Milkman in Niagara Falls
Being a milkman was one of my most memorable jobs, a laid-back livelihood that allowed me to cruise the streets of Niagara Falls, a beautiful and quiet city in the early '70s, unless one ventured to the tourist area by the Falls. I was self-employed and rented a refrigerated truck from my company, Borden's Dairy. In the morning, I loaded my truck with milk at a time when it came in glass bottles held in wire baskets. I followed a set route, delivering to mostly residential customers who paid 37 cents for a quart of milk that cost me 27.
Part of the appeal of being a milkman was driving a Divco milk truck. The truck's design made milk delivery quick and easy, a design possible because of the low auto safety standards back then. Not only was it legal to drive without a seatbelt, you could drive while standing up. And the Divco was built with that in mind. Although the truck came equipped with a seat, it could be removed so that a milkman could drive standing up. To make milk delivery even quicker, the cab's bifold doors could be left open while driving. With the doors open and the seat removed, he could drive to the next customer stop and immediately leap from the truck. To deliver milk from one side of the street to the other, he could run straight through the cab, grabbing a bottle of milk along the way. My truck didn't even come with a seat so I always drove standing up, and except for the coldest winter days, I left the doors open.
Driving would have been easier if the Divco was an automatic, but the truck had a standard transmission. For driving while seated, there was a clutch, brake and gas pedal. However, driving while standing required using another set of pedals, a set that had only two pedals. The gas pedal operated as expected, but the other pedal acted as both clutch and brake. Press partway to clutch and all the way down to brake.
Driving while standing was a balancing act that took me a few days to learn. Consider the routine for shifting gears while standing. Take your right foot off the gas so that you are balancing on your right heel. Then lift your left foot completely off the floor and press partway down on the clutch-brake pedal, being careful not to press all the way down so as to apply the brakes. Now picture this. While balancing on your right heel, pressing the clutch lightly with your left foot and steering with your left hand, change gears with your right hand. Should you lose your balance you inevitably pitched forward and slammed on the brakes. While learning, I worried about losing my balance and falling out the open driver's door.
But I mastered the Divco without incident and was soon flying down the streets of Niagara Falls. Still, I wasn't beyond having mishaps. On one occasion, I took a corner too sharp and a case of milk that I had left on the floor flew out an open door. However, my greatest problem was backing up. The truck was equipped with side mirrors but no back window. Not mindful that I couldn't see directly behind me, I sometimes collided. On one occasion I backed into a car and pushed it through a garage door. After that my customer, a priest, ceased milk delivery. My worst accident was when I backed into a gas meter at a restaurant, causing gas to escape. Another time I was driving down the street and without hitting anything, the rear bumper had had enough. It fell off. Clunk!
Occasionally I confronted dogs. One of my customers kept a German Shepherd on a thick chain. Whenever I delivered milk there, the dog barked and stretched the chain to its limits to get to me. One day I found the customer outside with her snarling dog. When I voiced my concerns about the vicious-looking animal she said, “Have you tried petting him?” Well, no. So I reached out my hand and the dog promptly bit me!
During the year I worked as a milkman, pivotal changes were affecting milk delivery. Supermarkets and convenience stores were springing up making it easier and cheaper to buy milk. In fact, Mac's Convenience Store began as Mac's Milk Store before changing its name in 1975. Milk delivery was fast becoming obsolete, and milkmen began losing customers. Eventually I too was forced to quit.