The stockings were hung, by the chimney with care, in hope that Saint Nicholas, soon would be there. “Uncle D, we know that story – tell us one of your truckin’ stories!” Oh boy, how do I say no to that? Okay kids will someone get me a cookie and more hot cocoa while I think up a good one for ya.
Once upon a time… your grandma’s mom and dad got married in that little church down the road. They were happy living and working together here on this farm, even though times were tough. It was still the depression years, but they were coming to an end. Big grandpa was thankful to have a job. He had gotten hired to haul milk just like his father. The government had started a program buying milk from our neighbors here and shipping it to the city for processing. At first, big grandpa picked up the milk cans with his old horses and wagon, but it soon became apparent that was not going to be a long-term option.
After the milk cans were collected, everything had to be transferred to a truck for delivery to the processing plant. That’s where your grandpa came in. He was young and strong, so loading the cans on the truck wasn’t a problem – and he loved to drive the city truck whenever possible. The only thing that made sense was for the family to get a truck of their own and finish the deliveries to the creamery themselves. Now, that was a big investment, but there was much talk about the good opportunities in trucking, so the whole family sat down to figure out how everyone could help. There was talk about grandma and grandpa starting a family, and if future generations were to prosper, they would need a good foundation. The family already had a driver (grandpa), so now all they needed was something for him to drive.
Looking for a truck that would work and not break the bank, they found an older flatbed straight truck and bought it. Owning a truck was a lot different than owning horses. There weren’t that many trucks back then, so if you needed to fix it, you had to do it yourself. As you can guess, they spent many nights reading about engines, rear-ends, and tires. Back then, trucks were not like the luxury liners we have today. They didn’t have “bunks” with refrigerators and built-in telecommunications. They were very basic. The cab of the average 1935 Chevy truck only had a bench seat, the gear shifter, and a steering wheel. Many did not even have a windshield wiper. Can you imagine having to drive that on a winding country road, in the rain or snow, loaded with loose cans of milk!
What is a milk can, you ask? Well, they are round, about 40 inches high, and have two handles on top. The top pops off so you can pour milk into it, and then you use the handles to pick it up and load it – by hand – onto a truck. Today, we see some of these old “cans” used as stools or kitchen decorations. Did you know milk weighs 8.6 pounds per gallon, and that farmers sell it by the pound, not the gallon? Milk is now bottled and shipped to the store in a crate. Each crate holds four gallons of milk, and they were designed to stack like boxes on a pallet. This way, the jugs on the bottom don’t get crushed. If you notice, milk jugs are square with a handle at the top. That is done deliberately to maximize the space in a milk crate. Also, did you ever notice how a gallon jug, a half-gallon carton, and a quart are all the same height? That’s so they can be shipped in the same crate. Pretty smart, huh?!
I remember as a boy watching my grandpa handle his milk cans. In the warm weather months, he placed the cans in a cooler with ice to chill it. After we had electricity installed in the barn, we got an electric chiller. It looked a lot like today’s modern deep freeze, only bigger. During the winter months, the cooler kept the milk from freezing before our milkman came to collect it. Grandpa always saved the cream off the top for us kids to have for breakfast. And none of that 2% stuff – we got the real deal. Today, the milkman doesn’t collect milk in cans, he pumps it straight from a tank, and most dairies have big stainless-steel vessels that hold thousands of gallons. The people who do milk runs work seven days a week. Why, you ask? Because cows have to be milked twice a day, every day (even on Christmas Day). All this talk about milk makes me think I need more Hot Chocolate.
Back to our Christmas story. After they got the old used truck, they soon realized it wasn’t big enough to haul all the milk on their run. The only solution was to make more than one run, with one person making all the pickups and the other one running them to the city. Well, before long, the cans started piling up. The farmers weren’t happy, and neither was the buyer. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to do all the chores and haul the milk. The family got together again and made the tough choice to sell the old truck and get a bigger one. As luck would have it, the dealership in town had a brand-new one that would work perfect, but they wouldn’t take the old truck in as a trade, so they kept it. That was the start of our family fleet.
Big grandpa started using our first truck to collect from the farms, instead of the horses, which meant he could expand the route and collect more milk. Then, running as a team, mom’s dad and big grandpa would drive the new truck to the creamery together to deliver their load. Between the two of them, one drove up and the other drove home, so both got a chance to rest. Everything was working great until spring arrived and there was farming to do. Suddenly, there wasn’t enough hours in the day to keep up. Each night it took longer to get home due to the frequent stops for naps. Eventually, the driver fell asleep at the wheel and the truck ended up in a fence. No one was hurt and only the bumper got bent, but something had to be done. They either had to increase the number of trips to town or give up some of their route (which wasn’t really an option).
The second trip each day became the money run. Bet you didn’t know there were lady drivers way back then, did you? That’s right, grandma would ride to town on the second load after supper and drive the truck home after it was empty. That let grandpa sleep across the seat. What grandma wasn’t telling everyone was that they were starting a family – you guessed it, grandma and grandpa were gonna have a little one. Right from the start, their child, who hadn’t even been born yet, was logging miles. The two love birds continued to make the nightly runs all summer and fall, until the snow started to pile up, which is when she had to stop driving. The rough and bumpy old road, along with very little heat in the cab, was no place to have a mother-to-be.
As luck would have it, a young neighborhood boy came by looking for a job. He said he wanted to make some money to help his folks out and to earn some Christmas money. Things were definitely looking good – we not only had two trucks, but now we had our first company driver, and he learned quickly. Thanksgiving came and went without any issues, and they even got in some time to go to the woods and harvest a couple turkeys and a deer. The snow really stacked up during December that year, which slowed the trips to town, but they were still able to keep up with the demand for more milk.
Hauling milk day and night, things looked bright – until the day before Christmas – when a big storm rolled in and closed the roads. Everything came to a halt. The men were busy working outside in the barn, so grandma decided to clear the porch, in case any company dropped by after the Christmas Eve church service. She was about half done when she felt a sharp pain, so she went back into the house and sat down to rest. Grandma knew what the problem was – Junior was on the way. He wasn’t expected to arrive until the following week, but he wasn’t going to wait for his appointment. They had planned to go to the hospital for the delivery, but with the weather the way it was, that didn’t look good. These men were used to working with cows and horses, even helping pups be born, but a baby? Thinking, “Not here, not now,” they decided they better go for help. The roads were snowed over, so the only thing to do was hitch up the old team, get out the sleigh, and try to get the neighbor’s wife to the farm.
When grandpa finally got to our neighbor’s house, no one was home. At that point, he realized it was Christmas Eve, and everyone was at church. In fact, that’s where they were supposed to be that very night. So, he headed the team off in the direction of the church. It was much faster to go across the fields and not down the roads, so that is what he did. Arriving just as the evening service was ending, he quickly rounded up help and started back to the farm in the sleigh. Now, I wasn’t there, but the story has been told that when they started home the storm broke and the clouds parted. The stars shined brightly, making the journey back across the snow-covered fields easy. Grandpa once said he felt like one of the wise men that night following a distant star.
By the time they arrived back home, grandpa was nearly frozen clean through. The time grew late and his eyes grew heavy. There wasn’t much he could do but wait in the parlor. After a while, he dozed off and, in his slumber, he dreamed of a child born in a manger. A child born to humble parents with great hope. As the hours passed, the quietness ended with a new sound – the sound of a child’s cry and the cooing of his mother. Their child had arrived on that special Christmas morning. What a wonderful present for our family!
On December 25 we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, who was born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. Three wise men, all known as kings, traveled from distant lands to see this child. They were guided by a special star which shined as a beacon and pointed the way to the humble stable where the babe was born in a manger. It is said they were greeted by angels and lead to the Christ child, then they all gave their gifts to him, hoping for good favor. Grandma and grandpa were so blessed to receive the gift of a child that day, they named him Christopher, after the Christ child, who’s birthday he shared. Children, now you know why Uncle Christopher is called Mr. Christmas.
May this season find each of you in great spirits and good health. This is a time to express generosity and charity to others, so please don’t forget those less fortunate than you. 2020 has been a year of tremendous strife and tribulation, and many out there are suffering. Remember them in your prayers and may we all be thankful for what we have. From my house to yours, we wish you a joyous Holiday Season. To our friends who celebrate other faiths, we extend a warm Season’s Greetings to them, as well. I wonder if I can get one of these kids to bring me another cookie and more hot cocoa? Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night… 10-4!