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Reflections

Cheese Plant Helped Keep Farms Out
Of Foreclosure During The Depression

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week. 

Today as you go south on Central Street and look at the parking lot across from the First Baptist Church, you would find it hard to imagine the business that ran there for many years.  This is one of the times that I revisit an earlier column about the Kraft Cheese Plant.  It is also a tribute to the Junior Chamber of Commerce that was organized in the early 1930s and backed several projects to help a depression-ridden Water Valley 

The railroad shops had closed and moved to Memphis, Paducah, Ky. and Centralia, Illinois; and over 100 families had moved with them.  The Jaycees decided to send two-man teams through out the entire area and encourage farmers to produce milk for the cheese plant. 
   

Earl Fly and Claude Wood were one team and they went west into Panola county and signed up several farmers. They got Jack Barnett to drive the route to pick up the cans of milk each morning. Mr. Barnett was already a successful farmer, but he looked at this as an opportunity to make a check because cotton prices were in the tank. 

I didn’t know Mr. Jack very well but his son, Bobby, and I became good friends in later years as we both shared a love of gospel music. Bobby even served as president of the Mississippi Gospel Singing Convention at one time.                  The cans of milk would be set out each morning by the mail box and each can was numbered so the driver would pick up the right can to being back.  Another driver was Hugh Hill from Pope, and he and Mr. Jack had two of the largest routes.  Mr. Hill ran from Pope to Oakland and across Hwy. 32 to Water Valley.

In the early morning hours, trucks would be lined up all along Central street waiting their turn. It was almost impossible to drive through there at that time, but nobody complained.  Once a truck driver got his turn, he pulled up to the window and started unloading his cans on the rollers. A man inside knocked off the tops and the milk was measured and a notation was made beside that corresponding number on his sheet.     

This was the way it was determined how much the milk’s owner would be paid.  When the last can was unloaded, the truck pulled down to a conveyor with rollers to pick up the empty cans.  This process was repeated until the last truck was unloaded. 

Just north of the plant was a large tank, much like a water tower.  The whey, which was a by-product, was piped across to the tank.  Anyone who brought milk could get whey for a small fee, a dime up to a quarter, depending on the amount. 

A disabled gentleman, Mr. Woods was in charge of the tank. He was a brother of postmistress Annie Key Woods-Maudlin. I believe that his pay was whatever the amount he collected for the whey. Nothing was wasted in those days, as the whey would be mixed with hog feed. In recent years we’ve learned that many vitamins and minerals were in the whey.     

Since most of the country people had no electricity, they used ice boxes to store food.  Most of the milk truck drivers would go by the Harvey Ice House and take large blocks of ice and sell it along their way home, when they dropped off the cans.  Papa Badley sold milk for a time, as he had previously sold cream to the Creamery years earlier.

I even sold milk for a time and I would volunteer to help a driver unload and he would give me a place with my small amount, which would save me a long wait in line.  Some of the drives would give people a ride into town and they would help unload the trucks.

Hugh Hill always had several young black men  riding with him in hopes of finding work in Water Valley.  That’s how Mother hired Howard Herron from Pope, who was only 19 years old. He stayed with us until he was drafted to serve in World War II.

The cheese plant pumped a lot of money into the economy when there was very little money to be made, and it enabled many farmers to keep their farms which would have otherwise been foreclosed.      

As I said, it it a tribute to the Jaycees who worked to bring the cheese plant to town and organized the first Watermelon carnival and promoted many other  projects until this day.  A salute to all of you. 

Let me hear from you as your input is always appreciated and used as much as possible.  My email address is cncooper1@hotmail.net  or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week. 

 
 
 

 

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