Milking It for all It's Worth
Minnesota family builds comprehensive collection of dairy items
Top, opposite page: Warren, Dennis and Arlan Nickerson with a trio of milk-related items. From left: Warren is holding an official Babcock Tester, a centrifuge used to determine the butterfat content of cream. Dennis is shown with a single milking pail, and Arlan is holding an early glass “Clean-Easy” milking pail.Above: Dennis Nickerson’s International Harvester McCormick-Deering milking machine with vacuum pump attachment. There are a few milking machines Dennis would still like to find, especially the Mehring Power Milker. “That one you sit on and pump like a bicycle, but I think your chances of finding one of those aren’t very good,” he says, “because they were made of wood, and didn’t weather too good.”
Dennis Nickerson has never really milked cows,
nor especially liked the concept, so it's surprising to discover
that he collects milking machines and related accessories. "When my
brother-in-law hurt his back, I helped him, milking for a few
days," says the Menahga, Minn., man. "And I've worked on dairy
farms, but I avoided milking."
So how did he get interested in milking machines? Through his
interest in gasoline engines. In 1983, Dennis added a 1947
International Harvester LB engine to his collection. When he went
to the seller's farm to retrieve the engine, "we found it still
hooked to a vacuum pump."
The seller offered a variety of milking-related items: a vacuum
pump, two stainless steel IH buckets, a lye crock, vacuum gauge,
regulator and other fittings, and a manual. "That got me started in
the hobby," Dennis says, "and looking for engines and vacuum pumps
for milking machines. I thought it would be interesting to have old
milking machines and vacuum pumps that ran, so I kept on picking up
older ones." Eventually Dennis' sons, Warren and Arlan, took up the
hobby with him.
The next milking machine the trio acquired was a 1937 IH
McCormick-Deering with a 1-1/2 hp engine, one of
McCormick-Deering's first engines. Dennis bought it at an auction,
but without the vacuum pump. "We found the pump at a flea market
somewhere," he says.
Probably their most unusual milking machine is an Ideal. "We
have a catalog on milking machines, Milking Machine Guide
by Paul Dettloff DVM," Dennis says. "It says not much is known
about Ideal milking machines, which means there probably weren't
many made. It's just an oddball we picked up at a flea market in
southern Minnesota. If I remember right, we paid $50 for that
Their oldest milking machine is a Pine Tree Pulsator, made by
Babson Bros., Chicago. Dennis' favorite one is the one that started
it all, the 1947 IH LB milking machine. "I always liked IH
tractors, and we collect IH stuff," he says. "I guess you always
have an attachment to the first of anything that you get."
Their Rite-Way Swing milking machine, originally from Kansas,
was bought at a flea market. "It looks like a vacuum cleaner,"
Dennis says. "After we got to talking to the guy about it, he said
Kansas State University was a test site for the Rite-Way milking
machine." It was manufactured by the Rite-Way Product Co. in
Chicago, and was connected to the Massey-Harris Co. of Racine,
Wis., as well.
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