Those in the dairy industry will tell you that June is Dairy Month. But for dairy items collector Joe Pedro, every month is Dairy Month.
Joe, who operates a dairy at Visalia, Calif., has built an extensive collection of everything from milking machines to homogenizers, milk scales to cheese cutters. Housed in a two-story building at his home, the collection takes all comers.
"I don't turn anybody down when they bring me stuff," he said, "or they won't bring it anymore."
Joe's collection is the natural result of a life spent in the dairy industry.
"My first milking machine was a DeLaval," he said. "My dad bought a dairy in '46, and that's what we had. I've been accumulating this stuff since then, but I never had any time to put it together or do anything with it until about 12 years ago."
And time, of course, is what a collection of this caliber consumes in vast gulps. When it comes to restoring the vintage milking machines, for instance, Joe is a master craftsman.
"One of those lids takes two weeks to do," he said. In theory, his approach to restoration is fairly simple.
"I just tear it all apart and clean everything," he said.
But there is a secret ingredient: "It takes a lot of elbow grease," he said.
He buffs with extremely fine sandpaper until the piece gleams. Then he sprays the piece with Varithene, a clear plastic sealer used on decks and boats.
"That seals it so I don't have to polish it again," he said. "On the real light brass items, it will darken it a little bit."
The rubber hosing on his milking machines hasn't needed any restoration work, and is in good condition, he said. He tries to keep it that way: When he's not showing his collection, the rubber hoses are kept coiled in the bucket.
"Somebody told me it'll keep better if it's kept in the dark," he said.
Dairy items are hard to come by, Joe said, especially in California.
"In milking machines, DeLaval and Surge, those are easier to find," he said. "But for all the rest, you just about have to go out of state. You have to get to Wisconsin and back around that area."
Many of the pieces in Joe's collection are "imports."
"I haven't left the state for any of it," he said. "I've bought all my stuff from my friends and other collectors who brought it to California."
Two of the oldest pieces in his collection are a BLK (Burrell, Lawrence and Kennedy) milker, possibly from Canada, and a Calf Way milker. The BLK goes back to before the turn of the century; the Calf Way to just after. But DeLaval pieces remain his favorite.
"I just like them best," he said. "That's what we used when we started."
Joe said he's been told there were as many as 70 different milking machines. With a collection of more than three dozen, he said, he has a ways to go.
"I haven't even got an edge on the market yet," he said.
His collection got its start with gas engines. But it didn't take long for dairy items to tip the balance.
"First it was the engines," Joe said. "Then it was milk bottles, then a few cream separators, and bottle fillers, then cheese cutters, milk scales, milk stools, dairy signs – I must have 140 dairy signs ... And I have an Empire thermometer, and a Babcock tester – I'll go for anything Babcock."
His stake in the collection continues to rise.
"Prices are still going up," he said. "Milking machines used to be in the $35 range. But lately they've been around $150 to $200."
The investment, though, is secondary to Joe.
"I'm not into it for the money," he said with a smile. "This is my therapy." FC
For more information: Joe Pedro, 26496 Rd. 108, Visalia, Calif., 93277; phone (559) 686-0337.