David Burch, November 16, 2011
Dairy has been an important industry in upstate New York and the Northeast for the past 150 years. Beginning as small family-owned farms selling dairy products locally, during the twentieth century the industry gradually moved toward co-operatives and larger farms selling raw milk to corporate processing plants that produce dairy products for stores throughout the Northeast and beyond.
Burch’s recollections combine his work history within the dairy industry with the industry’s history in general and personal achievements and stories. Particularly interesting are the introduction of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance and, later, Burch’s experiences with introducing aseptic plastic bottling into the United States.
Mr. Burch generally speaks very clearly and I have been able to transcribe most of the interview as is; however, I have occasionally removed unnecessary conjunctions. While his words are clear in the transcript, the text fails to convey the emotion behind them, especially when he is proud of an accomplishment or amused by an experience. For a richer understanding of the interview, researchers should consult the audio recordings.
Contributor is Creator
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Oral History Project Fall 2011
DB = David Burch
JG = Jeana Ganskop
[START OF TRACK 1, 0:00]
This is Jeana Ganskop interviewing David Burch at the New York State Historical Association Library in Cooperstown, NY on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 for the Cooperstown Graduate Program’s Oral History Project, which is part of the research and fieldwork course. Do you want to start by telling me a little bit about how you got interested in working with animals?
Ok, yeah, as a young boy, I had to have things to take care of, I think. I enjoyed that. I had a flock of chickens, I had a flock of sheep, an egg route, and a couple of horses. I would start my day, even of course during school, I’d have to take a walk up the street to where the barn was and take care of all that stuff, and again at the end of the day, I’d have to go back and take care of them again, too. I just kind of like the sound of animals crunching their feed, there’s something special about that. I enjoy that.
Was that just for fun, or did you make money off of it?
I made a little money because I had an egg route. I’d sell the eggs through town. I’d collect them all during the week and on Saturday, I’d go deliver the eggs to my customers and then go to the feed store and buy feed. But there wasn’t a great deal of money to be earned.
Where did you live growing up?
I lived in Hartwick, right on Main Street, next to the Otego Creek. It was the old family home on my grandfather’s side, there were, I think, six generations of us who came up through that home.
What experiences did you have with the dairy industry while you were young?
My first recollection is, I was about in first grade, and back then, every town had a milk plant where the farmers would bring their milk in ten gallon cans and dump it into a vat. It would be weighed and refrigerated and put in storage tanks. My brother took me up there to watch that one day, and that is my first recollection of a real milk processing plant.
How did your interest in animals factor into your higher education?
My parents wanted me to extend my education beyond high school and they said, “we don’t care what you take, but take something, some sort of study.” So I decided to do animal husbandry, taking care of animals, and went to the State University of Delhi, and took animal husbandry and enjoyed it very much – I wanted to be a farmer. But when I got out of Delhi, there wasn’t a lot of money left to purchase a farm and start a business. It’s a huge undertaking for somebody to get into a dairy operation. The best way to get into it is to inherit it because it was already there. But to go out and purchase the land and the cows and equipment needed, start from scratch, is almost impossible. So, I had heard of other people taking my course of study and going to work as a dairy farm inspector for companies. That’s what I did. I interviewed with Dairylea, who back then was a milk cooperative owned by the farmer-producers, and I got a job as a farm inspector in Orange County, NY. I had up to 150 farms that I was responsible for. I was about 21, I think, when I started. I did that for two years or did it for a year and really found out I didn’t like to do that kind of work. As a young fellow, nobody was ever happy to see you. You had a lot of responsibility and power over the farmers. If you wanted to, you could halt them from selling their milk until they complied with the regulations. So, it could be very [contentious] or whatever. I heard about a fellow who had extended his education by going to the University of Georgia. There were several people from New York State who had transferred down there and finished their education. So, it sounded like a neat idea, and a way, an honorable way, to get out of something that I really wasn’t happy in. So, that’s what I did. I went to Georgia and studied dairy science for two years, then I came back out and went back to work for Dairylea. Do you want me to continue on that timeline?
Can you tell me what would a typical day be like as a dairy inspector?
Okay. Typical day would be to get up and go into the office and find out if there are any messages for you and then head out to inspect the dairy farm. I figured if I did five farms a day, I could keep my inspections…they had to be every six months, but I could get around [to all of them] in four months. So, I’d have a list of farms I had to go to that day just for routine work. Of course, there was non-routine work, where you would get a farmer that produced milk and spoiled a load of milk coming in the plant. The plant checks the milk pretty carefully for bacteria and antibiotics. That’s just two of the quick tests they do. So, you might get a call saying, “hey, we got a bad load of milk here, we found the producer on it, and you got to go take care of it.” That stuff comes to the top. That’s what I’d do.
I’d head out to the farm. Usually, depending on the time of year, the farmer might be there, or not. Sometimes, they would be out in the field, doing fieldwork, and you would be there at the farm all by yourself. You’re going through it, trying to figure out what went wrong to cause that bad load of milk. Most times, you’d find a dirty piece of equipment, or something that contributed to it. A lot of times, you wouldn’t find anything because the farmer probably knew exactly what happened, you know, he got stressed, didn’t have time to do the proper cleanup before the next milk production. The typical farmer milks his cows every twelve hours. You find something wrong like that, and you have to put him on a re-inspection and you’d go back in usually ten days, or a week and re-inspect them, and hope that they complied. If they didn’t comply, you’d put them on time again and hope they would comply. If worse came to worse, you’d go back the third time, you would exclude them from shipping their milk and you’d tell the milk driver, transportation guys, that they were not to pick up their [the farmer’s] milk until further notice. That usually gets the farmer’s attention pretty quick when they do that.
I remember one incidence where I had done that. The farmer was probably under a tremendous pressure to make his payments on his cows. That was a whole other industry where cattle dealers would supply a farmer with cows and make them pay for them, of course, but they were always indebted to the cattle dealer and the cattle dealer would take a bad cow and bring in another cow and these guys are paying the cattle dealer for that. A lot of times they didn’t have much money. So this fellow, Owen Okimaw, was a young guy and he was running a terrible operation. I was there with a membership representative for the co-op. He called me up and said, “yup, I’m ready to come back.” And I go back and the bulk tank was full! So, that was milk that was produced under exclusion, so that milk needs to be dumped and [I’ll come back when you have an empty tank]. Well, he didn’t like the idea of that, so he came down the aisle with a pail of milk, and he was just going to throw that right on me! [chuckle] The membership representative goes, “now, now boys, calm down, calm down.” I walked back to my car and I left and went down the road and parked. The membership guy came down, he said, “yeah, he dumped it, and you can go back and inspect.” I did that and said he could start shipping milk again. A week later, he went out of business. He lost his cows, they were repossessed. You’re running into these people that really have problems you don’t know about. There was an explanation later on, why he was the way he was. So that was like some of the excitement you would see, you’d run into.
The rest of the time was just routine work. You’d go and inspect and you’d see the farmers and have good conversations with them. There were some good farmers out there who took pride in what they did. They were the fun people. I did that down in Orange County, and I really didn’t know that many people down there, other than the farmers I was dealing with. I would come home every weekend. I really wasn’t that happy. That pushed me on to the Georgia thing.
When you got out of school in Georgia, then how did you get back into the dairy industry?
I got out of Georgia and I decided I wanted to work in a milk plant. I called the director of operations, who I knew vaguely from my other days when I was a farm inspector, because he was at the plant where my office was. I said, “hey! I’m out of college now, here’s what happened, and I’m looking for a job.” And he was just developing a manager training program. I was the first one to get into that. I spent time in every milk plant that they had. I went to Adams, New York and learned how to make cheese there. I went to Vernon to learn how to make cheese. I went to Oneida to learn how to do extended shelf life milk. And I did a lot of time in the fluid milk plant in Goshen, New York.
I was busy like that for about six months and then they had a supervisor who passed away in Goshen, for the second shift, where they pasteurized. It was a supervisor in Goshen. So, they asked me if I wanted to take over his job down there and I said, “ok, let’s do that.” I was here again, a young guy, probably about twenty-four or -five then and supervising a shift of employees to finish up the milk production that had started during the morning, and here I am finishing up the milk production and we would then start cleaning up the plant to get ready for the next day. I had a crew of about 15 people and, for the most part, things went very well there. Well, they did go very well, but that wasn’t something I had really planned on, to work 6pm at night until 2:30 in the morning, and my days off were Thursday and Saturday. It’s a little shock to get out of college and have to do that, but you got to do the time sometimes to advance in the industry. So I sucked it up and did my time at night. It was a pretty stressful job in that you want to get done and get out of there, but lots of times the production didn’t end in eight hours, it would end in twelve hours and you’d meet the day crew coming back in. Then you’d have to go home and try to get some sleep and it’s light out. I did that and kind of enjoyed that. It was kind of like playing a game. You have the set of things you got to do, and you’re thinking all the time about how to get it done faster and faster, more efficiently.
They liked me a lot down there. There was one, he was the assistant plant manager, who was pretty tight-lipped about stuff and wouldn’t share what he knew with others, but for some reason, he was very open with me and he would tell me a lot of stuff. I learned a lot from him. Then there was another difficult time that came up where that assistant plant manager wasn’t real flexible in meeting the customer’s demand. It was like, he had a way to get it done, and to heck with the customer. So they decided that they were going to demote him to a supervisor and I got his job as assistant plant manager. Which made things difficult between him and I for a while, but he finally came around and we worked well together after that. That got me to the day shift and I had every other weekend off, which was livable. I really enjoyed that. I would be responsible for procuring the milk, ordering the milk. Every week, I ordered it on Thursday for the next week. I ordered packaging and inventory control on that. And I decided how much of each product to make each day. The light production days, you wanted to just run as long as you could to build up and get an inventory for the heavy production days. The heavy production days were toward the end of the week. Thursday night was just the biggest because they deliver to the stores and load their inventory up for the weekend. We’d start off on a Monday, it would be a little slow, but you want to plan your production to keep it full, to keep the inventory in the cooler. I enjoyed that, right there.
I was setting in the lunchroom, and, gosh, there’s this cute secretary coming in every morning. And one of the bosses said, “jeez, you should take her out.” So, I ended up asking her to go for a date and last week, we celebrated our thirty-third anniversary together. So, there was a lot of good that came out of that plant in those couple of years.
Then, the plant closed in 1980, laying off everybody there. I survived. I’ve been known as a survivor for all the time I have been there, for some reason, I would find something else to do. They needed a plant manager in Buffalo and they asked me if I wanted to go to Buffalo to run that milk plant. I said, “oh, jeez, my wife has ties here, I have ties, but, you know, I’ll help you out, I’ll go do it until you find somebody.” So I went to Buffalo. Some weeks, I’d fly from Newark. Some weeks I’d drive. So, I ended up, lots of times, with my car in the Newark airport, and a company car in the Buffalo airport and just going back and forth. That went on for about nine months. They finally found a plant manager for that [plant]. At that point, my title was assistant director of operations. I liked that. It was a nice title. Sounded good, I was still pretty young for a plant manager. And they said, “well, this guy in Scranton, the plant manager there, he wants to leave, would you go and watch the place until we find somebody else?”
These couple of milk plants were pretty antiquated compared to Goshen, the milk plant that I’d started out in, which was really new for the milk industry. It was made in the 60’s and it was fairly modern, nice layout and everything. The Buffalo plant was antiquated, a lot of things put together with bailing wire, in a terrible neighborhood. They had guards walking around, guard dogs on the dock to keep the people away. You’d have homeless people trying to get into the place and into the lobby to warm up. It was just an awful neighborhood. I didn’t see much future for that plant. So I went to Scranton, and Scranton was kind of the same kind of a plant and the workers there…I don’t know.
The plant manager that had been there was a hands-on guy, nobody made a move without talking to Gill. I don’t like to work that way. I like for workers to think for themselves, and my philosophy as a manager was just to be a facilitator. I’d make sure they had everything they need, and if they are good people, they will do a great job for you. All you have to do is facilitate for them. That was a very difficult plant. It was in a bad neighborhood. The neighbors – literally houses right next door, and an alley in the back. I used to run the place from the alley! The warehouse was across the alley and the refrigerated warehouse with the trucks were down the alley, so I spent a lot of my day in the alley, just running back and forth and taking care of things. Then, a lot of the workers had been just promoted because they had been there a long time. They didn’t have the skills that they needed because the plant manager was doing all of the thinking for them. I just didn’t like it there. So, I had a chance to leave, and they finally found a plant manager after about a year. I was on the road – I lived fairly close to where that was, it was an hour and a half away. I would stay, like Monday night and Tuesday night, and come home Wednesday night, to go back for Thursday and Friday. So, that was a fair amount of stress, with the driving and getting calls in the middle of the night that something was wrong and here you are, 75 miles away, what are you going to do? You try to work it out over the phone. I wasn’t real happy there.
But then, along came a guy I got to know. He was the director of quality control for the company and I worked on several quality problems with him, in the plants and he wanted me to be a quality assurance manager for the fluid plants. The fluid plant being the milk that you bottle and everybody drinks, versus a manufacturing plant where they make butter and powder or, some of the other byproducts, cheese and sour cream, cottage cheese. And he wanted me to be manager of quality, so I jumped at that job because that got me out of the plant, away from the day-to-day problems. Because, when you’re running a plant, anything goes wrong, they’re going to call you up and look for direction for. Because, at night, usually the younger supervisor is there and they just don’t have the experience that they need to solve the problems. That was good. It got me away from the day-to-day stuff. It got me away from working holidays and I was pretty happy. I still had to travel a lot. We had a plant in Woodside, Queens. That was my plant and Syracuse, Scranton, and the Buffalo plant.
Now, at that point, it’s in the ‘80s and the milk industry was a shrinking industry. There was a lot of consolidation that was going on. Our Goshen plant was the first to close and they spread that production into Binghamton and Scranton. Then, Binghamton would close, and then Scranton finally closed. And there was a plant in Connecticut that closed. So here I am with two plants, Syracuse and Woodside, Queens.
Woodside, Queens was in a terrible neighborhood. Your car had to go in a parking lot with a guard in there so that nothing would get stolen or vandalized. And it was a tough plant. The milk tanker drivers would come in and they knew enough not to get out of their cab. The guys in the plant, it was a tough union plant, when they got around to it, they would unload him, and he was to leave, he wasn’t supposed to come into the plant. A couple of them did and the guys took him upstairs and beat him up and sent them on their way. [chuckle] That was a tough union plant and what they would do is the guys in the cooler – milk goes from production to a cooler onto a merry-go-round kind of a track in the plant, and then it goes outside to the dock. The truck is here, and on either side of that they would go out. So, what they would do, the guys in the cooler, to get your attention, production is all coming out, and milk is being stacked to go onto this chain. They wouldn’t take anything off of it for the trucks, they’d just let it fill up, and fill up and fill up and finally there’d be a crash and all the [chuckle] milk would start tipping over and then they would get your attention. That was an interesting place. A lot of things would happen down there that you’d just do the best you could and come home and say, “that’s it.” You’d have to know what you could fix and what you couldn’t fix. That plant finally closed.
So now, my world is shrinking [chuckle]. So I just had the Syracuse plant and I was able to move up there. The Dairylea headquarters was in Pearl River, New York. They were moving to Syracuse. I lived in Middletown, NY, so I got to move on that package that they all got as incentive to move up there. So, I moved up my wife and I and our young son, David, he was going on two, then, I think, when we moved up. At the Syracuse plant, I was quality control manager for that. And that was a very tough old plant – it’s now closed. The cockroaches – you know, this is the down side of the industry. [sigh] You got these old facilities trying to do a good job and it was totally infested with cockroaches. We had a pesticide operator. This sounds pretty gross, but this happened. He’d come in on Sunday, and you’d go in a Monday and all there is is dead cockroaches on the floor and you’re feet are crunching over them. So, you got to clean those up to get rid of them. It got so bad that we got a bottle of milk back, a gallon of milk, that you could see the cockroach through the bottle material, through the plastic. “We gotta do something guys.” We got people’s attention then!
Dairylea had no money then, so it was very hard to operate. It got so bad at one point where the farmers, the directors of the company were farmers, and they had to mortgage their farms to meet the payroll that week. So, it was pretty tough. There wasn’t much money to spend on fixing stuff. That’s how you get into these situations. Dairylea at that time was managed by the board of directors, a board of farmers. They weren’t managed with a professional manager that knew the business, knew what things had to be done. So, that’s part of the reason they got into that mess. Also at that time, [END OF TRACK 1, 30:00]
[START OF TRACK 2, 0:00]
let’s go back to Goshen for a little bit. There was a real problem with Dairylea and there was a big investigation. The plant managers were taking reconstituted skim milk, which is a Class 2 product, and standardizing the regular milk with that, which was a Class 1 product. Which is illegal, you can’t do it. A lot of people lost their jobs then. A lot of the plant managers who were doing it, the office managers, and it wasn’t just one plant, it was just about everything. And I think that goes back to having a board of directors being your manager. They just were looking at your performance, not at how you were doing things. They were summoned to Albany by Ag and Markets in a big hearing. A lot of people lost their job. They were taking pasteurizer operators and batch people to Albany to interview them and find out what was going on. After that, it was under the milk market administrator, he was in the plant every week, and you had to account for every bag of non-fat dry milk that was used and if you were missing some, “oh my God, where’d it go?” and you’d have to prove it went into a product it should go into, it didn’t get reconstituted to standardized milk. Milk comes in on a tanker, it’s usually 3.6% fat to 3.8%. The minimum butterfat for the state was 3.4%. So, you’d reduce the butterfat by adding skim to the milk to bring it from 3.6 down to 3.4. Reverting back to my Goshen days, I got my production desk and I’m assistant plant manager, figuring all the production. I go through all these tests and here’s a chart on how much skim to add to the milk, how to reconstitute it, and how to put it back and I go, “Oh my God.” I threw that away. I should have kept it for posterity, probably. [chuckle]
Now let’s go back to Syracuse and I’m the quality manager there, I have one plant. It’s a tough plant, we got the cockroaches cleaned up, but just by bringing in another really good pest control operator and they still use him to this day. I even use him for the cluster flies at my house now. [chuckle] They’re just really good guys and they understand the business and were real professionals and tracked down the cockroaches. They knew right where they were coming from and went after the nest. And you never saw another cockroach there afterwards. So Dairylea now is down to three plants – Syracuse, Oneida, and Vernon. Syracuse being the fluid milk plant, making the school milk and the gallon jugs and all that. Oneida is the extended shelf-life plant, making half-and-half, and creams, and some fluid milk, and this little product called Lactaid that the guy came in and nobody figured that that would ever go anyplace because it tasted so sweet. Now, that product is in every store in the U.S. and it’s the workhorse for making money for HP Hood.
It got to about 1985 and I was promoted to quality manager for the three plants upstate. A nice job, I got my company car and three plants right in my dooryard, and I didn’t have to travel anymore unless it was to go to a conference or something. I enjoyed that for four or five years. Then, Dairylea decides they want to get out of the milk processing business. They just want to be a group of farmers who sells the raw milk to somebody else to process. So HP Hood came along and bought us in 1988. We all thought that was a real positive move for everybody. Here comes somebody who understands our business. They had an extended shelf-life plant in Boston and a fluid milk plant in Boston. Now comes the survival part again. “Am I going to survive this? They got people like me, and I knew them.” So there were some shaky days there as they were figuring out how to restructure the thing. But I survived that, I came out as a technical service manager and I was responsible for the three plants out here. They gave me Newington, Connecticut – it was an ESL [Extended Shelf-Life] plant that made ice cream mix for Burger King, McDonald’s everybody, ourselves. I really enjoyed that job for a long time.
Then, at that time, Agway had owned Hood and Agway was on the way out. They were financially in trouble and couldn’t spend a lot of money on Hood. I was in a division at this point – they restructured again. I survived that. The other two technical service managers were gone. So I ended up with the manufactured products group [MPG], which was Oneida, Vernon, and Newington, Connecticut, as the technical service manager. But that was also the profitable side of the business. The other plants, the fluid plants, the Boston plant, were all in financial trouble now, but us guys in the MPG group, who were like partying - we had a good customer group, we had that Lactaid milk, which everybody was making money on. We used to make that for Lactaid and they would sell it and market it. One of the guys had an idea to license it. They would sell us the enzymes and we would produce and sell the product. Unbelievable growth in that. But Hood was getting on hard financial times. They just didn’t have any money. The management was not good. But our quality was still good – so we had that! So along came this guy John Kaneb and his family. John was an oil man. He had owned Gulf Oil. He had several sons in the business with him. And he had money. He recognized what Hood was good at. He always said, “you guys never lost in quality and I liked you about that.” The money part of it, it was just awful. They needed to close the Boston plant, which was a huge milk plant, and it had been a money maker, they could print money out of that place at times, but there were just some times that it just lost terrible. They needed to close it. Nobody had nerve enough to make the decision to close it, because they knew it had made money at times. So, John Kaneb came in and closed the plant. Closed Boston and moved that volume to Agawam, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine. So, they were in tough shape, they were just struggling by, the fluid group. Us MPG guys, we were just having fun, and golf outings and all this stuff going on in the summer. We were getting our bonuses – we would get up to 20% of your salary as a bonus and we were maxing out on that. The other guys that were there, they were just dying. [chuckle] They were getting jealous and mad at us, the way we did things [chuckle].
So John Kaneb came along and recognized what was there and started to build a business, give us money to expand plants. They expanded Oneida, again with the Lactaid, it just drove that place and then you’d have the creams and the creamers and low-fat milk for Burger King and McDonald’s and that kind of stuff. At that point, they made me an auditor, and I would go around to the seven or eight plants left at that time and I would audit them for compliance to good manufacturing practices and regulations. That kind of stuff. I enjoyed that. I was away at a different place every week. Just myself to worry about, I didn’t have to worry about any of my other employees, ‘cause that’s a worry. If they screw up, you’ve got to answer for it. So I did that for a few years. I didn’t really have a boss for a while. My boss had retired and they hadn’t hired anybody, so that even made it better. [chuckle] So they hired a woman, Peggy Poole, to be my boss and I was the auditor for a while longer. And then, she made me director of quality, from auditing manager. I had seven plants, Portland, ME; Barre, VT; Agawam, MA; Suffield, CT, Oneida, Vernon, Syracuse – no, Syracuse was gone at that point. It was still a consolidating industry. Not only were plants closing because of efficiencies, dairy companies were buying them and taking over milk companies, and integrating that production in with their own to make them more efficient. I had that job for a while, the quality managers, I had a manager in each plant, they reported to me. Once again, there would be a hot spot every week. Something would go wrong some place and that’s where I would head out to to support the manager. Once again, my management style was that I would just be the facilitator and make sure they had everything they needed. I had to go straighten out a couple messes where the lab technicians in one plant had taken over the plant, I called it, they had taken over the lab and were doing things the way they wanted. They weren’t listening to the quality manager. So, I had to go up and clean house with them. Figure out who wanted to do a good job and who was just causing trouble. I had to do that. I said, “look, we got it straight now, just don’t ever let it get this bad again.” That helped the quality manager there. She’s still a quality manager and doing a good job.
Then came along Lactaid again. We need to make more Lactaid. So that drove building a plant in Winchester, VA. At that point, they asked me to go down there and supervise – we had to build a lab, we had to build a quality control department. We had to hire a quality manager. We had to make sure the plant complied with the regulations, that the design was right. We had to get the design approved by regulatory. So I went down and did all that. We got the plant opened in 2000, after a year of production, flying all over the country, buying and looking at equipment to buy and buying the right stuff. We were in the business, so we knew how to run things, but we wanted to buy the very best. We got that up and running. I was in Winchester every week for eighteen months at that time. I’d go down Monday morning, come back Friday night. [chuckle] It was a killer, you know, it really tires you out like that. Got them up and running at capacity – they just can’t make enough product. There were doing Lactaid, and then Nestlé Quick. Little plastic bottles of Nestlé Quick for Nestlé. Again, it was a license deal. We would buy the chocolate powder from them, at the upcharge, that’s how they would make money. And then, we would directly sell it to the stores and then we would make money. So, they expanded again. They started up with two fillers, now it’s four fillers and just a state of the art plant. People from Washington, the FDA, would come over and see how we were doing stuff. We got very close with them. Worked with the FDA a lot.
Then, one of the last things they did there was that Nestlé decided they wanted to expand into the aseptic product line. Aseptic is when you sterilize the product, you sterilize the package, you put the product in the package in the sterile environment and then seal it with a sterile cap. It can stay at room temperature almost forever. There is just no bacteria in there, nothing to spoil it. Unless something went wrong in the packaging, but that’s another story. So that was a neat project that I worked on and we did a lot of stuff that nobody else had ever done. Nobody else had ever put it in a plastic bottle aseptically. But they’ve done it for years, and we’ve done it, in the brick pack. You sterilize the packaging material with hydrogen peroxide. And so, that was a fun year. We were trying to decide, since nobody had ever done it, which of the equipment manufacturers had the best chance of doing it. So we flew to Germany to look at the design they had. They weren’t there yet. They didn’t have a lot of answers for us. Then we went to Italy, same thing. “Yeah, we’re gonna be ready next year, you can depend on us.” Nobody was really there yet. So then, we heard about this outfit, Shibuya [Kogyo], in Japan. So, we flew to Japan and these guys are doing it over there! We went up to a Coca-Cola plant to look at them doing it – huge machine, very complex. But we were struck by, “who’s running this? There’s nobody out there running it.” It was running flawless, nothing going wrong. Where the way we do things, something would crash and everything would blow up. [chuckle] We went down to their factory and they were doing everything we wanted to do. But that was under Japanese regulations. Nobody on this side of the ocean was doing it. So, we hired a process authority. To be aseptic, you have to have a process authority to validate your equipment and validate your process that, yes, it can do what you’re saying it does. We had to work with a different group of FDA guys, the low-acid canned food. Because milk is a low-acid product, low-acid products all bacteria grows in. You can make botulism, you can have all sorts of trouble there. So, you are very, very careful on your process and documenting that everything was right through the process. We contracted with Shibuya to buy that machine. The machine came in on seventeen tractor trailer loads. They assembled this thing, they flew their Japanese workers over and there must have been forty or fifty of them there. They got a Chinese restaurant to put up a tent and serve their food outside because they wanted Chinese food. You know, like when we were over there, we didn’t want Japanese food, we wanted good old American stuff. So, they did that. It took a year to build that and now, we got to get it validated. I was responsible for working with the process authority and our production people to validate the machine. I don’t know how much of this technical stuff you want to go into. But, basically, we started out with a bottle. [Dave opens bottle to illustrate process] We would blast hydrogen peroxide in it and it was in a sterile environment. That environment had been sterilized by spraying hydrogen peroxide in it. Not like the kind you find in a bottle, which is one or two percent, we’d used 35% and if you said 35%, if it was 34%, you weren’t sterile, you had to start over again and make it 35% or higher. Then, we would put milk in the bottle. We would sterilize the caps upstairs someplace and put them together, all at 600 a minute. Nobody had ever gone that fast before, because milk is a foamy product. If you go too fast, you build foam up and then you’re in a mess, you can’t get it out. So, they had the right filler configuration so you could go that fast. So, we did it! We got it approved. We did the validation. First one in the country to do that. I got invited to speak at conferences. I’m not going to tell them how we did it, but to let them know our process and, “here we are, we’ve got this.” That product’s out today. Nestlé got us into that. Then, they decided to build their own plant out in the middle of the country someplace. If you go down to Price Chopper now, you look in the drink aisle, you’ll see Muscle Milk, it’s made on that equipment. And the idea behind it, why we got into it, was Nestlé wanted to put milk in vending machines. Vending machines, whether you know it or not, have a very small refrigerated area. The bulk of the inventory is at room temperature. So, you got to be aseptic, so if somebody wants to drink it cold, the bottle goes down, until finally, it’s in the refrigerated area.
That’s about where I retired from Hood. Had a good time. Met a lot of people around the country, representing Hood, with the regulatory people, the FDA people, going to conferences, getting approvals, getting us out of trouble. If it can go wrong, it will go wrong, and it usually went wrong on a Friday afternoon. Our theory was that people didn’t want to carry it, they wanted to cleanse their conscience before they went into the weekend and all the stories would start coming out, so they’d feel good when they went home, they didn’t want to take that burden home with them. But it was funny, and Friday afternoon was a nightmare...So, anything else?
Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between the dairy industry and the government?
Yeah, that’s a good question. When I first got in the business, back in the ‘70s all these local regulatory outfits were regulating the industry. You’d have East Orange, NJ bring up their inspector. You’d have Pennsylvania send their inspector. You’d have New Jersey send their inspector, New York City send their inspector. So, they tried to consolidate that, so you’d just have one guy you had to worry about. They did that through the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance (PMO), which was a group of regulatory people and a group of industry people. Industry being the producers, the guys that represented the farmer, we call that producer, and processing side was the other side. So, there were three entities there that were doing this. All of the states would send a representative to the conference, the conferences were every other year. The first one, I’m not sure the date of that, that was a little blue book, and they called that the bible. That was the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance.
It would evolve as technology evolved. Regulatory, processing, and the producers would go to the conference and consider proposals to change the rules of the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance. They would usually send the paperwork out six months ahead of time and people who thought something ought to be changed or didn’t make sense or needed to be worded differently or if something needed to be changed to allow for new technologies. It was fun. I participated in it directly. There were three councils who would be given the proposals to consider. Some of them, you could not support as an industry, but regulatory would want that support. The industry was always “less regulation, it’s better for us,” and regulatory was “no, they gotta have more regulation.” Of course, they’re protecting their jobs and all that kind of stuff, and we wanted less. But we usually hammered it out to what people could live with. The councils would receive the proposals based on (I can’t remember now, which council was which), based on their expertise. There were also committees, a technical committee, and a sampling committee, those are just a couple, who would get the proposals and make a recommendation to the council. The council usually went along with the committee’s recommendation. The committee was made up of a third producer, a third regulatory, and a third processing, as the councils were. I was on a couple of the councils over the years. The councils would make a recommendation to the delegates. The delegates were all regulatory people from each state. They would have the ultimate vote and they would vote and the executive board would send them to the FDA, the milk control branch, who had all been there, they had all been on the councils, or sat in on them, with the recommendation that these be proposed, or changed, or accepted or not accepted, thrown out. Some of them were really nutty stuff, guys that didn’t really understand what they were doing would write them, usually the same guys. [chuckle] It would get pretty funny sometimes, [mumble] “oh, here comes this one…” [chuckle] And then, they would go in effect and they would rewrite the PMO and change everything.
Too, back when the PMO first started in the 70’s, all of the states signed off as reciprocity. If I’m in New York, Pennsylvania would accept the New York inspector’s work. If milk went from New York into Pennsylvania. And likewise the other way around. There were a couple hold-outs – Connecticut was one, and they held out for a long time. They wanted to come inspect the plant for themselves, come into New York to do that. And New York said, “well, if you’re gonna come inspect our plants, we’re gonna go inspect your plants.” That kind of stuff went on. They weren’t laws. The PMO isn’t laws. The CFR code of federal regulations is laws, but everybody had signed on, saying that, “yeah, we will abide by these.” So, now you have to have a rating. You have a local inspector who does the day to day work, 90 day inspections. Your pasteurizers have to be tested every ninety days to make sure they are pasteurizing the milk correctly and the people know what they’re doing and the records look good. They would come do an inspection and you had to do that or they would put you on a thirty day re-inspect. And then they would take samples of your milk and, send it, if you were a New York plant, it would go to the New York lab [END OF TRACK 2, 30:00]
[START OF TRACK 3, 0:00]
in Albany. Where it would be evaluated. If it didn’t pass, you’d get a letter. If it didn’t pass three times in a row, you’d lose your permit for that product. So, you’d treat that stuff pretty seriously, especially when you got two out of four and you got, “oh my God, three out of four, you’re out.” Then, they would have a rating side of it. There were three rating officers in New York, who would come to the plants and do a rating. You needed the rating to go across state lines. If you failed the rating, you’re milk was not going across state lines, nor was it going into a government funded program, like West Point. We produced milk for West Point. Could lose West Point. Couldn’t be able to sell in Pennsylvania. So it was pretty serious stuff when that started happening. Their oversight of the rating officers would be an FDA regional milk specialist who would come randomly. I don’t think there was a time on it, but he usually came every two years, too. He would do the oversight to make sure the regulatory people, the local ones, were doing their job. That’s called a check rating. And you wanted to do good on that one, too. It’s the same consequences – they could pull the plug on you. There’s a little more leeway there. The regular ratings, you had to have at least a 90% compliance. On your check ratings, you could drop ten points from that, 80% , and still survive. If you do bad enough, nobody’s going to survive, or…for something serious…and you’re still above 80…you’re not going to make it if there is a pasteurizer problem or something. Pasteurizing is pretty serious stuff. Back in the days of the turn-of-the-century and all that, the dairy industry was really killing people through not pasteurizing. Milk-borne diseases, undulant fever, tuberculosis – they used to test cows for tuberculosis. Pasteurization would take care of most of that stuff, the pathogenic organisms. The good bacteria made it through, you always had some there. You just didn’t want the psychrophiles, the ones that grow at refrigerated temperatures. From when I started, we were putting 12 days code on the milk, now they’re putting 28 on conventional milk and we’re up to 90 on extended shelf life. Literally, the package will go bad before the product does.
On the flip side of that, how was the relationship between the farmers and processing.
Nowadays, well, there is one cooperative who has processing plants. There are a few around the country. But right here, what I was familiar with, the interface you would have with the farmers wasn’t that much. You would order your milk – call Dairylea up, which was in Syracuse. All they have is farmers and milk and you’d just say, “I need so many this day, so many that day.” Line your milk up and they would have it delivered. Of course, if you found a bad tanker - they’d check pretty thoroughly when they come in, for antibiotics. If a cow gets sick and they give her antibiotics to fix it, they’re supposed to withhold the milk and they don’t and you find a positive antibiotic. What could go wrong? Somebody could have a reaction to it if they had an allergy to it or, the other thing is, if you’re giving people a low dose of it all along, now they build up a resistance, the bacteria in their system, builds up a resistance to that particular antibiotic. That’s not good. And so, you’d call the co-op and tell them they had a bad load and they had to take care of it. Usually, it goes back to the farm. Every time a tanker backs into a farm, they take a sample out of the farmer’s tank and take it with them before they load it so we know which farm it came from if there’s a bad load. It’s the co-op’s problem. Usually, it goes back to the farm that screwed it up and they dump it in his fields. And he’ll get a fine. That would be the day-to-day involvement with the co-op. You really don’t see the farmers. There would be relationships higher up, where senior executives would interface with the co-operatives. The cooperatives are kind of different from the way it was. There is still Dairylea, but they are part of something else, Dairy Farmers of America. And that’s consolidating, too. At the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance conferences, you butt heads with the producers, the processors would because we’d want certain things our way and they would want things more friendly for the farmer side of it. All this politics back and forth and try to come up with something everybody can live with. It was kind of a consensus group. We wanted to walk away with [something] everybody could live with what it was. No real explosive stuff. So, I wouldn’t have much interface with the production people. I would see them at conferences and we’re all good and we’re all buddies and everything. But, not a lot of day-to-day stuff.
I believe it was the Queens Plant that had the union in it. Was the union common in dairy industry?
It was. By companies. In Dairylea, all the plants were unionized, the teamsters. There would be a shop steward there, a whole mess there that would come up with grievances to the guys and you’d have to sit down and have a hearing. Then you’d have a strike. The Queens plant had a strike once. Shut everything down. They wouldn’t let milk into the city. We, in Goshen, were the closest milk plant to the city. So we were, like, working 24-7 to produce milk. And we had all of these stores and milk dealers coming up to our back dock. They were buying off the back-dock and taking it back down. We had a few of the local in New York (I forget what they are, it’s 5 something). We had a few of them come up and picket. Of course, the brother union guys aren’t supposed to cross the picket line. So that didn’t come to that much. But, we did have trouble down there. We would send a load of milk into the city. We were using plain trailers and plain tractor trailers so they wouldn’t know it’s a milk truck, you wouldn’t see a Dairylea truck sneaking into the city. We had a tanker, I think, had a bullet hole in it. Didn’t know where that came from. They stopped a tractor-trailer and made him disconnect from the trailer, the tractor from the trailer. All that weight just “boom!” down on the ground and milk running out of it all over the place. So, there was some serious stuff going on there. Finally, the arbitrator went in and (this is a tactic) “ok guys, we’re here, nobody’s leaving until we come out with a settlement. You’re not leaving, you’re not going to the bathroom, you’re not doing anything, we’re going to stay here until we get this worked out.” And they got it worked out. [chuckle] Everybody was happy after that.
Hood, on the other hand, didn’t have any union plants. Everything was non-union, and still is today. They like to think it’s that they treat the employee better…I guess they kind of do. They inherited the Dairylea union plants and then later on, they bought Crowley, and Crowley had union plants. So, they inherited those. They deal with it the best way that they can. Every once in a while, you get an organizer or union rep that targets a plant and comes in and wants to talk to the people and he’s outside giving them flyers and they’re trying to have meetings and all that. And the lawyer, they have a lawyer go to the plant to make sure they’re not breaking any laws. He stays there until they finally give up and the employees vote, and they don’t want to join the union. They want to stay the way they are. They like things the way they are.
You’re talking about the new type of bottle and that process, but have you noticed other ways that the dairy industry has changed since you got into it?
Yeah, it’s a consolidation. Quality is expected. The code is set by you. It used to be set by the regulatory people. New York City, the Queens plant, would set 72 hours, three days. Well, they didn’t realize it, but they were just hurting themselves because there was no incentive for the plant to clean up and do all the good things to get a fourteen day code. Why bother? You got to bring it back in 72 hours. So that’s one thing, the codes have all gotten a lot longer. Dairy industry learns from problems. There was a problem in the Jewel [Tea?] plant in Chicago, in the ‘80s. Somehow, salmonella was getting into the plant and people were getting sick all over the place. That started a real drive with the whole dairy industry. The Milk Safety Initiative of the ‘80s. We were all going to conferences and coming back to the plants. And they weren’t sure what happened there – they still aren’t sure. Guys have their own theories. You know, “some disgruntled employee did something” or “maybe cross-connection, you know, a raw milk line somehow crossed into a pasteurized milk line.” There was a real drive there, to go back to your plants and make sure you first had a set of drawings for the plant that were accurate and then, you had to go out and physically label the pipelines as to what they were. There was a universal color code. Blue was pasteurized. Red was raw. I think orange was water. The main things you’d have in the plant – water line going into it, CIP system (clean in place). Then, they kept carrying it farther, “ok, now we’ve got everything color-coded, maybe we ought to color code the brushes.” [chuckle] Because a GMP thing, it’s called a bottle brush, the universal brush in a milk plant and you’d find one in the restroom that they would clean the toilets with and you can’t do that because, who knows, somebody gets short one night and, “here’s a brush, I can’t find mine, here’s another one,” and it gets back out there. So they were color-coding brushes. It was blue for pasteurized equipment. Red for if it was going to be used on raw equipment. Black if it was used on the floor. That kind of helped us. We learned from our problems. The whole industry did.
Then, another one came along – salmonella, no not salmonella, listeria. Listeriosis. There was an outfit in California making Mexican cheese. Listeria Monocytogenes. Listeria was getting into the cheese. If women get listeria poisoning when they’re pregnant, they lose their baby. And immuno-compromised people end up dying. They killed some people there. What came out of that was environmental sampling, because there is bacteria that exists in the environment of your milk plant. That started monthly environmental swabs where you go around to your drains and make sure they were being cleaned, swab it and send that swab in. You would swab all over the place in the plant and send them to a lab. They would tell you if you have a positive or a negative. If there was listeria, they knew where it was by how the sample was identified. You go back, [do some] extra sanitation in that area, and resample it. It’ll come back negative, hopefully the next time.
Those were the major drives, the Milk Safety Initiative and that listeria outbreak. That’s how the industry is changing itself over the years, by what they learn from their mistakes, that’s why they started pasteurizing. They were killing all these babies. Nobody wants to do that, so they figured pasteurization, which is a time-temperature relationship, would kill the bacteria. The pathogenic bacteria. There are several kinds of pasteurization. One is vat-pasteurization where you’d heat the milk up to 145 degrees and hold it there for thirty minutes. Or, it’s a time-temperature thing. You could heat it up to 161 and hold it for 16 seconds. Or, you could then do the aseptic thing and heat it up to 280 degrees and hold it for a second. And do the same thing that you did with the 145 and 30 minutes. So, that has changed a lot. And distribution has changed a lot. It used to be a milk plant would just be producing for their routes, the stores in their areas. Now, the specialized plants, like the Winchester, Oneida, goes cross-country, goes to ships at sea. They put it in refrigerated containers at a port some place and it goes out to sea. Our soldiers are using it, fresh milk on the boat or Guam, or wherever they have. I don’t know what was getting into Afganistan or Iraq, but I’m sure some kind of fresh milk was. The soldiers loved it because it was like being back home. In wars prior to this, it was all reconstituted powder. It was lumpy and chunky and it just wasn’t the same as fresh milk. And they would see the label, the Hood label, and they would say, “oh, I know that! I used to have that as a kid!” That really helped. Consolidation, processing, and quality improvements have been the biggest things.
How did you end up back here, in Hartwick.
I grew up in Hartwick, I grew up in the family home. My parents had a camp, so to speak, out in the country, above Hartwick, about four miles away, we used to go stay there in the summers. When my kids were little, we used to come down and stay there. It was empty, my parents would be in town. We would stay there. Even the kids have fond memories of it here. They enjoy it. My brothers kind of did the same thing.
I moved down before I retired. I worked out of my house for a year or two, I think. It didn’t matter where I was, with computers now, you can be anyplace and do your job. You can be in a restaurant. You got your cell phone and your computer – it was a change. Technical change in the way management changed. You’ve kind of extended your work day by an hour. Because, you’d work all day, then go back to your hotel room, “I gotta sign on and look at my e-mails and catch up on them.” And sometimes there would be 100 of them there! Some you respond to some you throw away, just to keep you up. And driving time! Driving to Winchester, I’d be on a phone conference – hands-free device, though, I was always legal [chuckle]. But I’d be on a conference call for three or four hours, which was helpful, I didn’t need to set in the plant on that and then have to drive home. I could catch up on that stuff in the car. Yeah, it’s just the way you did business, everybody had a laptop computer and knew how to use it. Now, all of a sudden, they break down and every plant now has a technical guy, computer software guy, who can fix it for you. Video-conferencing is big, we did some of that. Using Microsoft Outlook. Everybody used that, you could see to schedule a meeting, you go in and see when everybody’s free. I’d forget to put my lunch down because I was busy and somebody would schedule me for a conference call at lunchtime because I wasn’t busy.
That kind of was catching up to me, too. And my wife and I liked it down here, we had a history of coming here. We lived in Cazenovia for most of the time we raised our family. My parents…before they passed away, we divided up the farm into three sections. I got one, my brother got one, my sister got the other. My little brother got the house in town. We kind of built a camp there. We would come down in the summer, we’d bring our two or three horses with us. I had a horse-barn there, with a little one-room apartment on the side where we would stay. The kids would come and we all just really enjoyed it there. We kind of stepped into it. We did that for six or seven years and then we decided to sell the house in Cazenovia and build one down here. We did that. My son, he lives in Cazenovia, he stayed there. My daughter lives in Oneonta, she settled here. She went to Oneonta State, so she kind of liked the area, too. My son went to Albany, U Albany.
I’ve been very fortunate with my kids. My son, hard worker, went to U Albany, and you couldn’t take a car there for the first year. So, he figured that out. He had enough AP credits so he had himself declared a sophomore in the fall [chuckle]. And then, he ended up graduating in three years from Albany and went to Albany Law School. Did that, did very well there. Passed his bar and got married in the same month. He works in Syracuse now, very busy. I have a grandson from him, little Jacob David. My son is David, Jr. And then, our daughter went to Oneonta, no real teaching prospects. So, she took off for Albany, got her master’s in, I think, fourteen months and is a reading specialist at Gilbertsville-Mount Upton. Her and her fiancé are going to get married in July. So, this is the year of the wedding, the year of Leah’s wedding. Every week, it’s something different. [chuckle] They had to go to Syracuse to make an appointment to try on the wedding dress, ordered the wedding dress. The wedding dress came. They went up to look at it last week and the wedding dress wasn’t right, so it’s got to go back. [chuckle] And they’re going to Utica to do something this week. I just don’t know. The engagement party we already had. Meet the parents and their kids, very nice people. Her fiancé Darin, he teaches fourth grade at Gilbertsville, so that’s how they met. I get a lot of quiet joy out of the family. Just thinking about them, how good they are. I just don’t understand how kids can get screwed up I guess.
I do understand though, because I have my retirement job. I drive a school bus for Cooperstown. Not so much for the money part of it, but something to do to take up my time. My wife is still working. She’s deputy county clerk of the board. Which she likes. I see changes in Hartwick, my route. My bus route takes me through Hartwick. I go by my house where I grew up every day. When we grew up there, there were stores in town. My father and his family had a store, third generation store, my father was the third generation to have it. There were nice families in town. You’d never hear about women having children out of wedlock. It happened, but not a lot. Or people living together. You just didn’t see that. And now, you pull up to a house and three kids come running out. They’ve all got different last names. Same mother, three different fathers. Or, you get the kids that nobody wants them. They’re living with their grandparents because the mother and father don’t want them. And they’re some pretty screwed up kids. My bus run is one of the tougher ones, I think. I used to have Pierstown. I had that for a year, which is up here. And they’re all bid, so it was just after my appointment, they appointed me to fill a guy’s, the rest of his school year. I did that at Pierstown. There were just some wonderful, wonderful kids on there. Very talented kids. One girl, she says, “I’m going for my piano lesson.” “oh really?” “Yeah, we’re doing Bach in Third Minor” or something like that, just really good kids there and they still speak to me. The Hartwick one, it’s troublesome. It’s because, I think of the parents. The kids don’t think anybody wants them. They reach out to gain attention. There’s some good ones, too, and trying to bring them along. I had trouble with a couple of them this year. Last Thursday, I found out yesterday that – buses are built for safety, they call it compartmentalizing where the seat in front of them is like this, they can’t see unless they stand up. So you’re up, you’re trying to drive the bus. You’re looking in your mirror and you don’t see anything going on – well, turns out that last Thursday, and this came out of two little girls, that two of the big kids were back there doing some kind of sexual act and the little girls saw. So, they tell their mother and the mother goes to the school. Nobody’s blaming me in any way, but, jeez, I just wished that, if I’d known, you know, if they’d said something to me, I’d have put an end to it right there, but I didn’t. But, yeah, I try to say good morning to them every morning and “have a nice night,” that kind of stuff. Maybe nobody says that to them.
Part of the retirement plan, we bought a camper, a travel trailer. We started using that this past summer. Do it for family things, the kids come visit us up north and they camp out, too. And if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t be seeing them for that weekend probably. So, that’s kind of enjoyable. Where we go from here, who knows. My wife will retire at some point. We’re lucky enough to get our health insurance through her, which she can take when she retires. I start on social security next year [chuckle] and that will help out, but mostly you just got to live and enjoy yourself and not worry about it. It doesn’t help – I read the obituaries every day, and I see people, 58, 62, and “oh my God” or you see somebody you grow up with and think, “he’s an old man!” [chuckle].
Do you have any final comments?
No, I think this is a neat program. I wish everybody could do it, because it’s documented now. My kids, my grandchildren, can always go in and listen to me tell my story. I was out in Salt Lake City at a conference, and I went to the Mormon Library there. They do a lot of this stuff, digital and you can leave your life story there and people in the future can come back and listen to it. That’s really neat, I think. How neat would it be to have me go back to my great-grandfather and hear what kind of stuff he did during his life, what was going on, what was important, what wasn’t.
Well, we really appreciate your participation in it, and thank you very much!
Yup, I tried to do my best. [END OF TRACK 3, 31:03]