By Joseph Orost
Financial support was almost non-existent when I enrolled in college many years ago in a small town slightly larger than Johnson, Vt., in Missouri—no Government loans, no GI Bill, no scholarships. There were only two ways one could be admitted: The first was to be born into a wealthy family who would make sure you enrolled and who would bankroll you through the formidable years at the old Alma Mater and the other to scrimp and save and work your way through. My luck dictated the latter.
Our present unemployment rate is
very low in comparison to the way it was, but I must try to find a job. I sought out the owner of the local
dairy to ask him for a job. I
had reasoned being a milkman would not interfere with my schoolwork since all I
had to do was to wake up early, deliver the milk and be finished by 8:00 a.m. in
the morning. This schedule would
hardly cut into my class or study time.
On my way to the dairy I saw what
I thought was a funny looking house.
The top of the house was painted red and the bottom white. The red paint seemed to be fresh, while
the white, old and dingy. I
dismissed this as perhaps someone who was painting his house piece meal, because
of the lack of funds or time.
After arriving at the dairy, the
owner of the dairy apprised me of the fact that I was a lucky boy since one of
his men had fallen from a ladder while painting his house and that he could use
a replacement. The regular milkman
broke his arm and won’t be able to work for a while. Before I got out of there I was given
the job of temporary milkman replacing the injured regular milkman for a
remuneration of fifty cents an hour.
This was my lucky day.
(Editor’s note: Fifty
cents in those days the equivalent to our modern day $20.00 an hour.)
The owner gave me a list of
names, addresses and amounts of milk and milk products to leave at the
doorsteps. Even though I was happy
to get the job: but I had qualms
about being able to fulfill the duties and find these people especially in the
wee hours of the morning. I took
the list home that evening and stared at it and stared some more. Not being from this town, I didn’t even
know that some of those streets ever existed. I went to the little store where I had
been doing my shopping and the storekeeper explained where some the streets
were. He kept assuring me that they shouldn’t be
hard to find since it was such a small town.
Four a.m. comes too soon. My goodness, I could remember just rolling into bed. It wasn’t morning already? Getting out of be was a chore as was dressing. Everything in the small room I was renting was damp and soggy. Walking down the street, I could still remember the cool dampness, which pervaded my body and the musty smell which penetrated my lungs. I began to have second thoughts about the value of an education. I had read so many books of success stories of people who never attended college, working their way up to be Presidents of companies or even Chairmen of the Board. But I’ll give it a try anyway. What the heck, like Scarlet, I’ll take action tomorrow. I won’t mess with today.
Walking into the dairy, I was directed into the stable where my milk wagon and horse were parked. The horse was already harnessed and ready to go. The owner told me that his name was “Dick.”
I had visions of my college
career going down the tubes because of this stubborn horse. I wondered whether Dick simply missed his old
driver and just did not like me, a stranger in a strange town.
When I let go of the reins, Dick plodded along down the road as though on automatic pilot. Suddenly he stopped. He would not move, no matter how I tried to urge him on. I pulled and pushed. I threatened him with bodily harm. Dick stood firm. I was tired, sleepy and cranky. No mood for an argument, especially with a stubborn horse. Why did that owner give me this candidate for the glue factory? Perhaps, being the new man, this was their way of initiating me into the fraternity of milkmen.
No use! I wasn’t thinking about delivering milk
anymore. I just sat there wondering
how I’m ever going to get this critter and this wagon probably full of spoiled
milk back to the barn. What the
heck! I’ll just sit here and wait
him out. Maybe Dick will
repent and move on if I just leave him alone.
I barely made out the number on
the mailbox where we were parked.
It was 201. That number
seemed to have some significance.
Opening my notebook, looking, there it was—201, “Now if this is State Street”. I
mumbled, it was! Dick had stopped
in front of one of the customers on my list. I can’t believe what a coincident it had
been. “I might as well deliver the milk and eggs
while I’m here,” I mused.
No sooner did I get into the wagon but Dick started to move. The clanking of his horseshoes and the rattling of the bottles seemed to echo in the damp, dark, dreary morning. As suddenly as he moved so he stopped again. This time with half belief and half disbelief I peered into the notebook again. “It can’t be true! It’s another customer.” Same thing over. I delivered the milk; Dick moved to another location and stopped.
By now I had concluded the
inevitable: Dick was a lot smarter
than I was. He knew where all the
customers were. This beautiful,
wonderful horse was showing me where to go. From then on, we had a great rapport; I
was on Easy Street. I didn’t even
have to steer. The horse did it for
me. I just had to glance into my
notebook and deliver whatever was listed.
probably knew that also but had no way of communicating it to me.
Now for the good part: After a few weeks I was able to remember
the location of the customer’s homes and what they had ordered. All I had to do was to carry a tray and
walk from house to house across the front lawns doing the deliveries and good
old Dick would follow along on the street.
What a wonderful horse! When
I missed a home, Dick would just stop there and wait until I corrected my
error. Never was there a better-matched team for delivering the milk.
This may have sounded like good
news to the owner, but not to me. For I had to park the stupid, smelly truck on
the corner, deliver the milk for a row of houses and then walk all the way back
to the truck and start all over again.
I figured that I had to walk twice as far for the same pay. I didn’t mind the walking, but I
couldn’t see how the owner thought for one moment that this was more
efficient. It took me twice as long to deliver the milk,
not to mention that I was using up twice as much shoe leather and was twice as
Dick had been on my mind a
lot. I could hardly bear the fact
that he and all of the rest of these intelligent animals would be slaughtered
and turned into dog food. Somehow
it seemed so cruel and heartless a reward for years of faithful service. And the inevitable answer: “We have to pay for these trucks
somehow, you know.” In my
helplessness I could only feel sick and nauseous to think of the retirement
plans for Dick. I wondered what
Dick thought in his final moments as the executioner approached.
Here was an owner that certainly didn’t understand his business. He had as efficient an operation as is possible. But he blew it when he traded horses for trucks. There was no comparison. The trucks were lacking in many respects. They were noisy, belched noxious fumes into the atmosphere, were always stalling, running out of gas, in need of repair. They couldn’t get in and out of tight places. And worse of all, they could not think.
I tried to reason with the owner;
I assured him that he was making a big mistake by getting rid of his horses,
that it would drive him out of the delivery business. With a flip of his hand he dismissed me
with the remark, “All of the
dairymen are now using trucks. Do you think that they will all be going out
many years’ later, kind readers, I leave the verdict up to you. How many
milkmen have you seen lately delivering milk?