Collecting Antique Cream Separators

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DeLaval cream separator collectibles.
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An antique DeLaval separator parts cabinet and collector Shirley Womer.

One way or another, it started with DeLaval.

At least partly, it’s because Terry and Shirley Womer use DeLaval milking equipment. And partly it’s because DeLaval has been around since the 1800s and was the first manufacturer of cream separators.

“There’s a lot of advertising out there,” says Shirley Womer, as her eyes sweep across some of the extensive collection of antique dairy equipment and DeLaval advertising memorabilia in her farm home near Paxtonville, Pa.

“We got into farm signs, anything to do with DeLaval, and it just escalated … veterinary things, collectibles. We call ourselves pack rats.”

A cream separator did exactly what the name implies – separated the cream from the rest of the milk. The cream was sold for a variety of purposes, including table use, sauces and dressings, baking, whipped cream, and ice cream, as well as churning butter.

The machines fell out of vogue when farmers started getting refrigeration.

Cream separators came in different sizes, but basically in two varieties: the gravity-flow machines, and those that worked by centrifugal force.

The gravity-flow models simply sat there while the cream (which is less dense than the rest of the milk) rose to the top. The skim milk was drawn off the bottom through a spigot. They didn’t take a lot of work, but they were time consuming.

With the other models, the milk was poured into a metal bowl. When the machine was cranked, the milk was forced through a series of discs by centrifugal force. The cream came out one spout, while the skim milk came out the other.

“It took 60 rpm to get it separated. That’s a lot of cranking,” Shirley says. “Each one of those little discs has different holes. My grandmother said when you washed it, it had to be put back together in a specific order.”

The Womers have about a dozen separators. Their passion for dairy memorabilia grew when they heard about a museum in Union County, Pa., that was being liquidated in an eight-day auction.

“The first day, I came home with a load,” Shirley says, “and it wasn’t a lot of money.”

It was at the auction that the couple learned about the National Dairy & Cream Separator Club, which numbers about 300 members nationwide. The Womers are the only Dairy & Cream Separator Club members in their area, but they took on the job of hosting the national convention this year anyway. Such events feed their interest in collecting.

Their collection now includes a piece of paper with DeLaval advertising and an abrasive section inscribed “match scraper.” It is also, as far as the Womers know, the only one in existence. It is kept in a safe.

But they have plenty of memorabilia out to enjoy: tin cows that were DeLaval advertising premiums for children (circa 1910), a separator parts cabinet, a host of signs, antique farm toys and newer collectible series, hay forks and items such as a large map case in which they store antique “paper,” and part of a stitching bench once used to work on saddles.

Their restored “summer kitchen” contains a variety of items, including a cookstove that Shirley has used to prepare Christmas dinner for six or seven years now – and a cream separator.

Terry, Shirley, and their 18 year-old son, Scott, all also collect John Deere 2-cylinder tractors, and Scott has his own special collection: “His big thing is corn shellers,” Shirley says. “Not the little hand-crank ones; he has 15 to 20 of the big ones.” FC

Mary Margaret Pecht is a reporter for the Lewistown (Pa.) Sentinel, where this article first appeared. Jason Minick is a staff photographer for the Sentinel.

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