The Cream Run … For all who work producing food for People

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My grandfather had 2 rules when it came to the Cream Run. Boys only, and over 12 years of age. I was fortunate to be the eldest grandson so the test case for this new adventure with our grandparents. Grandmother (Nana) had her own secret women’s business for her granddaughters. In the school holidays, my mother would drop me off at the White Star Coach depot for the 2 hour trip to my grandparent’s town. White Star was family approved; safe, punctual and caring. My grandparents lived across the river on the town’s outskirts; “The Esplanade”. The name was obviously taken from the vision of some former historical or enduring glory and immortalised on an enamel street sign. I always remember It as a narrow, gravelled, pot holed road through old sawmill land with only 5 other scattered houses. The river bordered the other side of the road hidden below willows, rambling blackberry and gorse bushes. Whenever the river flooded, hiding the brambles, old logs and road blemishes, we glimpsed perhaps what an esplanade was meant to look like.

The introduction to the cream run, and I suspect the qualifying test, was the “cheese factory run” which happened punctually between 10am and noon. I was very excited my very first time as I heard grandfather’s truck come up the driveway returning from its dawn run around the local farms. I was so ready; new leather gloves, sturdy shoes, damped down hair. Grandfather always came in for tea and toast. It was his breakfast having started earlier with cup of tea. As the large hall clock chimed 10, he would pick up his hat. We drove around The Esplanade, to a timber dock to pick up more cream cans from another run. After rolling them onboard on their rims, a technique of balance and weight that had to be learnt, the Bedford truck headed through town. It was great to be so high up, slow moving and big.

The town was one long wide main street with shops on one side and a nature strip with a uniform row of shade trees on the other separating the railway line which ran parallel necessitating a barrier crossing at each end of the town. The cheese factory was an hour away across a green rural landscape.  On the flat, we passed the old aerodrome which was now used only for crop dusting and a gliding club. Over rolling hills and then down to the factory nestled near a fast flowing river whose banks were draped with willows. The river provided the other main input to the factory, water for heating and cleaning. Each cream truck had its time slot at the factory and the factory manager was the law. Whenever the truck line extended back to the main road gates, he would appear on the tarmac with his clipboard. I never understood the verbal exchanges and hands signals but my grandfather would just whistle through his teeth and keep the window closed. We were never late!

There were 3 sizes of cans and I would help roll all but the large ones to the edge of the dock where they travelled on rollers to wide open vats, emptied their contents and were sent on for cleaning. We would drive our empty truck to the other end of the factory to receive the clean hot cans and their lids back. The challenge, apart from avoiding bruises to fingers and toes was to quickly match and secure the clean lids to their cans. Once we “lost” a lid on the return journey. It was on a steep descent and the loose lid could have rolled like a wheel for miles in any direction. We spent hours searching the highway edges, and again for the next few days. After two weeks without discovery or being handed in by a motorist or farmer, a cheque was finally presented to the factory manager to pay for a new lid. Long after, Grandfather still nodded to that particular spot on the highway as if it was a roadside cross marking a fatal accident. The incident was “seared” into cream run history and used to reinforce the need for care or neatness (my mother’s version! ) in not only work but in life. Besides “secure lids”, neatly folded clothes were the next aim.

On attaining the age of 13, with grandfather’s nod of approval, and despite the lid blemish, I began the full “cream run”. The day now started at dawn, setting off just as the first light of day “lit” the Esplanade. Our route was a very long country road of gravel and one-way bridges, which only served the farms before eventually petering out at the foot of a green mountain. There was only one public building, a small white Community Hall where famers would gather for social events. In winter our lonely truck would grind along through the icy road puddles, its lights searching out the road curves and river bends. Occasionally a milking shed would be visible with its bright lights piercing the winter gloom. Spring and summer however were a blessing; newly graded roads, vibrant trees and animals. We would draw tightly along the side of each farm gate dock and roll the still warm cans onto the truck. There were occasional gifts left at the farm gate; fresh vegetables, a rabbit, eggs and when I was finally spotted by a farmer, fresh jam and cream cake.

Occasionally, a farmer would hail us from his tractor and discuss general cartage with my grandfather; fertiliser, timber, fencing materials from the rail station; or wool, hay bales, to the rail station. My grandfather took the same care as the Cream Run in delivering this service. Those were longer days and often hard work especially at the railway depot where there was no shelter, farm helpers or supply of tea and jam cream cake. But the railway depot was another boy’s own playground. When there was no general cartage in the afternoon, we would pay a weekly visit to my grandparent’s small farm which overlooked the town and contained the Trig station (highest point). There was just a small flock of sheep; but we would walk the steep hills, move the sheep, check for signs of rabbits, slash gorse bushes and inspect the fences. Standing at the Trig in the late afternoon was magical. We could see for miles and precisely at 5pm, hear the town siren and watch the shadow of the hills change the valley and town from light to dark green.

Many years later, I would occasionally pass the white metal road leading to that farm but never stopped. I never ventured off the main road down that country road to the farms. The cheese factory is now an Education facility. Modern shiny Volvo tankers now connect the farms to the modern dairy food processing hub. Some things remain, the social fabric of country life. The farmers still come to town on Friday afternoons between milking. The Esplanade still awaits grandeur. The Cream Run has evolved but it remains a “badge of honour” from my childhood.


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