stops on the next day’s route. He and the rest of his family would be back at it tomorrow, and each day after, because on a dairy farm, the milk has got to go.