January 2016
Farm & Field

End of an Era: Family Says Goodbye

 
  John Dick Barr III outside his family’s former dairy barn.

The closing of Tioga Dairy marks a change in the family’s 66-year history, a sad day for all.

John Dick Barr Jr. didn’t say he cried at the last milking at Tioga Dairy in Banks Oct. 23, 2015.

"Teared up," he said, as if that’s not crying. "Just teared up."

After 66 years as a family dairy business in Pike County, Dick and Jean Barr and their son, John Dick, sold their 140 dairy cows and loaded them onto trucks bound for Tennessee.

"It was a sad day," Dick said. "A real sad day."

His wife nodded in agreement.

The couple didn’t go over to the dairy barn that day. It would have been too emotional to see 66 years fade into the distance.

 
Four generations of the Barr family in the 1950s or early ’60s inside the dairy barn.  
   

The man who had worked for Tioga Dairy for many years cried all day as one cow after the other was bid farewell.

"If I had been there, I would have cried, too," Dick said. "It was just a sad day for all of us. The dairy was gone and so was our way of life. The dairy business was a tough way to make a living at times. But, you’re not ever going to get rich milking cows. Just staying in business is all the success you get in the dairy business."

But Dick and Jean didn’t go into the dairy business thinking they were going to get rich. They went into milking cows for the love of the animals and for the love of family.

"Tioga Dairy began on a cold, windy day."

That’s how the story began when Dick, Jean and John Dick sat down at the couple’s home in the Banks community to remember when the dream was a reality and the end was nowhere in sight.

 
   and Jean, his wife of 68 years, were sad over the closing of the dairy, but happy to now have more time together.

Dick and Jean Williams met when they were students at Oberlin College in Ohio. She was the "cutest little girl" he had ever seen and she was rather impressed with the handsome, young Marine, but Uncle Sam wanted him in China. So, it was not until the Marine returned to Oberlin College that he won the heart of the "cute little girl." They were married in her hometown of Troy, Penn., in 1947.

Dick was enrolled at the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in Auburn and his plans were to go into some field of agriculture, but the calling was not behind a mule and a plow.

"My family was in the dairy business and Dick appreciated the way the family worked together on the dairy farm," Jean said. "He wanted that kind of life for us."

Dick had been impressed by the way his wife’s family worked together and the close bond of the farm family.

"I got to thinking about it and I wanted that kind of family relationship," Dick said. "I loved animals and the dairy business offered me the kind of life I wanted for me, Jean and our children."

Dick, laughingly, said if he had given more thought to cows having to be milked morning and night, 365 days a year, he might have put his hand to the plow.

"Cows don’t take holidays and they don’t go on vacations," he said. "But, I wouldn’t give anything for the life we’ve had."

When Dick graduated from API, his dad, John Dick Barr Sr., gave him a milk cow. And, with that one milk cow on a cold windy day in 1949, Dick and Jean officially opened Tioga Dairy, named for her home county in Pennsylvania.

"I tied the cow to a pecan tree out in the yard and milked her, and that’s how we got started," Dick said. "I got a quart of milk a day and Macy Ree Warr, there in Banks, was my one customer. Every day, I’d deliver a quart of milk to her on my bicycle and I got 20 cents a day."

Twice a day, every day, Dick tied the cow to the pecan tree, milked her and then put her back into the barn until dawn cracked once again.

"People started hearing that I was selling milk. Soon they started ordering and I had to buy another cow," Dick said. "Then, I got up to five cows and soon I was hand-milking 19 cows by myself, morning and night. But the Korean War started and I was called back into the Marines."

Fortunately for the Barrs, his sister, Wilda, had gotten married to an Auburn graduate, Norval Steele, and he agreed to take care of the Tioga Dairy while Dick was away serving his country.

"I might still be hand-milking if Norval hadn’t taken over the dairy," Dick laughed. "When I got home, he had bought milking machines. They didn’t do too bad of a job."

Dick was a serious dairyman. He bought two heifers, Jean and Louise, and began his own dairy herd.

His milk delivery business extended into Troy and he ran house-to-house routes for several years.

He delivered milk right to the door in quart bottles and it was a Mayberry kind of life except for the 4 a.m. and late-afternoon milkings.

"I enjoyed my milk routes, but it got where, being a small dairy, we couldn’t compete with those large dairies," Dick explained. "And, we couldn’t offer our customers buttermilk and butter. So we contracted with a processing plant and got off the road."

Dick and John Dick ran the dairy and Jean taught music and voice lessons at Troy State University.

"In the dairy business, you have to have a second income," she said.

Jean often came for the afternoon milkings, as did their daughter, Suzanne Clemmons. One hundred and forty cows were being milked and the ladies had their favorite cows, the ones with personality. The dairy business was good and the end was not yet in sight.

Then, health problems dictated that Dick leave the milking to his son and so it was until 2015 when the Barrs saw the handwriting on the wall.

"I can remember when you couldn’t ride a few miles without seeing a dairy here in Pike County, but no more," Dick said. "There’s only one dairy left in the county now. And, I was sad to see ours go."

The dairy was a common interest for the Barr family for 66 years. John Dick knew he would be the last of the dairy farmers in the family.

"None of the grandchildren were interested in the dairy," he said. "But Suzanne and I both appreciate having grown up on a small dairy farm. It’s been a way of life for our parents and for us. It was a sad day, and a lonesome one, when that last load of cows pulled away at sunset. I knew it was the end of something. It was the end of a way of life for my family and I teared up."

Jaine Treadwell is a freelance writer from Brundidge.