Early Butter Worker is a Local Treasure

Early butter worker at the Little Village Farm Museum helps show butter churn variations.

1870s Butter Maker

 This butter worker dates to the 1870s. 

Photo By Jim Lacey

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Strange happenings. My neighbor Shorty Elsinger and his son Wayne went to look at an auger on a sale not far away. Shorty called me and mentioned that there was “stuff” there he could not identify. This was the first sale held at this farm, and it was still in the hands of the family who homesteaded it in the 1860s! So I went, looking for things for our Little Village Farm Museum.

The idea behind the museum is not to make money (in fact, it loses money) but rather to try to gather forgotten items, with the goal of reaching younger folks who have no idea what it took for their ancestors to survive.

One of the items I purchased looked like a lost paddlewheel from a steamboat, complete with a patent date of 1873 stenciled on the side. This made sense to me, as folks had been in the area since before that time. Further visiting revealed that this was a butter worker. For those not familiar with churns, this tool made it easier to push the buttermilk from butter. Also, I would imagine that one could add salt and mix it in using the butter worker.

Operation is simple. Butter is placed in the unit and the paddle wheel presses out the buttermilk that then drains away through a small hole in a bottom corner, aided by a built-in tilt of the unit. Butter could be moved around to be pressed out several times, much easier than with a butter paddle. These units came, as noted in an ad we found, in varying sizes, depending on how many cows you were milking. Pretty basic, but then life was really simpler then.

My wife, Joan, has several butter churns of varying sizes in the museum, as well as a collection of butter paddles. Those will help show how this butter worker was helpful. So it goes. FC 

Jim and Joan Lacey operate Little Village Farm, a museum of farm collectibles housed in 10 buildings at their home near Dell Rapids, S.D. Contact them at (605) 428-5979.