By Troy Bishopp
Oriskany Falls, NY—Pause for a moment today and remember the first time you encountered your soulmate. Was it at a church function, the grocery store, a party, or some other random meeting place? One of the more unique places has to be how Fred and Joyce Williams connected over fresh, frothy cans of milk at the ole, iconic Hinman Farm Products Plant in Deansboro, N.Y. To say milk brought love may be the next great marketing campaign.
Back before bulk tanks and tractor-trailers, Joyce and her sister, Judy, would bring in a half a dozen milk cans for their dad, Harold (“Kirky”) Kirk on the bed of the pickup and wait in line at the milk station to offload onto the outside conveyor rack. Young Mr. Williams just so happened to be the “can dumper” and was quite smitten every time Joyce would show up. One could only imagine what his opening milk pickup line might have been. Suffice it to say, the “really cute” farm girl gave Fred, known locally as the “Cookie Monster”, a chance and they have been married for 47 years.
Where is all this romanticism going you may ask? If you live in Central New York, you’ll know Fred and Joyce as the daily, dairy farm milk pickup specialists for Richard Obreza Trucking in Mohawk, N.Y. and Queensboro Farm Products in Canastota, N.Y
It’s a tale honoring two unsung heroes of the dairy industry for whom we count on to get our milk to the processor, so we can enjoy our favorite touchdown taco dip. The Postman’s creed of “Neither rain nor snow, nor sleet nor dark of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”, has nothing on these young people hauling 80,000 pounds of sloshing milk and navigating hills, weather events, distracted drivers and the occasional grumpy dog.
This life-long passion for the dairy business started in 1962 when Fred took a job with the then, Grove and Claude Hinman, who took in milk from surrounding farms and processed it at their plant in Deansboro, N.Y. (www.marshallhistsoc.org/milkplant) and shipped to the New York City market. Under the direction of Plant Manager, Don Risley, Fred and five employees received 3500 cans per day. Fred’s nose was the first quality control measure. “I smelt every can that was opened, said Williams. I could tell if there were cooling problems, mastitis or some other abnormality in the milk.” It’s been said, Fred’s nose “knows”, even today.
In 1971, the federal government phased out the milk-can transport system in favor of bulk tanks at the farm and everyone in the community had to make the tough decision to go bulk, including the milk plant. With Claude’s daughters, Dorothy and Phyllis and Fred’s Dad, Charlie Williams, Fred started driving an International ten wheeler and doing farm pickups for the company and hauling it back to their storage silos. “In those early years we had 32 farms and 32 stops. Nowadays we only have 4 to 9 farm stops as one big farm ate up a lot of smaller farms to fill a tractor trailer,” said Williams.
The William’s started a family, (Dean and Lori) in the seventies, with Joyce enjoying her career as a “domestic engineer”. That was until Fred sprained his ankle one day and she became his partner in doing paperwork, managing milk routes and helping on the truck. As Hinman Farm Products closed its business in April of 1983 after serving the area farmers for 50 years, Joyce’s participation became an integral part of the team as they transitioned to driving for C&D Vanhorn Trucking and delivering milk to Queensboro Farm Products in Canastota, NY and doing transport runs to New Jersey and Vermont Plants.
It was during this time she got her milk receivership license and rode “shotgun” with her husband daily collecting milk weights, milk sampling and loading the truck while also being able to test milk at home for farm customers and keeping the household running smoothly. “It was really his love affair and I was the grunt”, quipped Joyce.
This ride along adventure in a big rig between school hours hasn’t been all roses. “I distinctly remember the winter storm in 71’ when Dean Edwards pulled us up the hill on Champion Road with a bulldozer to get to the farm. The snow was so high it hit the truck mirrors, said Joyce. We were pumping milk on a hot summer morning at Darrell Masker’s farm in Madison, NY when a micro-burst took the barn roof and buried our truck in shingles so bad we needed a plow to get out! At times we really needed our heads examined for the kinds of adversity we’ve been through.”
In 1996 they joined the Obreza Trucking team and have been with them ever since. Fred says he’s part of the “70 Club” (4 drivers over 70 year’s young still hauling milk). “The milk trucking business needs the next generation of drivers to take the helm, said Williams. Farm pickup and hauling is not quite as good as freight hauling, who get paid by the loaded mile, but your home every night and there are other personal attributes that make it rewarding.”
“After 54 years in the milk receiving business, I still love my job and the relationships we have with farmers. It’s like being with family, said Fred. In the warmer months, Dee Dee Brady, from Brady Farms in Clinton, N.Y. brings us warm cookies or brownies every pickup. How could you not love these families? That’s the type of folks we get to work with every day. Farmers are the salt of the earth.”
“We have serviced the community so long we are now seeing the 3rd and 4th generations involved with the farms. It’s exciting to be a part of their lives and watch them grow,” as Joyce feeds the barn cats a treat or gives the younger children Christmas gifts on their daily route.
This daily routine and tradition of supporting the dairy industry is like clockwork for the stalwart men and women behind the wheel delivering nutrition to today’s families. If you happen to see Fred and Joyce in their big red truck stopped for coffee at the Deansboro Superette, Nassimo’s Co-op Gas or the A&W Convenience Store in Madison, give them a hearty thank-you for their dedication to local agriculture. If you want to make Joyce smile, buy her favorite peanut M&Ms candy which will prompt her to comment that—–she really does work for peanuts.
Published for Lee Publications