The Pines Dairy

The Thompson’s Retrospective on WW II

By Scott C. Thompson, 1991

 

 

For Emery and Opal Thompson, the war to end all wars is just a blur.

"Things are so vague for me in a lot of that," said Opal. ‘We were just so busy during those years. In tact, I had even forgotten about the rationing until my mom died. I found a ration book among her stuff."

The Thompsons owned The Pines Dairy, a 785-acre farm in The Dalles, Oregon, and one of only a few Grade-A dairies in Oregon in the 1940s. But before the war was over, The Pines was finished. "We lost the dairy to the war," Opal said. It was very discouraging, especially since Emery had worked so hard to keep it going."

The first time they heard that the U.S. was entering the war against the Axis powers was the morning of December 7, 1941. Opal said they had just finished breakfast when the news came over the radio that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor. Throughout the war, they kept up with current events through newspapers and the radio, but they did not have much time to spend thinking about what was happening overseas. They were just too busy.

When The Pines was in operation, it sold raw and pasteurized milk, coffee cream, whipping cream, 4-percent and 5-percent milk. The Thompsons were milking 85 of 125 Brown Swiss-Holstein cross cattle twice a day, and were buying milk from three producers in Dufur, a small town south of The Dalles, and from five producers in Hood River, just west of The Dalles. In addition, they deliver to some 350-400 homes on the retail route, and to dozens of wholesale accounts.

War started, and the price of milk was frozen at 13.5 cents a quart by the Office of Price Administration in 1941. Unfortunately, the prices of cattle feed were not frozen. Alfalfa hay rose from $30 a ton before the war to $80 a ton. Grain concentrates, a mixture of several ground-up grains, went from $30 a ton to $120 a ton. The Pines was buying 250 tons of hay and 50 tons of grain a year, and any profits were being eaten up by the cattle.

Another problem was finding good help, which became more unavailable as the war ran on. The shipyards in Portland were offering laborers $5.23 for an 8-hour day compared to the paltry $40 a month and room and board The Pines could offer. In 1942, The Pines only had two paid milkers. To take up some slack, Opal started milking, and Emery ran the milkhouse, as well as continuing his deliveries and the business of running a dairy.

The folks that the shipyards did not take were all that Opal and Emery were left with, "and with the help that we could get, Emery had to get up at 2 am, to see if they wore sober enough to work." Opal said.

In desperation, they turned to newspaper advertisements. "We ran a full-page ad in The Dalles Chronicle,’ Opal said. "It said, HELP in big, bold letters, and had our address at the bottom.

She laughed when she described the older follow that showed up at the farm the day after the ad came out, He was wearing brand new overalls and a new shirt and he said his name was Amos. Opal said, 1 had the feeling that I would see him in the missing persons section of the paper some day. And one day I did. He had left his wile in Hermiston (Oregon, about 100 miles east of The Dalles) and took just enough money to buy new clothes and to travel," She told Emery about the newspaper story and he went and talked to Amos. He only stayed at The Pines for about a week after their talk.

Another character was a 16-year-old hired on as a bottle washer. When Emery went in to The Dalles to pick him up, the first thing the kid said was, "My dad blew himself up with a stick of dynamite on his chest." They were not sure how he would work out, but they needed the help. Opal said, the kid worked fine the first night, fell asleep two-thirds of the way through the second night, halfway through the third night and was asleep before his shift started on the fourth night. I had to keep waking him up. "One morning Emery sent someone over to the bunkhouse to rouse the kid for breakfast, but all that was there was a note on his pillow. It read, "Sorry Emery. Had to go. Couldn’t get along with your wife".

Over the next few months, the Thompsons ran through so many helpers that, today, names do lot stick with them.

An irony to the financial straits The Pines was facing is that one of the dairy’s biggest customers was the U. S. Army. The Pines had to supply all the troop trains that passed through the big rail yard in The Dalles with Grade-A pasteurized milk. Sometimes that could be a real hassle because troop trains were not on any schedule. Emery said they would typically call from a stop an hour away, any time of day or night, and expect milk. "We sold only glass half-pints; we didn’t have paper cartons," Emery said. Some nights, when the call would come in, Emery and Opal would have to go to the milk house and rebottle milk from quarts into half pints to fill the order.

But the job was not done when the bottling was. Emery still had to deliver the goods. One particularly memorable delivery was the time he reached the roundhouse in The Dalles and found out that the troop train was not in rail yard, but was about ten miles west, near Mosier. An engineer was waiting for him; engine all stoked up. Emery loaded his milk crates of half-pints, and himself, onto the cowcatcher and they sped off into the night to deliver the milk. That kind of service is hard to come by nowadays.

Rationing was not the great hardship for the Thompsons that it was for other folks in America. As a dairy, a necessary food-producing business, they were allowed more fuel and tires for the delivery trucks and more sugar and flour to feed the farm hands. And when things ran short Emery would barter, especially when he could do someone a favor that others could not. For instance, he was selling peaches and apricots to Rose City Pie Company in Portland, and on one trip he found out they needed another tractor to move fruit bins around. They could not get a tractor because of rationing, but Emery could as a farmer. He went and bought an International Cub tractor for Rose City Pie and traded it for sugar and corn syrup, which his cook desperately needed.

Because of the help shortage, summers became a real strain for the Thompsons. The fruit was ripening then and a typical day for Emery and Opal ran something like this: Get up for the 2 am milking, eat breakfast at the cookhouse (which Opal said they finally learned to do. She usually made breakfast for Emery and herself, but she did not have time any more), pick fruit from 8 until noon, from 2 pm to 6 they would do the second milking, then have dinner, do the night deliveries of milk on the retail route, do bookwork for the route, get to bed at 10, and get up at 2 am again.

During the summer, milk deliveries were done at night when it was cool. Both Opal and Emery would go out on the deliveries In the White StanDrive truck; she taking the right hand side of the street, he taking the left, She said, "Emery would always beat me back to the truck. Sometimes when I got there, he would be standing at the wheel asleep. I’d let him snooze for a couple of minutes, then nudge him and tell him he had some more deliveries to make." Emery said that the city was blacked out at night, so the headlamps on the delivery truck were covered with a sheet of black paper, with only a little slit cut to drive by.

All of the hard work was for naught. In an attempt to help, the City of The Dalles subsidized the dairy with a subsidy of 2-cents a quart, but that was not enough to save The Pines.

The Thompsons sold the milk route to Arden Farms in July of 1943. They continued to sell milk to Arden until November of that same year, when they sold the cattle at auction. Opal said, "People made a semi-circle just outside the barn entrance to get a better look at the cattle. But when we brought the big bull out, everyone scattered."

The Thompsons were not bitter about losing the dairy. They still had orchards of peaches, apricots and sweet cherries, and a large vineyard. They raised beef cattle and chickens for several years. They fed the livestock from three huge hay fields that they had.

In the early seventies, the Thompsons retired to a small corner of the property, and worked a large garden and orchard. They also traveled as much as they could.  

In 1978, their daughter Linda and her husband started raising sheep and cattle in Maple Valley, Washington.  Since they wanted to have a farm name, they asked the Thompsons if they could use their old farm name.  The answer was of course 'yes'.  Since then, the Farm has been producing top quality Romney sheep breeding stock, hand spinning fleeces and dyed and carded wool roving.

A few years ago, Emery and Opal passed away and the original farm property was sold.

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