John Wangen, Hauling Westby Creamery Milk for 50 Years!
Oct 09, 2019 (Westby, WI)
Westby Cooperative Creamery is – at its core – a group of 200 small dairy farms. But from that core stems a legion of employees, fans, and business partners. Westby Cooperative Creamery is a community of all the above. Part of this community includes the people who haul milk from the farm to the plant. John Wangen has done this for Westby for 50 years.
Milk haulers like Wangen are a critical cog in the dairy wheel and often represent the most frequent visitor a farmer sees. They are more than just drivers. These operators must be detailed in their documentation and sampling of milk. They are key to ensuring a safe pipe
line of milk to production facilities and ultimately consumers. They also represent the only person who touches the milk between cow and plant when they pull samples from the bulk tank.
Upon arriving at the farm, the milk hauler parks the truck near the milk house. The milk is agitated in its bulk tank for a few minutes, after which time the hauler collect samples, connects transfer hoses and pumps milk out to the rig. Finally, it’s the hauler that washes down the floors of the milk house.
Wangen’s interest in transporting milk started while helping his dad. “I was a senior in high school and my dad had a part-time job hauling for a guy in the mornings. My first hour of school was a study hall, so we’d haul a load of milk and then I’d go to school. A hauled a bit that summer and then come fall this one guy wanted to sell out, so we thought we’d buy it, run it through the next summer and sell again. But we never did sell. We just took more,” Wangen said.
The first truck Wangen drove was a 1967 Chevy, 6 cylinder, 84-can bottom. With 84 cans on the bottom, he could stack 56 more on the second deck for a total of 1,400 gallons of milk. His rig today hauls 5,800 gallons.
In the early years, the farms Wangen picked up from had 20 to 40 cows, and he could visit up to 20 per day. Today Wangen picks up from just 16 farms and it can take up to an hour to get to in between locations. This route is split over multiple days.
There may be less stops, but milk hauling remains a seven-day workweek – just like farming. Over the course of 50 years, you better believe Wangen has seen every form of inclement weather possible. Experience has taught him “use your head and not your foot.” He’s also learned when to quit. “Most farms have room for an extra day in their bulk tank. I used to get awful nervous about calling,” Wangen admitted, but now he knows when road conditions are too dangerous. That said, good milk haulers only call it off when absolutely necessary, which Wangen said he emphasizes with newbies.
His colleagues on the farm are grateful for and note Wangen’s care for their operation. Grant Rudrud is a Westby farmer who’s been in the barn as long as Wangen’s been behind the wheel. He said he appreciates that Wangen pays attention to detail and lets the farmers know if something is off.
“If I’m not home when he stops, John will call me from his cell phone to say I better check the tank, or whatever is wrong. That doesn’t happen a lot these days. It’s appreciated,” Rudrud said.
Wangen says he does it because it’s better to nip a problem when its small before it gets big. The two joke about how they’ve solved a lot of problems in the milk house, including the orientation of Rudrud’s new shed.
“John said I needed to angle it to allow for big equipment to easily get
in and out,” Rudrud said. Sure enough, the new shed is positioned at an angle that allows ample room for large farm implements.
The two are a hoot to be around and have an agreement to keep working. Rudrud will keep milking so long as Wangen keeps hauling.
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