Daily Driver: Divco Milk Truck

Divco was the standard for decades in daily residential milk deliveries.

| May 2018

  • The truck’s nameplate still shines even after being exposed to the weather for so long.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The Divco certainly wasn’t pretty when we got it hauled home, but it looked a lot better than it did surrounded by junk cars.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The “stand up and drive” cab shows the long, curved clutch lever on the left. The short lever sticking out to the right shifts the four gears of the transmission; the knob is used to control engine speed.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • The little 38 hp 4-cylinder Continental engine fits snugly in the truck’s curved nose. It runs well and is good to power the truck to a top speed of 35 mph.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • After headlights were installed (so it didn’t look blind), the truck looks pretty good, even though some white paint remains.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • Apparently, all Divcos left the factory in primer with finish coats applied by the buyer. The flaking white paint on this truck was removed with my commercial steam cleaner, revealing good-as-new sheet metal almost everywhere.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard
  • This handsomely restored Divco truck (not the author’s) represents the face of milk delivery in the U.S. through the first half of the 20th century.
    Image courtesy Clell G. Ballard
  • The unwanted old milk truck spent half a century in a wrecking yard. Amazingly, all windows were intact other than the windshield, which had one rock hole.
    Photo by Clell G. Ballard

The 1930 census revealed, for the first time, that more than one-half of Americans lived in metropolitan areas. Up until that time, the U.S. was a nation of rural dwellers most living on farms. Subsistence farming was the rule from the founding of our country.

Slowly but surely, farmers were able to generate cash income from the crops they produced. By the early 20th century, marketing what they produced had become important. The growing cities needed farm products, so distribution methods were developed.

Since many things farms produce are perishable, prompt delivery was essential. Refrigeration as we know it today did not come about until after World War II in the 1940s. Even then, it was limited to large establishments. The home icebox was a stopgap method of extending food life span. It wasn’t until home refrigerators came into common use that perishable items could be safely stored for a short time until they were needed. 

The one commodity that was essential for almost every household was milk. A recently published article indicates it remains the number one item found in grocery carts today. Few food products consumed on a daily basis have as short a shelf life as milk. Back when the average home lacked any method to keep milk fresh and useful, the dairy industry developed daily delivery for its many customers.

Commercial dairies were established near every city. Even smaller cities and some good-sized towns had local dairies. The milk produced in those dairies was delivered daily to individual homes. The milkman – an American icon of sorts – delivered fresh milk along a route every morning before most people got up for the day. As time went by, other dairy products were also home-delivered.   

The grind of daily residential delivery

Looking back with the hindsight of almost a century, that period of time is often romanticized. What is often overlooked is the job of physically carrying milk products to the doors of hundreds of homes each morning 365 days a year.


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