Hauling Milk Over to the Spring for Storage

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Monday, May 20, 1913:  Ruthie and me a nice little wooden wagon in which to haul milk over to the spring, and this would save us from breaking our backs for that can of milk is almost a dead weight.

milk can (photo source: Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site)
Milk Can (Photo Source: Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma’s family had several milk cows. The milk from the cows was put into large cans. The cans filled with milk were then stored for a day or two until it was sold to a dairy or made into butter.

Spring houses were used in the days before electric refrigeration to keep the milk cold. A small building was built over a spring, and the milk cans were placed in the cool water that flowed through the building.

an example of a spring house (This spring house is not on the Muffly farm.) (Source: Wikipedia)
An Example of a Spring House (This spring house is not on the Muffly farm.) (Source: Wikipedia)

I’d have demanded a cart, too. Milk cans filled with milk were heavy. I don’t know where the spring house was located, but it probably was some distance away from the barn.

Did Grandma’s mother take the suggestion seriously—or did the request go in one ear and out the other?

30 thoughts on “Hauling Milk Over to the Spring for Storage

  1. That would be obnoxious to move. Poking around online, the stated capacity for a milk can such as yours as pictured would typically be 10 gallons. Filled, it would weigh over 80 pounds. This is one of the many reasons women’s bodies were rarely twig-like; they did a lot of heavy lifting! Even a half can at 5 gallons would of course be 40 pounds…heavy enough if you have to carry it any distance.

    1. Whew, 80 pounds is a lot! I’m trying to picture what it would be like to carry 10 plastic milk jugs full of milk plus the weight of a metal can.

    1. I hope she got the cart, too. I can picture a few farms with lovely spring houses–but I don’t think they are still use them. People tend to prefer the convenience (and the ability to set a temperature) of a refrigerator.

  2. Very interesting to learn about spring houses, esp. since there is one just up the hill from me and I never knew what it was. I have an old milk can in my yard that gets surrounded by black-eyed Susans. And yes, I can imagine what it would feel like, full of milk!

    1. It’s fun how many milk cans have been re-purposed. It reminds me of how, when I was in high school, I made a collage on a milk can. I covered the can with dairy cow pictures that I’d cut from magazines.

  3. Most of those cans are fairly large, I can’t imagine carrying them full of milk. My in-laws often referred to a place out by their creek as the “spring.” The barn and old buildings are gone, but I wonder if a spring house such as this existed there at one time.

    1. Sometimes a part of a stream would be diverted to make a “spring.” The spring houses I’m familiar with typically had a cement channel for the water. The milk cans would have been set down in the channel.

      They may not have had a building. According to Wikipedia, not all spring houses actually had a house. It may just have been the cemented channel.

      1. Also if the farm had a lot of cows (even if not exclusively a dairy farm) and/or a large family to feed and the means to do it, it sometimes happened that a portion of the house was built over the spring. The spring may have been diverted deliberately in some cases but

  4. I have had milk cans just like your Grandmother’s family for many years. We use them as plant stands. Surely glad we don’t have to fill them and then, lift them. Great JOB!!!

  5. It always sounds like such hard work to do, yet there is something very appealing about the idea of having a cart to haul the milk to the spring. I wonder if they ever got that cart….?

    1. I don’t know if they ever got the cart–but my gut feeling is that the sisters carrying the milk to the spring thought there was more of a need for a cart than their parents.

  6. Those girls must have had some serious muscles. I think that springhouse idea is a gem. We used to do something like that house boating. We’d drag our beers behind the boat in a gunnysack because the water was really cold.

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