- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

Anthony "Andy" Custer delivers a little bit of nostalgia to his customers' doorsteps every weekday.
Mr. Custer is a milkman. He works for South Mountain Creamery, a family-owned dairy farm in Middletown, Md., roughly 50 miles north of the District.
His creaky white box truck takes him through Frederick, Washington and Montgomery counties, where he brings customers their weekly orders of milk, eggs, cheese, butter and yogurt.
Name the milk, and you'll probably find it on the back of Mr. Custer's truck.
Whole. Two percent. Skim. Chocolate. Strawberry. Buttermilk. Old-fashioned milk, with the cream still on top. Homogenized.
"They like the service. A lot of them tell us they couldn't live without it. I guess some people are just too busy to go to the grocery store these days," Mr. Custer says.
Milkmen are an exclusive club.
In 1963, 29.7 percent of all milk sold in the United States was home-delivered, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In 1971, that figure fell to 14.8 percent, and in 2001, it dropped to 0.4 percent.
Mr. Custer came to work for South Mountain Creamery in November, after four years at a tannery in Williamsport, Md. "I worked with cows there, too," he says.
He is the creamery's main deliveryman, although it has a contractor who delivers in Howard County.
Mr. Custer usually arrives at the creamery at 10 a.m. and spends the first hour stocking the truck. On any given day, he delivers about 500 glass bottles of milk.
He begins his route at about 11 a.m. and averages about 10 customers an hour, usually finishing up between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Since the radio in his truck doesn't work well, he has plenty of time to think on his route. A cassette of religious music sits in the tape deck, but the player is broken.
He gets weekends off, which gives him plenty of free time to play basketball and attend church twice on Sundays.
On a recent Wednesday morning, with temperatures climbing into the 80s, Mr. Custer is dressed for the weather in cutoff jeans, a white shirt that bears his nickname and a red baseball cap. After loading the truck, he makes a few stops on the outskirts of Middletown.
He pulls into the driveway of Karen Riley's home in Knoxville. As he gets out of the truck, he grabs some dog biscuits he keeps in a plastic bag on his dashboard and tosses them to Ms. Riley's barking dog, which is tied to a tree.
She greets him from her front porch, and the two chat about the warm weather.
After a few more stops, Mr. Custer drives his truck along the hilly streets of Brunswick, a town of roughly 4,800 residents in southern Frederick County.
"Yes, this is Brunswick, ladies and gentlemen," he announces to his sole passenger as the truck lumbers past businesses like "My Cousin Jay's Music Store" and signs that advertise a pancake dinner at the fire hall.
The hills in the top are steep, the streets narrow. Mr. Custer maneuvers them like a pro.
"Ol' Bessie here, she'll never let me down. She likes to climb," he says as he pats the dashboard.
Mr. Custer once drove big rigs along the East Coast, but he found the work too dangerous. "It got to be a little bit risky. There is so much traffic out there. Man, you had to always be looking where you were going," he says.
He also spent some time in the Navy during the Vietnam era. "Six years, three months and 22 days," he says. He still wears his dog tag around his neck, along with a cross.
His customers' houses tend to be stately structures that look generations old. Most are not home when he arrives, and many leave coolers where he deposits the milk bottles and other products, with a bill.
A half-gallon of whole, old-fashioned creamline milk costs $2.09. A half gallon of whole chocolate or strawberry milk runs $2.59.
Yogurt comes in 10 flavors including black cherry, apple cinnamon and pineapple and costs between 69 cents and 75 cents for a six-ounce container.
There is a refundable $1.50 deposit for glass milk bottles, and the company charges a delivery fee of $3 to $5 per order, depending on where a customer lives.
Randy and Karen Sowers, who took over the South Mountain Creamery in 1984, originally sold their products to bigger companies, which in turn sold them to grocery chains. Two years ago, the family decided to cut out the middleman and sell the products to consumers directly.
"We did it to save the farm. There is no way we could have survived otherwise," said Abby Sowers-Brusco, Randy and Karen's daughter and the creamery's office manager. Her husband, Tony, and brother, Ben, also help manage the business.
The 1,500-acre family farm has about 600 cows, including 350 milking ones, and about 3,000 chickens.
Running a business that's a throwback to the old days can present unique problems.
The creamery buys its glass milk bottles from a Canadian company, the only one that still makes them. No one makes machines to clean milk bottles anymore, so the Sowerses use one that is 30 years old, she said.
Milk trucks are also hard to come by these days. On the side of Mr. Custer's truck is the creamery's logo a dairy wagon pulled by a horse and slogan: "Fresh from our farm to your home."
But the truck also carries another, more modern, message: "Driver carries no cash."
South Mountain Creamery recently started to turn its first profit since starting its delivery service, Mrs. Sowers-Brusco said, although she would not disclose financial information. "We're pretty excited about that."
Mr. Custer will finish his route about 6 p.m., roughly 80 miles and 45 customers later. Then he will head to his home in Hancock, 44 miles from the creamery.
"I feel like I'm accomplishing something during the day. I like that I have something to do every day of the week," he says.

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