Sharon’s Milkman

Americana, Food, Traditions
on December 31, 2000

It’s only a few minutespast 6 a.m. and Brad Simmons, a milkman for Crescent Ridge Dairy in Sharon, Mass., has been awake for almost three hours and on the road for half that time. Waking up at 3:30 a.m., Simmons slept half an hour later than usual and had to skip breakfast to get to work on time on a drizzly and unseasonably cool morning.

Until his 8 a.m. coffee break, Simmons will be delivering half-gallon bottles of milk and juice, sometimes six at a time, to homes in the Boston neighborhoods of West Roxbury and Hyde Park and the neighboring town of Dedhamon an empty stomach. Given that each half-gallon of milk, plus the glass containing it, weighs about eight pounds, and that he makes most of his deliveries on a dead run, skipping breakfast is a mistake Simmons can’t afford to make very often.

“I don’t know how some drivers can go without breakfast,” he says. “I can’t.”

Sometimes, after lugging a rack full of half-gallon milk bottles down a long driveway, Simmons thinks to himself, “Whatever happened to good old paper cartons?” But he admits that if Crescent Ridge were to make the switch to cardboard cartons, he’d lose half his customers.

“Glass bottles are the reason we’re still in business after 60 years,” he says. “That’s what keeps the company holding on.”

Since 1932, Crescent Ridge milkmen have been delivering milk in bottles to families in eastern Massachusetts. Today, the dairy delivers to 9,000 homes in Metro-Boston and, aside from the cellphone on the front dashboard and the website address (www.crescentridge.com) painted on the side of the truck, the milk run hasn’t changed much. Simmons walks up to the house like an invited guest, delivers the milk, and retrieves the empties. At some homes, he lets himself in with a key lent to him by the customer and puts the milk right in the refrigerator.

“Whatever it takes to keep the customer,” he says. To a casual observer, it seems like a re-enactment of daily life in a bygone era of small-town America, but to Jim Carroll, vice president of Crescent Ridge, it’s just part of the business.

“We’re saving them a trip to the store,” Carroll says.

The glass bottles that have been the dairy’s trademark for 30 years may evoke nostalgic memories from customers and elicit praise from pro-recycling environmentalists, but Crescent Ridge sticks with bottles because they’re the perfect container, says Carroll. Milk inside bottles doesn’t pick up odors or taste as it sometimes does with cardboard or plastic. And because of its mass, glass helps the milk stay cooler than plastic or cardboard. Still, a gallon of milk in glass isn’t the lightest thing in the world for Simmons to carry up steep, winding stairways leading from the street into people’s homes.

“At some homes it feels like you’re carrying the Olympic Torch,” he says.

Simmons pulls the truck in front of a house in East Dedham and carries two gallons of milk to the front step. He puts it in an insulated metal box where he retrieves a note asking him also to leave the items included in an advertised speciala half-gallon of ice cream, some whipped cream, and a bottle of chocolate syrup. On his second trip with the special, three children look out the screen door waiting for the delivery. One of them, a boy of about 10, opens the door to take the ice cream, while his younger brother and his sister take the whipped cream and chocolate. Simmons warns the children to be careful and returns to the truck, happy to see so many youngsters in a home, because kids, especially boys, augur well for his business. Lots of kids mean lots of deliveries.

“That’s what you like to see,” he says. “Lots of kids.”