1933 Clark Co., WI Milk Strike
Transcribed by Stan Schwarze
The lid is on.
With every highway leading into this city blocked by determined pickets of the milk strikers, Neillsville this week found itself virtually cut off from the outside world so far as farm products are concerned. A similar situation exists in other parts of the county and nearby counties, it is reported, while in some localities the blockade has not as yet got under way.
Milk plants in this city and elsewhere remained idle as the flow of milk was effectively cut off.
At a meeting at the W.R.C. hall Tuesday night, Charles Goldamer, Abbotsford, and president of the Holiday association, told the assembly of 500 farmers that “we are going to strike until doom’s day unless our rights are recognized and we receive cost of production plus a profit.” Mr. Goldamer advised the pickets to avoid violence, but to stop the movement of all farm produce into this city.
Other speakers were Fred Hrach, president of the Clark County Farmers’ Union, E. J. Laufenberg, Wood County, George Warnecke and Otto Ebeling.
Laufenberg spoke against a resolution which barred all food products completely, stating that milk should to hospitals and persons and children requiring it.
Warnecke declared a complete tie up is essential to insure the success of the strike, but pointed out the necessity for avoiding violence.
“We don’t want to get folks in town or the officers down on us,” he said. “We want to carry on this strike peaceably.”
Mr. Ebeling of the Ebeling and Schultz Produce Company south to obtain permission to buy eggs from the farmers for Neillsville consumption, only offering to handle the transaction on at no profit for himself. Later he submitted a plan to help finance the strike by giving the farmer half the egg money and the strike organization the other half. Ebeling told the assemblage that farmers should sell their eggs now, stating that because of the shortage due to molting at present, the price of eggs is higher than it will be when the hens begin laying again. The local egg price is now 22 cents and in Chicago 17 ½ cents. The crowd appeared to be in no mood to listen to the egg proposition, the interest being in the proposals for stopping the sale of farm products. By that means they hope to “get action” and as Laufenberg declared, “when a city man and his family begin to get hungry he is going to recognized the power of the farmer and join in assisting him to get recognition.”
The meeting concluded to abide by the strike program, which was expected to be issued today (Wednesday) by the milk pool. Details for handling questions arising during the tie up were expected to be covered in the milk pool instructions.
It was announced that a meeting of the Milk pool will be held at the courthouse Friday night at 8 p.m., at which the temporary organization in this county will be made permanent. Ferdinand Hrach is temporary president of the Clark County Milk pool and Gus Hagen temporary secretary.
Men on the picket lines have been orderly for the most part and are performing their work in a good natured manner. They have endured considerable hardship in braving the cold weather and snow storms, and present a unique picture in American history as they stand huddled about their camp fires day and night. Cars and trucks are stopped and examined. Like the men on the picket lines the motorists are good natured and offer no resistance in the majority of instances. Now and then drivers who resent the interference stop to argue and point out the illegality of stopping highway traffic, but the pickets have received their “orders” and have enacted their own laws in the matter of controlling traffic.
At each blockade point two groups of pickets, about two blocks apart, are stationed. As the motorist or truck driver approaches the first group he is flagged down and his vehicle examined for the presence of farm produce. If nothing is found he is permitted to proceed. If produce is found he is turned back. If the driver fails to stop at the signal of the first group the pickets wave to the second group down the road which throws spiked planks into the path of the car. The spikes have the desired effect and the search is then made at this point.
Although mile prices and production are low, a brief estimate will show that the farmers of Clark County are making a big sacrifice to carry on the strike. The payroll for milk at the Neillsville Condensery alone come close to $1,000 per day. This is perhaps one-tenth of the milk in the county, probably much less than one-tenth. This means $10,000 per day for the county, one week this will amount to $70,000; for a month $300,000.
Of course not all milk will be wasted. Some of it will be utilized on the farms, but until the farmers again get their old equipment going, this will be of minor value. Then, too, if made into butter except for home consumption, it can not be put on the market. Many of the strikers probably realized the present sacrifice but hope that a permanent rise in price will bring this back and more too. There is no question that an increase in price is needed. The problem is so great and so complicated that even those who have made a life-long and impartial study of it, cannot venture a guess as to what will be accomplished.
Little effort has been made to violate strike orders. One truck driver’s mile was dumped by the pickets at the east city limits Monday after he had been turned back by the pickets on Highway 73 south of the city and had sought to enter Neillsville by another route.
Tuesday Joe Hartung was with the milk pickets south of the city got the end of one finger on his left hand clipped off in helping Carl Spaete get his car out of the ditch. Mr. Hartung came to town and got the finger dressed and returned to the picket line.
In Neillsville the egg shortage became acute Tuesday and one restaurant reported it would be unable to serve its patrons eggs, because the pickets refuse to permit wood to be hauled into the city some of the residents are turning back to the use of coal, at least temporarily, one coal man reported.
Pickets have been supplied some food by a few of the merchants and others were to be asked to contribute. One gasoline filling station reported pickets had asked him to donate gasoline and oil to carry on the strike.
Owners of the milk routes in the city were informed Tuesday that pickets would be placed on each vehicle to see that milk is delivered only to homes were there are children or to individuals showing a doctor’s permit for milk.
Mrs. A. Matheson provided a little comedy for the pickets, when she drove to town from her farm northwest of the city. Mrs. Matheson had a large basket on her lap as pickets approached and asked whether she had any farm produce in the car. She said she had and the pickets examined the basket, finding two bantam eggs and a few stones.
How long the strike will be carried on is not known. None of the pickets or men back of the movement can venture a guess as to the duration period, but are unanimous in declaring that it must be carried on until agriculture is place upon an equality with industry. “We will suffer a loss in this strike,” said a farmer at the meeting Tuesday night, “but we have reached the point where we are in a desperate situation and we must sacrifice now in the hopes that our condition will be improved. We can’t go on under our present circumstances.”
My dad had a "can" milk route for many years. It must have been in the early to mid 1960's that some of his patrons belonged to the NFO (National Farmers Organization). When they went on strike, there were a few farmers gathered at one of my dad's patrons farm and held my dad at gun point while they dumped all of his milk. I can remember how upset this made him and he never liked the NFO after that! It must have been terrifying for him to think that the people he considered friends would do something like that to him.Cindy Dressler
I visited my Grandpa this week (He grew up on the Bower farm in Longwood.) and my step-grandma in Hixon. They both remember the "Milk Strike" where farmers were dumping their milk in the ditches and such. Also they were making butter and cheese like crazy trying to use up as much as they possibly could. Does anyone know any more about this? Gina B.
The milk strike would take someone closer to 80 years old to remember. I do remember as a very small child taking my turn at the butter churn. I also remember my mother being extremely upset and all of us working very hard to use up the milk. I think that would have been the time. My mother talked about the milk strike but I can't say I remember it. As thrifty a person as she was, and as poor as we were, I don't think my mother would have allowed it to be poured in the ditch...fed to the pigs maybe, but first we had to use what we could. Jean R.
A few months ago, Stan and I were visiting with his mom's double cousin, Byron Olson of Colby, WI. He is 94 with a very accurate mind. We took him to visit a long time friend, (also in his 90's) who had lived most of his life on the farm F. M. Tuttle, once owned. The two of them discussed the milk strike of the 1930's. They said the farmers had agreed to dump their milk in protest to raise prices because it was nearly impossible to hold on to their farms with the income they were getting. Many went along with the plan and many said they would, but then secretly shipped their milk at night. The friction between the "cheaters" and the "true protesters" grew and at one point over 500 Clark Co. farmers came to blows. Many of these men were armed and ready to confront one another. The county deputies had to break up the riot and it apparently was big news. Janet S.
I was born in 1946 and for some reason I remember a milk strike. Maybe it was somewhere else but I do remember one 50's or later. Darlene P.
I remember there being a milk strike in the 1960's. I believe it involved only the dairy farms who were members of the National Farm Organization. I don't remember if it was just in Wisconsin or Nationwide. There was also one in 1934 but I have no information about that one. Mary U.
I think the milk strike is such a forgotten piece of Clark County history, maybe on purpose. There were certainly plenty of sore feelings when it ended. My understanding is that the near riot outside of Neillsville was prompted by the violent arrests of several strike leaders. The men were held in the Clark County Jail. An armed caravan of several hundred farmers (the Clark County Press headline claimed 1,500) went to Neillsville with vague plans of springing them. They were met by deputies and a citizen's posse on the north side of town the evening of November 5, 1933. Bloodshed was narrowly averted. Unknown
My mother remembered the milk strike quite well. Granddad used the Fischer cheese factory in Spokeville. Whether by choice or lack of transportation to the factory, he had no outlet for his milk. He was sympathetic to the farmer cause so I suspect he just didn't send any milk. Grandma skimmed all the cream and made butter, sweet cream butter, and packed it in salt in stone crocks and put in the basement. Mom said they had butter for a year down there. Also she made whipped cream which was used on anything which would accommodate it. Granddad had a small herd of hogs which got skimmed milk instead of whey in their slop. The hens got mash with skimmed milk. Even one of the mules learned to drink skim milk. Mom said that very little was poured in the gutter. She said she remembered the hard feelings engendered by the strike and some never did heal. Submitted by Carl Hollister.
Source: Greenwood Gleaner (Greenwood, Clark Co., Wis.) 10/26/1933
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