Bill Greene/Globe Staff Photo
For those who are old enough to remember, the local milkman with his clattering glass bottles were once part of the American landscape. But home delivery of milk began to disappear in the 1950s, as it became more convenient and cheaper to get fresh milk and butter from the supermarket and easier to keep perishables refrigerated. In some parts of greater Boston, though, the milkman still cometh, as the old saying goes.
Milkman Dave Hughes of Crescent Ridge Diary in Sharon likes being a figure representing a bygone era, still hand-delivering milk in glass bottles, placing them in traditional silver milk boxes on the front porch or even walking into the house and putting the bottles into the refrigerator.
“The milkman was a trusted neighborhood character, arriving early in the morning, assessing how much milk or butter was needed, then leaving the house without waking up the family,” said Hughes.
Today many ask Hughes to still do the same thing, leaving handwritten notes or sending emails, asking him to put the milk in their garage, basement, or kitchen, and to lock the door on the way out.
Hughes rises at 2:30 a.m. to begin his route before sunrise, delivering almost 800 bottles of milk and juice a day to various routes that circle from Walpole, Weston, Waltham, and Natick, and beyond. Customers pay $4 a week for fresh milk from a family farm in Vermont, so called “small batch milk” that is free of artificial hormones. And of course, it is in old-fashioned glass bottles, not plastic, that are better for the environment, and according to Hughes, also make the milk taste better.
“It’s been so long since I’ve drank milk out of plastic jug,” said Hughes. He runs his own personal quality taste control by sampling the chocolate milk, drinking a half a quart a day while driving the route. “That’s how I get my calcium.”
Q: Who is your typical customer and why do they get their milk delivered?
A: We have everyone from blue color workers and the crunchy granola organic types, to executives. People tell me our milk is better quality and not over-pasteurized. Some are elderly and have limited mobility; they depend on us to bring us milk, cream and eggs. I develop relationships and learn about my customer’s lives. Many have incredible stories to tell.
Q: What do you like and not like about your job?
A: I have a lot of freedom enjoy being my own boss when I’m on the road. But it can be tough delivering in extreme heat, cold, snow, rain, and ice. This past winter, my truck was stuck in a snowbank for the first time in my 12 years on the job. But I still made all my deliveries on time.
Q: Are the glass bottles hard to break?
A: You’ll hear me say some very quaint and colorful language when I break a full bottle in the truck. Just because of the sheer volume of bottles I handle, I break one or two bottles a week. In the winter, when the temperature is 10 below and a bottle breaks in the back of the truck, the milk hits the cold steel floor of the truck and coagulates instantly, looking like cottage cheese.
Q: Did you have milk delivered when you were growing up?
A: My family did have a milkman, and he worked for Hood. I bumped into him 15 years later, after we stopped getting delivery, and even though I had grown considerably, he still remembered my name, as well as the names of the rest of my family, even after all that time.
Q: How do you manage to wake up at 2:30 in the morning?
A: Thank goodness I’m an early riser by nature. It took me about a year to get used to getting up that early, but now it’s just part of my routine. If we’re expecting a storm, sometimes I’ll even get up earlier, at midnight or 1 a.m., so I can beat the weather and get the deliveries completed. It’s very peaceful in the early morning.