Carnation Summer

Turning Milk “ and “ Forking Cans “
I got my first real paying job in the summer of 1955. It was at the Carnation Milk plant in Maysville, KY. My primary duties involved “ turning milk “ and “ forking cans. “ Both will need some explanation. Various trucks would pickup the milk at dairy farms all over the area and bring it to the plant for processing and canning. In the large room on the ground floor was the equipment used to fill small metal cans with evaporated milk. The empty cans would come in on a conveyor line gravity fed from the can factory next door and directed to a circular machine, referred to as the filler. The cans were sterilized, filled, and sealed. The filled cans were directed out into the warehouse where they had a label attached and were packed into boxes then on to a conveyor belt being directed into railroad cars. The loaded rail cars would be moved from behind the plant to a rail siding at a warehouse located on Wood street. Now this is where the “ turning milk “ took place. Wooden pallets of milk cases were only permitted to be stored a certain number of days and then the cases had to be turned over to prohibit the cream from settling in the cans. There were five cases per layer and eight layers per pallet. That is forty cases of milk per pallet. Each case weighed about forty pounds. We would place an empty pallet next to a loaded pallet and proceed to take a case off the top of a loaded pallet and turn it over as we placed it on an empty pallet. Usually two guys worked together. We would do this for 4 to 6 hours per shift or until we had turned all the pallets in the warehouse. Can't recall the exact hourly wage but it was around $ 5.00 per hour. Good money for a 17 year old in 1955.
The can factory only operated during the day feeding empty cans to the fillers. Depending on the amount of milk received in any given day the fillers sometimes had to keep operating well into the second shift. Empty cans were stored in bins. These bins were located high up in the ceiling above the fillers. When the gravity feed of cans stopped from the can factory cans were supplied from the can bins. This was done by “ forking cans “. The fork resembled a pitch fork except it was about four feet across with a three foot handle. It had 26 tines about 5 inches long. This enabled the laborer to pick up 24 empty cans at one time, turn to the right and place them on the gravity track to the fillers down below. Close to the roof and above the fillers made it extremely hot in the can bins. We were only allowed to “ fork cans “ for 30 minutes at a time. One guy would fork for 30 minutes and then another guy would take his place for 30 minutes. The air conditioned break room was a welcome relief. We also learned that if you forked real fast for 15 or 20 minutes you could back cans all the way up to the bin which would provide enough cans to the fillers for 15 or 20 minutes thus extending your break time. However, if you got to careless and knocked empty cans down on the floor you could end up knee deep in empty cans. This wasn't good because you had to pick them up 2 at a time until and put them back in the bin, until the floor was free of empty cans.
It was a good summer and a lesson learned. I did not want to spent my entire working life as a laborer at Carnation Milk Company “turning milk “ and “ forking cans “.
Ken Downing



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