From milking to museum, dairyman keeps on farming


MEDINA, Ohio – It’s a different dairy world since the long-ago chilly mornings when little Carl Abell leapt from cow pie to cow pie to keep his bare feet warm.

Those were still the days when the boisterous and always-barefoot Abell rode with his father through Medina and neighboring towns, delivering fresh milk to doorsteps.

It’s been a lifetime since those days, yet Abell has kept at the dairy business, from farming to fashioning a museum.

Developing dairy. The original Abell farm began in the 1830s, but it was Abell’s father, Henry, who purchased what is now Elm Farm in 1927. When the Great Depression struck, Henry decided to develop his dairy business.

Milk was going for 4 cents a quart. Dissatisfied and wanting to get the retail price, Henry initially set off delivering milk in his 1926 Hupmobile.

When Henry eventually bought a new truck specifically for milk delivery, the younger Abell was thrilled.

However, six weeks after buying the new purchase, a train hit and destroyed the truck. That same night, Abell’s father bought a wagon for $25.

“At least horses have brains enough to get the hell out of the way of a train,” Abell remembers his father saying.

Dairy past. Abell’s dairy streak flowed far and wide. Not only did the youngster revel in hopping out of the wagon and running to doorsteps with a carrier full of milk bottles, but he also relished in the notoriety of his dairying skills.

Abell’s Franko Ornsby Segis Mabel produced 100,000 pounds of milk and 4,000 pounds of butterfat – quite a feat in 1940 – making her the first cow in Medina County with such high production. Abell was just 13.

Future farmer. Abell graduated at 17, got the corn in the ground and took off for Ohio State. After three quarters he left for the service, later returning to finish college with a dairy technology major.

Armed with a new degree, Abell went back to the family farm, spending years devoted to dairy.

After a lifetime revolving around milking cows, Abell sold out in 1979 to Smith Dairy.

But Abell didn’t let his dairy past go to waste.

Decades of accumulated milkers, cream separators and butter churns marked each step in dairy’s evolution, and Abell kept it all.

Several years ago, after his wife, Sherry, got sick of having all the antiques in the house, the couple decided to re-open Elm Farm and put the memories on display.

Now America’s Ice Cream and Dairy Museum sits in the same facility where the Abell family milked and worked for a lifetime.

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A shift. Abell slowly shuffles from the milkers to the butter churns to the milk bottles, chronicling dairy’s technological leaps and bounds since the 19th century.

He knows it all – from the manufacturing dates to the antique’s use – and although it’s obvious he’s given this tour a thousand times, he smiles constantly and appears as happy talking about dairy as he would be out in the barn milking.

In the three years since the museum’s official opening, Abell continued collecting antiques, filling the small museum’s rooms and shelves.

Hundreds of milk bottles, each glass sitting snugly against the next, fill rows and rows of shelves.

Two shelves are filled with particularly memorable bottles. After laying in the ground under a buried landfill for almost a century, the bottles were dug up eight years ago from under the old Cleveland Indians stadium.

Closest to Abell’s heart are shelf after shelf of Elm Farm bottles, featuring each model from 1934 to 1979.

Milk bottles from almost every Ohio county cover another wall. Each U.S. state is also represented, alphabetically, in Abell’s collection, as well as examples from many other countries.

Warm welcome. A cluster of milkers welcome visitors at the museum’s entrance, the oldest a 1915 milk machine. Cream separators also adorn much of the room – both gravity and centrifugal force separators. In previous years, this room was Elm Farm’s milk-bottling area.

Another room features butter churns and cheese presses, along with two milk delivery trucks.

One of them, a 1933 Twin Coach, is one of only two known to still exist and still able to be driven. The vehicle was manufactured in Kent, Ohio, but found near San Diego. After Abell restored the vehicle, he painted it in Elm Farm’s traditional yellow and green colors and put it on display.

Another truck, a 1926 Divco home delivery milk truck, is one of only 25 manufactured. Divco built 25 trucks to see if they could take the place of horse-and-wagon delivery. Gauging the later popularity of Divco trucks, the trucks’ three-month test period far surpassed expectations.

Scream for the cream. Abell didn’t forget one of the most popular dairy products: ice cream. In fact, it likely draws more visitors to the museum than anything else.

Although Abell’s milkshake maker is the first model produced and his ice cream bar freezer is extremely rare, the biggest draw to Elm Farm is the real thing – an ice cream parlor featuring homemade flavors from Butterfinger to raspberry cheesecake.

Abell transformed Elm Farm’s original cooler into a 1900 ice cream parlor replica, drawing crowds from all over the state.

Preservation. Abell isn’t the only one interested in preserving his dairy past. This summer, Ohio dedicated a historical marker at the site.

After all the work Abell put in as a dairy farmer and then creating a museum to house his memories, Elm Farm won’t be forgotten.

(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at

n America’s Ice Cream and Dairy Museum

Open March through November: Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Sunday noon to 5 p.m.

Cost: adults, $3.50; seniors 50 and over, $3.25; children, $2; children under 5, free.


* Once Upon a Sundae ice cream parlor

Hours through November: Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, until 9 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.

Lunch served daily.


* Location

1050 Lafayette Road (state Route 42)

Medina, OH 44256

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