Dairy Collectibles on Display

Dairy collectibles, horse-drawn equipment and more at Tulare, California, antique farm equipment show.

| August 2014

In the antique farm equipment hobby, dairy collectibles occupy a quiet backwater. Even in California’s dairy country, even when polished stainless, nickel and brass finishes shine like mirrors, old cream separators and milking machines garner little interest. And yet even these relics have their champions, collectors who work overtime to share their hobby and help people understand the history of dairying.

Joe Gomes, Hilmar, California, and Joe Pedro, Tulare, California, staged elaborate displays of dairy collectibles gathered over decades at this spring’s 22nd annual California Antique Farm Equipment Show in Tulare. Located in California’s Central Valley in the middle of farm country, the event is a useful reminder of the impact of technology on agriculture.

The dairy displays showed churns and separators, milk buckets and cans, stools and pails spanning a period from about 1880 to 1930. As in nearly every collectible niche, porcelain signs are popular; restored commercial vehicles rounded out the displays. With the possible exception of the delivery van and milk truck, none of these relics have the curb appeal of an antique tractor or stationary engine — but each speaks eloquently to the evolution of technology.

“I was born and raised on a dairy,” Joe Gomes says. “But my dad sold the cows when I was 12.” A graduate of the National School of Meat Cutting, Toledo, Ohio, Joe eventually became owner of Dairyland Market in Hilmar, and that’s where he launched his collection. “My mother-in-law gave me my introduction to the collection,” he says, “when she gave me my father-in-law’s two DeLaval milkers.” Creating his first display, Joe installed the milkers over the store’s produce case.

At one time, the dairy industry touched nearly every household in the valley. “Dairy was everything here,” Joe says. “I remember the days when you’d go to town at 7 or 8 in the morning and there’d be 100 pickups loaded with milk cans lined up at four creameries. Now there’s just one creamery left and no more milk cans.”

Today, “all of the good stuff” is in collections, Joe says, though great finds remain possible on online auction sites. Individual dairy collections are often large, but the number of collectors is shrinking. Joe’s had the opportunity to buy four collections to bolster his own, which includes 160 butter churns, more than 400 unique cream separators and milking machines made by 22 manufacturers.