By Sheila McCoy, Staff Writer
Life as a milk truck driver is anything but dull, said Ken Johnson, 68, of Osakis. He’s been hauling milk for the Osakis Creamery for more than 40 years.
“I started hauling milk cans for them in 1967,” Ken said.
It was a way to help support the family. His dad, William, had passed away in December 1959 at the age of 46. With seven children, his mom, Alice continued to farm.
“I’d like to think dad left us the farm, because we still had a home,” Ken said.
But Ken and the rest of family knew that it was only a matter of time before he would get drafted into the Army.
“My draft number came up and I left on Thanksgiving Day 1968,” Ken said.
During the Vietnam War, Ken served as an engineer. Together with others he built roads and airstrips.
Once he returned to the United States three years later, he started working in road construction.
“I loved running heavy equipment. The I-94 interstate system was being built then, too,” he said.
Ken helped build the I-94 stretch between Clearwater and the Twin Cities, he said.
But Ken knew the road construction job would eventually come to an end and that all of the workers would be laid off. At the time his wife, Linda, was pregnant with their third child, Blandon.
“One Friday, Linda ran into the manager at the creamery. He asked her if I wanted to drive the milk truck, since he needed a driver,” Ken said.
Even though working as milk truck driver meant long hours and hard work, it was a blessing. When he worked road construction, he was usually a long way from Osakis. But working as a milk trucker kept him closer to home.
“It was a good thing that he was home, because he delivered Blandon at home. If he wouldn’t have been there, Blandon wouldn’t have been alive,” Linda said.
Linda said Blandon had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. But Ken, who had experience delivering calves, managed to untwist the cord, Linda said.
One thing that people may not always realize is that milk truckers work seven days a week. Regardless of weather, milk has to be picked up and delivered.
“The milk has to be picked up because farmers can only hold so much. Most farmers can hold enough for every other day, but some only have room for one day,” Ken said.
Three things people can count on with Ken are that he will not quit until the job is done, will help those in need and always offers a listening ear.
One winter when a blizzard hit, one of the other milk trucks that carried a full load of milk slid into the ditch.
In order to get the truck out of the ditch, Ken transferred the milk to his truck.
“He didn’t come home until 3 a.m.,” Linda said.
Linda said that at times when she doesn’t hear from her husband and he doesn’t come home until late, all she can do is to pray for his safety.
“Otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy wondering if he rolled the truck and is freezing somewhere,” Linda said
The worst blizzard conditions Ken experienced was in 1975. He had just delivered a load of milk to the creamery when the weather turned so bad that all he could do was to park the truck and wait.
“Virtually everything was shut down. No one was moving,” Ken said.
He didn’t return home for three days.
One winter he passed an Amish woman driving a horse and buggy. But despite the fact that he slowed down significantly, the splashing snow scared her horse.
“It jumped into the ditch with buggy and all. That horse was just buried in the snow. It was so deep,” Ken said.
Ken stopped and helped the lady get her horse and buggy back on the road. But not without getting bitten by the horse, Ken said.
As a milk truck driver, Ken is often the one farmers confide in. Throughout the years, he has made many friends across several generations.
“You get to hear their family’s heartaches and struggles, but also their happy moments. Sometimes you can offer advice, but often all you can do is to just listen,” Ken said.
Being a milk truck driver has taken a lot of time away from his own family. He has missed many special events, such as weddings and funerals.
It is a reality many milk truck drivers face and is simply something that comes with the job. It’s a sacrifice.
“Looking back, I may have done things differently. I don’t know. But as you get older, you start to prioritize other things, he said.
One of his greatest joys is to spend time with Linda, their children Brenda, Cynthia, Blandon and Stacey, and with their grandchildren.