Several months ago, around the end of September this was, Aunt LeeDel, Uncle Butch, and Uncle Marvin all came for a visit. Aside from getting to spend some time with my family, the highlight of their visit was when Uncle Butch presented me with a very special gift. It was an old, old cream can with a small label plate attached to it. The plate said:
Return to Louis Brandt
In case of loss notify
Blue Valley Creamery Co.
I should mention here that before I went blind I spent several years researching my family history. Also, Louis Brandt was my great-great-grandfather.
So many questions! Where did this time-traveling cream can come from? How did my mother’s brother end up with such a priceless relic from my father’s family? How old is the cream can really?
Well, I meant to do a little research on this and then present an article here on my blog, but a couple of weeks later I found out I would be getting surgery on my eye pretty soon. The cream can got put on the back burner for a while, but I recently got back to it. My research, such as it is, is complete and here’s what I found out.
The Blue Valley Creamery was founded on May 1, 1900. The headquarters was set up in Chicago with the first creamery popping up in St Joseph, Missouri. Before long, the Blue Valley Creamery had operations going all over the place, primarily in the upper Midwest, but stretching as far east as New York City and, as I discovered later, down to West Virginia and all the way down in Texas. And yes, there was a Blue Valley Creamery right here in Nebraska, just a little bit east of here. A creamery opened for business in Hastings, Nebraska in 1911. Apparently Blue Valley also owned the Topaz Dairy in Hastings. I searched the internet but never found much about the creamery in Hastings, only about Blue Valley in general. The photo here is not the Blue Valley Creamery in Hastings, but one in Louisville, Kentucky, circa 1946.
I did, however, find that Blue Valley Creamery was bought out by Beatrice Creamery Company in 1939. Beatrice was, in turn, acquired by a group of investors who purchased the company and then sold it off piece by piece, the last piece going to ConAgra sometime around 1990.
The cans themselves were owned by the farmers, not the creamery, and were typically shipped by railroad. That makes sense because there’s a very busy stretch of Union Pacific railroad that runs directly from Gibbon to Hastings. Blue Valley Creamery commonly attached labels to the cans bearing delivery instructions as pictured here.
In my internet searches I also came across several other pages mentioning cream cans with this same type of label attached. From the descriptions, and a few pictures, they sound identical to mine except for the name and town of the owner. The ones I found were from Memphis Nebraska, McCracken Kansas, Lavernia Texas, DeValls Bluff Arkansas, Dieterich Illinois, and Alderson West Virginia. I also noticed one other difference: the label on my can has a U.P. on it, which I assume stands for Union Pacific Railroad, while the one from Memphis has BURL, probably Burlington Northern, or maybe they were just Burlington back then. The one from West Virginia has C&O on it, Chesapeake & Ohio. One other has what looks like CXI&P. I couldn’t find a match for that, but I did find a CRI&P, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific. This was the Arkansas can and the CRI&P did run through Arkansas. The others didn’t mention the railroad identifier.
So as to my questions: Uncle Butch told me that he and my aunt, in the early days of their marriage back in the early 70’s, frequently visited auctions around their home in Crete, Nebraska. He doesn’t remember specifically but assumes that the cream can was probably acquired at one of these. He told me that he brought the cream can around to see if anyone had any interest in it, but at the time no one did. I was born in 1970 and so would have been just a baby. So he took it back to his home where it sat around for about 40 years. My aunt and uncle recently sold their old house, which prompted Uncle Butch to bring it around again, as he did with several other items that he would no longer have room for in the new house. I am now just over 40 years of age and have become very interested in old items like this, especially ones that are from my own family. So in other words, it was pure and simple fate that brought my great-great-grandfather’s cream can to me at a time in my life when I am old enough to appreciate what a priceless heirloom it truly is.
My final question was, “How old is the can really?” Well, let’s see if we can deduce an approximate age. The Blue Valley Creamery in Hastings opened in 1911 and was bought out by Beatrice Creamery in 1939. That gives us a pretty narrow window already assuming that no more labels with Blue Valley Creamery on them were attached to any cans after the buyout.
I came across another interesting bit of Blue Valley history that, I believe, will narrow this window even further. Originally, Blue Valley affixed labels which read “When full ship to Blue Valley Creamery Co.” In 1925, the Federal Trade Commission ruled that these labels were an unfair practice, making it difficult or impossible for farmer’s to ship their milk or cream to a competitor of Blue Valley. Grandpa Louis’ can has the “newer” form of the label, “In case of loss notify Blue Valley Creamery”, so that would place it sometime between 1925 and 1939 when Blue Valley was bought out by Beatrice. This certainly fits great-great-grandpa Louis’ lifespan; he was born in 1863 and died in 1947.
So there you have it. That’s everything I was able to learn about the mysterious cream can. I took an old tooth brush and a little vinegar to polish up the brass name plate a little and it shined up pretty good. I really can’t tell you how happy I am to have it, and it was a lot of fun researching the Blue Valley Creamery as history has become more and more interesting to me. Something else that has become very interesting to me of late is the different ways God works in our lives. For 80 years, God sent that cream can from place to place, only to have it end up here. Maybe He did it to please me, or maybe He did it to remind that He is always in control, even of the little things. I like to think it was a little of both.
Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. ESV
Psalms 139:16 "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." ESV