56 years: Many miles, much milk
Bob Faith began hauling bulk milk when he was 18 years old in 1960 for Forrest Babler of Monticello, hauling to Monroe for Bowman Dairy — then a major supplier of milk for bottling in Chicago.
Early on he took and passed a taste, odor and appearance test to determine if he could identify spoiled milk and meet the qualifications to be a milk hauler.
“I became milk hauler #1630, and I was on my way,” Faith said.
Faith continued to haul Grade A milk to the Bowman Dairy plant and later into two Pure Milk Association plants in Mount Horeb and Orfordville. In addition, he was picking up milk for two dairy farmers sending milk to Chalet Cheese Co-op north of Monroe.
His own truck
In 1962, he had an opportunity to lease his own bulk milk truck and began hauling milk for Chalet Cheese Co-op and Deppeler Cheese (west of Monroe). Later that year, Faith purchased a used 1960 Chevy truck from family-owned Dutch Mill Dairy in Rochester, Minnesota, and he was in business on his own.
Home in a cheese factory
In 1964, Faith bought the recently closed Five Corners Cheese factory, a small dairy co-op that had made traditional Swiss cheese in copper kettles.
“The former farmer-president of the cooperative convinced me that the now-empty factory (the cheese-making equipment had been sold) would be a good place for me to live and had plenty of space to house milk trucks."
In July 1965, Bob Faith and Nancy Chesebro, a farm girl from north of Monroe, were married and began their 51-year (and still going) marriage while living in the spacious, remodeled and attractive house above and alongside the former cheese factory.
The 1960s and the advent of bulk milk replacing laborious milk cans meant major expenditures for new equipment, which many small cheese factories couldn’t afford. In order to stay in business, they turned to Bob Faith and Faith Trucking to get their milk from farm to cheese factory.
“It was an easy haul,” Bob remembers. “The farms were close, and I’d pick up milk for one factory, unload and continue on to farms for the next factory. I had 13 small factories in the late 60s and early 70s, and we had four trucks. At one time, we had over 100 dairy farms, and Nancy drove a truck for five years."
By the early 70s, the small cheese factories were closing, and other factories got bigger. Faith picked up milk for Chalet, Deppeler and Silver Lewis Cheese east of Monticello. He gave up the Silver Lewis route in October 2014 after 52 years.
“I lost a driver, and it was a chance to give a beginning hauler help to get started," Faith said.
As of Jan. 1, the big garage (the former “make room” of Five Corner Cheese) and longtime home of Faith Trucking was empty for the first time since 1964. The three trucks had been picked up that day by Tracy Signer, who now owns the milk hauling business the Faiths owned and operated for so long.
“I didn’t want to see the trucks go one by one,” Bob Faith said. "It's kind of like selling the cows on a farm all at once rather than separately. It’s over and done at one time.”
Hauling milk from farm to processor is not a simple task. It’s driving a truck for many miles a day every day come rain, sleet, hail, snow, sun and heat. It’s getting to the milk room in muddy or icy yards in sometimes cramped spaces. It’s also recording the amount of milk in the bulk tank; taking a sample for quality, percent protein, butterfat and cell count; pumping the milk; and rinsing the tank.
And it must always be done perfect — the farmer and cheese factory depend on it.
Bob Faith said he never had a day when he didn’t make it to the dairy farms for their milk.
"On occasion, I had to use a commercial end loader to open the snowed-in road,” he said. “For many years, I also had two quarries and a landscaping business with big equipment."
Nancy, much involved
Although Nancy Faith did haul milk for five years, she was much involved in the Monroe community. Both she and Bob are active in the every-other-year Green County Cheese Days that draws visitors by the hundreds of thousands of visitors.
In 2004, Bob and Nancy proudly served as King and Queen of the big event.
“We were honored and proud to have been selected,” both agreed.
In the 2012 Cheese Days, the Faiths received the Big Cheese Award given by the Foreign Type Cheesemakers Association, another proud moment.
A simple job?
At age 45, Nancy applied at the nationally-known Swiss Colony for a part-time job. “Maybe as a filing clerk,” she said. “Something simple."
The 20-year job she ended up with was not so easy and simple. As a member of the public relations department, she served as director of corporate giving, which brought her close to the the business community. She was, and is, also a musician and served 45 years as church organist.
Bob and Nancy raised two children in the old cheese factory: Jim, who owns Faith Engineering in Monroe, a company that is devoted to “solving manufacturing challenges with creative and innovative technology" in the food, robotic and technology industries, and Catherine Kehoe, an engineer for the city of Monroe.
Bob Faith has seen many changes in the dairy industry both in farming methods and the farms themselves during his 56 years of hauling milk.
“At one time, years ago, many farmers dried their cows up over the winter, and milk production was down,” he said. “Then come spring, the cows calved and went out on pasture, and milk really flowed."
He remembers when most every farm in Green County had a dairy barn and milked cows. “Now most of the dairy barns are empty, and we drive farther between farms, but there is the same amount of milk,” he said.
Faith also points out that his first milk truck cost about $10,000, and today, an admittedly bigger, better-equipped and serviceable truck will run $225,000 or more.
Of course there was also the move from milk in the numbered 10 gallon-milk cans (I still remember the Oncken number was 388 for many years) to bulk tanks on the farm. This move began just prior to Faith’s entry into the milk hauling business, but he remembered from milking cows as a youth. This not only changed the farmer’s way of handling milk, especially in terms of quality (from slow cooling in a metal stock tank to a rapid cooling bulk tank), it also saved many a farmer’s back when lifting the 100-pound cans ended.
Bob Faith’s last day as a milk hauler was Dec. 31 but had been preceded by a retirement party at Chalet Cheese Co-op a couple of days earlier.
The Faiths admitted life will be different in retirement, but they would get along. After all, 56 years is a long time to get up and haul milk most every day, and it was time for a new, different and more restful, but still busy, life.
John Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications. He can be reached at 608-222-0624, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org