Westby Creamery News

Milk Hauler Celebrates 56 Years With Westby Creamery

Milk Hauler Celebrates 56 Years With Westby Creamery
John Wangen, pictured at center, celebrated his amazing 56-year career hauling milk for Westby Creamery during the Co-op's Annual Meeting in early April. He is pictured with his long-time friend and Westby farmer Grant Rudrud and wife Vickie.
Apr 11, 2024 (Westby, WI)

Westby Cooperative Creamery is – at its core – a group of 100 small dairy farms. But from that core stems a legion of employees, fans and business partners. Part of this community includes the milk haulers. John Wangen transported milk from farm to the plant for Westby for 56 years and was recognized for his remarkable tenure at the 120th Annual Cooperative Meeting on April 4.

Wangen said he believes the future of dairy farming is bright while accepting a plaque honoring his service. Family from as far away as Michigan attended the event to celebrate his accomplishment.

Milk haulers like Wangen are a critical cog in the dairy wheel and often represent the most frequent visitor a farm 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 pipeline of milk to production facilities. They also represent the only person who touches the milk between cow and plant when they pull samples from the bulk tank.

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. I 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. One of his last rigs hauled 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. Last year Wangen picked up from just 16 farms and it took up to an hour to get in between locations. The route was split over multiple days.

There may be less stops, but milk hauling remains a seven-day workweek – just like farming. Over the course of 56 years, you better believe Wangen saw every form of inclement weather possible. Experience 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 over time he learned when road conditions were too dangerous.

His colleagues on the farm are grateful for and noted Wangen’s care for their operation. Grant Rudrud – a recently retired Westby farmer who’s been in the barn as long as Wangen was behind the wheel – said he appreciates that Wangen paid attention to detail.

“If I wasn’t home when he stopped, John would call to say I better check the tank, or whatever is wrong. That doesn’t happen a lot these days. It was appreciated,” Rudrud said.

Now that Wangen’s retired, he’s spending time in his garage tinkering with old John Deere tractors. He also collects and restores cast iron toys from the 1920s and oil cans from the same period. His collection of the latter includes well over 400 pieces!

There’s also the odd jobs around his home, but not having to go to bed early to make it to work the next day is very nice, Wangen said.

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