The loss of a way of life

Ed Rood

Seeing flames spew from a town’s landmark is not a pleasant memory even though it’s a picture that was engrained in my brain nearly 50 years ago. That’s how I remember the Slater’s Farmers Cooperative Creamery.

Thinking back I still recall the fire alarm as it broke my train of thought on the evening of July 12, 1972. I was in the process of setting type on a Linotype in the Slater News building. Having joined the volunteer fire department less than a month before, I was more than a little apprehensive as I ran across Main Street to the fire station.  It would be my first real fire.

Arriving at the creamery, I felt a bit of relief. The main building had but a wisp of smoke rolling from an opening covered by plywood. Suddenly, the plywood collapsed and a wall of fire came belching out. 

Fire Chief Vern Hanson soon called for mutual aide from Huxley and Madrid fire departments. Hours of strenuous labor and countless gallons of water eventually extinguished the flames, at least for a few hours. 

Later I returned to the scene. As I walked around the outside perimeter of the building I realized how much had been lost. The charred rubble stood as a monument to the end of an era.

The creamery was no longer a part of Slater. A sad thought indeed after all the years that it had been the most important business in town.

Everyone knew that the creamery’s production, as far as butter, cheese and eggs were concerned, ended a year or so earlier but the creamery just didn’t seem “dead” to me until that moment.

The creamery had been a busy place when I was growing up. Many were the times I visited it with my friends. I remember getting sprayed with hot water when we would try to sneak into the part of the building where the butter churns were in operation.

Our gang would play in an area of trees across the railroad tracks from the creamery we called the “Hobo Jungle.” Occasionally, we would slip into the main building and sample some dried buttermilk from the machine Truman Brown operated that rolled it out in thin sheets.

The creamery also housed a coin-operated milk machine and, for an investment of six cents, a fellow could get either a bottle of chocolate milk or an orange drink. (Inflation had recently driven the price from five to six cents.)

Now the creamery was gone. Its demise signaled more than just the loss of a building, it was the loss of important part of an age. An age when a community could supply nearly every its citizens needed for everyday comfort.  

I felt a tinge of remorse as I thought of Slater without smoke arising from the big smokestack and the steady car and truck traffic headed to the west side of town. 

It was also hard to think the annual creamery meetings would be no more. They always promised a great meal, some interesting facts and figures plus a free gift just for attending. 

Ed Rood is the former publisher of the Tri-County Times.