From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Cream Separator

A big advance in farm technology

The Cream Separator. — Another great change which has come into Nebraska farming, in the past twenty years, has been brought about largely by the cream separator, by which the milk fresh from the cows is separated into cream and skimmed milk, the cream going to butter factories, while the milk is fed upon the farm. Dairy farming, which was almost unknown in the early years of Nebraska settlement, is thus becoming one of the chief industries of Nebraska farming.

Source: History and Stories of Nebraska: With Maps and Illustrations by Addison Erwin Sheldon. Published by University Pub. Co., 1915

Many older people who grew up in the country remember the cream separator. At our house, it sat on a table in the corner of the back porch. I vaguely remember an old black separator, and I have a clearer memory of a later, smaller separator with an electric motor.

At the top of the separator was a big metal bowl that had a gridwork of holes in the bottom of it. A round, paper filter was fastened over the grid to strain out foreign matter as the milk drained. Then the filtered milk went into a centrifuge that spun the cream (butter fat) to the center and the "skimmed" milk to the outside. The two liquids were then dispensed through separate spouts.

Every time the separator was used, it had to be taken apart and washed. At our house, that was always once a day, and often twice a day. The milk from the morning milking was nearly always separated, and the whirr of the separator's motor woke me, many mornings. The milk from the evening milking might be strained and left whole, or it might be separated.

The separator had about a dozen stainless steel parts.I particularly hated washing the disks, a set of nested cones. I suppose there were 12 or 15 of them. Each disk had a little hole in its side, and a giant safety pin was slid through the holes to keep the stack of disks in order while washing.

We usually had just one or two milk cows, so my mother had a small cream can that held just a couple of gallons. We took the cream to the Rose Store to sell. When the Rose Store got out of the cream business, my mother did, too. She wasn't making enough profit to mess with taking the cream to Bassett, roughly 35 miles away.

Until I read the quote at the top of this post, I'd never thought of the cream separator as a high-tech machine. The cream separator was not considered a great marvel at our house. It was just an appliance. But, like many of the great technologies we enjoy today, I can imagine that it seemed miraculous when it was first invented.

4 comments:

ptg said...

They make nice flower planters. I see one now and then out in someone's front yard.

Genevieve said...

I guess the separator bowls could be used as planters, as well as the cream cans. My mom always used her separator bowl for picking and washing green beans. When I came across a separator bowl at an estate sale years ago, I bought it for that purpose - picking and hosing off garden produce.

Anonymous said...

How well do I remember the crank separtors my dad would get it up to the right speed and then I had to keep it there until we were all done.
Mom would wash the disks and put them on a wire to dry did not dare leave anything on them as that was not good.
Happy Birthday late
sc

Genevieve said...

I think the disks were numbered so if you unfortunately mixed them up, they could be sorted out again. Thanks for the birthday wishes. :)

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.