Dairy Farm Equipment: Milking It for all It's Worth

Minnesota family builds comprehensive collection of dairy farm equipment.


| June 2005



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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 one."

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."