Remembering the Milk Trains

From Cow to Consumer
Reprinted from the October 1947 Boston & Maine Railroad Magazine
in the collection of A. E. Moquin

The Boston and Maine handles two-thirds of all the milk and cream brought into the Boston market for local consumption and for distribution to many parts of New England.  That means, in round numbers, about 200 million quarts a year. If you like your statistics more realistically that's enough quart bottles, if placed side by side in a single line, to extend over 11,000 miles or almost halfway around the world.

Production of milk has reached a high level of industrial development in comparatively recent years, spurred on constantly by a growing demand for milk products. This demand reached an all-time peak during World War 2 when millions of men in military service learned, for the first time, to enjoy the taste of milk. As a result the country now seems headed for higher peacetime production of milk than ever before.

In this progress the Boston and Maine has kept pace by cooperating with milk companies in the development of new types of cars and new methods of handling milk enroute from the farms to city processing plants. Today milk handled by rail for the larger milk companies is completely protected from contamination and is rarely even exposed to the air from the time it leaves the farms until it is poured from a bottle by the consumer.

Only a few years ago milk was loaded into railroad cars in 10-gallon cans, covered over with a heavy blanket of ice, and dispatched to the city milk distributors, where the cans were emptied and sent back to the farmers.

Today the major companies use railroad cars that are literally huge vacuum bottles on wheels. Each car contains two insulated tanks, one in either end of the car, each having a capacity of 3,000 to 4,000 gallons, and either made entirely of stainless steel or of stainless steel with an interior lining of glass. These tanks, without use of ice, will maintain the milk's temperature within a degree or two of the point (usually 36 to 38 degrees) at which it is shipped from the farm area, all the way to the processing plants, probably hundreds of miles away.

The large companies maintain small collecting stations at various rail points in the farm areas and to these the farmers' milk is trucked. Generally these stations do nothing but receive and cool the milk until it is shipped, but some of them also process milk into powdered skim or whole milk, evaporated and condensed milk, casein and ice cream mix.

Milk received at a collecting station is dumped from the cans directly into a "weigh-scale" tank, at which point the milk is weighed and tested for butter-fat content to establish the basis for payment to the farmer. The milk is piped directly from this tank to cooling tanks, which maintain the milk at a temperature somewhat under 40 degrees until it is piped into the railroad milk cars. These cars outwardly resemble ordinary baggage cars.

An outstanding example of modernized, sanitary handling of dairy products is the main plant of H. P. Hood & Sons Co., on Rutherford Avenue, Charlestown, largest receivers and processors of milk and cream in New England.  At every phase of the rapid but complicated process of blending and pasteurizing milk the milk is encased in glass or stainless steel to protect it from human contact or exposure to air.

The first step in unloading a car of milk at this plant is to connect a power line to the car's tanks and set in operation propeller-like agitators which thoroughly mix the cream and milk.  The milk is then tested twice, first to determine bacteria count, second, to determine butterfat content.

While the agitators continue operating, the milk is pumped directly to cooling tanks in the processing plant by electric pumps. The pipes from the cars to the plant, and many of those within the plant, are entirely of glass except for stainless steel fittings. The milk then is either blended or enriched with vitamins to obtain the particular grades featured, after which it is pasteurized to assure complete freedom from bacteria. After cooling it is ready for bottling.

Modern plants package milk with automatic bottling machines which work in conjunction with an elaborate bottle washing machine. The latter machine washes, rinses, sterilizes and cools bottles at the rate of about 130 a minute, after which they are carefully inspected before moving along a short conveyor belt to the bottling machines. These ingenious devices are equipped with a series of feeder pipes which fill the bottles with milk at the rate of 90 to 120 a minute. The instant each bottle is filled the machine presses securely on its top a paper cap to insure continued protection from exposure and then the bottles move along a conveyor to be loaded into cases.

Hundreds of dairy farmers in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and New York State supply the milk which daily is brought over Boston and Maine lines to Boston and other important distributing centers. From 35 to 45 tank cars come into Boston, plus four or five for Lynn, supply point for the populous North Shore area, one or two for Lawrence, and additional cars for plants at Worcester and Springfield and to be forwarded to plants in southern New England cities.

In Boston the Hood plant on Rutherford Avenue receives the greater part of our car-load milk, while other big receivers locally are Whiting Milk Company, United Farmers of New England, and White Brothers. Through our own milk station at Mystic Junction we handle, tank carloads for another big dealer, Herlihy Bros., Inc. We handle car-loads of milk and cream in cans for such important dealers as National Creamery Co., General Ice Cream Corp., Milton Cooperative Dairy Corp., Somerville Cream Co., and New England Milk Producers Association, also carloads of bottled milk shipped from Bellows Falls direct to the great First National Stores chain. Less than carload shipments of milk, cream and canned milk also are handled at our milk station for other processors and distributors.

The great bulk of cream used in New England comes over Boston and Maine lines from the mid-west, from Wisconsin and Michigan, in the north, as far south as Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina. This is received in 10-gallon cans blanketed under ice, with approximately 250 to 300 cans in each car.

Among major milk dealers the processing of evaporated and condensed milks, powdered milks, ice cream mix, and casein, has become an increasingly important part of their operations, especially the production of ice cream. Ice cream enjoyed a new burst of popularity as a food during wartime and today the demand is far greater than ever known before in peacetime.

The steady growth of the milk industry is a source of pride to the Boston and Maine, which has played an important role in its development from the outset. Today it is a tremendous asset to New England, giving a livelihood to hundreds of dairy farmers by providing a vast market for their products. It gives widespread employment to thousands of men and women necessary to process and deliver its varied products. It brings to millions of city dwellers, fresh each day, food products that are essential to well being, a service which adds immeasurably to New England's reputation as a healthy region in which to live or vacation.

Click here for
"The Modern Technique of Handling Milk"
An illustrated page from the same article.

Copyright 1998-2001 Remembering the Rutland
Welcome  History  Rosters  Modeling  RRHS  Save the Rutland  Photo Gallery  Milk Trains
Latest Revision Date: 03/12/01