Antique milk cans offer a glimpse into the Eagle Valley’s past
Ryan Summerlin August 5, 2014
EAGLE COUNTY — Some of us have vague memories of the milkman delivering milk bottles to our doorstep in his crisps white uniform and the milk van in the driveway, or perhaps our memory might be from a printed advertisement or perhaps from an old black and white movie or, better yet, a Norman Rockwell painting. Here in Eagle County, milk and cream were of the utmost importance to three Eagle County residents who were born here in the county and for whom milk and cream were of the utmost importance for their financial wellbeing.
The three locals, Edith and Mike Lederhause and Jake Stull, born and raised in the McCoy-Burns area, have testimony regarding their connections to dairy products dating back to their youth and the turn of the century. They presently reside along Colorado River Road at this time on their respective ranches.
These Eagle County residents have collected milk cans over the years, and their interests in these items are very personal. Milk cans in general are seldom seen and might be purchased in antique stores if one can find them, but Edith Lederhause can remember well the cans of her youth, which were used and deposited at her family’s railroad depot in Burns. Her family ran the depot and a general store. The train going and coming from Denver was the means of transportation at the turn of the century. Cars and trucks were a minor form of transportation, so ranchers relied on the railroad for consistent transportation of goods and services. Her family’s railroad depot served the local ranchers in that area who relied on the railroad to deliver their merchandise whether it be cattle, timber, agricultural products or in this story, dairy products to the booming city of Denver and its suburbs. Since the train stopped on a regular basis at the Burns depot, Edith Lederhause remembers the cans of milk and cream being loaded and the empties being unloaded. The dairy products were sent to Beatrice Food/Creamery of Denver, and local ranchers had their individual milk cans identified by brass plaques on each can. The train crew would load and unload the cans, specific to the Burns depot. Edith at a tender age would arrange the cans as she saw fit in the family depot, awaiting the train’s arrival.
Edith Lederhause’s family prior to marriage was related to the Bearden and Fenno families up Squaw Creek. The Bearden and Fenno names are associated with the present day Cordillera properties. These ranchers would deposit their milk cans at the Edwards station. Edith possesses a milk can stating on its identification stamp, “RJ Bearden, Edwards, Co.” It is one of her prized possessions. Mike’s family came from the Oak Creek area, and an uncle, Paul Orgish, had his milk cans labeled with his name on the brass hang tag. It it stated, “In case of loss, notify Equity Creamery, Denver, Colo.” Mike also has a can labeled,“Henry F. Smith, Oak Creek,” who was known as “Snuffie.” Together, the Lerderhauses have an ensemble of milk cans. Edith’s other milk cans either are unmarked or they are not legible.
It was necessary to label each dairy can with the owner’s name and address, as the railroad would deposit the cans at their respective depots. The labels were in some cases lead stamped while others had brass tags. The cans of course were misused especially when they were empty and were thrown about at the depot. For security purposes, the can lid was attached by light chain or hook to the can itself in order the keep the lid and can together. Edith Lederhause’s collection of milk cans remind her of her family and years past, and she’s hoping to add to her collection.
For Jake Stull, 76, milk cans were even more significant in his early life. Born and raised on the Dora Cock homestead, Stull remembers well his youthful chores regarding the family milk cans. The Dora Cock homestead was located above Burns on the Sunnyside Road — perhaps a good 10 miles from Edith’s family railroad depot at Burns. In the summer months it was possible to deliver the milk and cream cans to the railroad depot by truck. But in the winter, a horse was needed for transportation. At age 16, Stull is pictured in a photo astride his horse accompanied by a packhorse with panniers with two 5-gallon milk cans containing cream, one in each pannier. It was his chore once a week to deliver the cream containers to the railroad depot, cream from 24 dairy cows, milked by hand. Only the cream was saved and sent to the railroad depot. The 10 miles of distance each way from the ranch to the depot required him to leave the homestead by 9 a.m., and he did not get home until 6 p.m. The depth of the snow was a major factor in his ordeals and travels.
Stull’s collection of milk cans is very similar to Lederhause’s collection. On Stull’s ranch property, once owned by a Perry Ault, there is a rusted-out milk can with Ault’s name on it. He also has a Dora Cock milk can with its label. Stull’s family cans are pictured with the Stull name on the brass tags.
The collection of milk cans by these individuals are a small slice of Eagle County history. People might collect other artifacts, but for these Eagle County residents, these cans are a source of pride and each offers stories of the past. Perhaps I took an interest in their history because in my youth in rural Connecticut I also did indeed have to carry the galvanized 5-gallon milk cans from the milking stations to the dairy refrigerated milk house, a youthful experience as well, as I, too, worked on a dairy farm.
Raymond A. Bleesz lives in Edwards.