History of Moser Farm Dairy, an Ellington Icon

November 5, 2014

Moser Dairy has been an icon in Ellington Connecticut since 1900, and all who grew up in town can surely remember warm summer evenings lined up waiting for ice cream while petting the baby animals in their mini-farm in the 1960s and 1970s. This is a story that spans four generations, and of remarkable achievement through hard work and the willingness to take  chances and embrace change.

 

Moser Brothers Come to America

Brothers John and Benedict Moser emigrated from the village of Diessbach Switzerland in Canton Bern in the 1890s along with a growing number of Swiss who settled in the Rockville and Ellington area. Benedict came first in 1891 followed by John, who arrived in 1892. John kept a journal of his trip across the Atlantic that gives a bit of insight about his journey. The following are excerpts from John’s journal titled “My Trip from the Old Country to America.”

 

July 4. 1892- Today the weather changed into storm. Everywhere where one went or stood we had to hang onto something so the wind would not throw us overboard into the ocean. The big ship went up and down with the flood, sometimes you felt as being up on a hill and then down.

July 5, 1892- Today you could see people vomiting where ever you was. Some were prepared for it. They brought along onions, salt, prunes, candy, brandy and such things that helped a lot. The food was good and plenty of it. Bread with sweet and salted butter, meat of all kind, soup, potatoes, rice, macorony, vegetable coffee, whiskey, wine and plenty of it!

 

John arrived in New York City on July 10, 1892 where he was met by his brother Benedict and traveled to Benedict’s home in Rockville, Connecticut. John and Benedict spent their first years in America working for various farmers in the Ellington area. John then spent two years in Illinois before returning to Ellington in 1900 when he and his brother purchased a farm from Alfred Schneider located on the corner of Lower and Middle Butcher Roads on the south side. The brothers raised dairy cows, grew tobacco, had a large orchard and peddled milk by horse and buggy. The brothers married sisters Maria and Ana Isch and each family had four girls and a boy. Both families lived in the large farmhouse, one upstairs and the other downstairs.  As the families grew up, the brothers decided to dissolve their partnership in 1927 with Benedict keeping the farm and John building a home on Rheel Street in Rockville.

 

 

The Moser homestead and farm as it looked until 1953 with the orchard on the hill.  It was located on the corner of Middle Butcher Road and Rt. 83.

Second Generation on the Farm

Benedict and Maria Isch’s son Rudolph farmed with his father until the late 1920s when he took over the farm after his father’s death. He married Emma Gottier in 1931. Rudolph and Emma had five children between 1933 and 1945; Florine (Luginbuhl) , Benedict (Ben), Edward (Ed), James (Jim) and Roger. Rudolph continued the same kind of farming that his father taught him.  Along with the orchard and tobacco he continued to peddle milk, the bottles being filled from 10 gallon cans into  bottles in his kitchen, until the government required pasteurization of milk in 1947. He then sold his milk to the local co-op. People came from miles around to buy fresh fruit from the fruit stand. The entire hillside on the south side of Middle Butcher Road was planted with fruit trees until the late 1950s when Rudolph stopped raising tobacco, discontinued the orchard and started adding more cows to increase the milk production. 

By the mid 1950s the dairy herd had increased to about 50 cows and Rudolph’s sons were managing the farm. At that time the cows were milked by surge milkers (portable milkers hooked up to a main vacuum), the milk collected in the bottom of the milkers. The milk was then dumped into steel pails and carried to the milk room where it was poured into a cotton disk strainer and into the cooling tank.

 

 

Left: People came from miles around to by fruit from the Moser orchard. Right: Rudolph Moser with a new fan used to dry hay in the barn.

 

 

Milk deliveries were made by horse and buggy until the early 1900s.  As motors replaced horses, things started to change.  Milking machines, as seen next to the delivery truck on the right, replaced hand milking.

Third Generation; Brothers Working Together

Looking toward the future, the boys saw a need to increase their incomes to support future families, and in 1957 began an additional business to the farm, Moser Farms Dairy Inc., and the Moser brothers were back in the home milk delivery business.  Ben was 22 years old, Ed 20, Jim 18 and Roger a mere 12 years old and relegated to farm chores.  Moser Farms Dairy Inc. began with the brothers purchasing a small farm on Windermere Avenue (where Windermere Village homes are located today) and bringing seven cows from the main farm to begin their new business of home milk delivery.  The milk produced at the main farm continued to be sold to the co-op and only the milk produced at the smaller farm was used in the home delivery business.
Moser Farms Dairy began with an outside dairy plant processing and bottling their milk. The milk was poured in to 10 gallon steel containers and brought by truck to the processing plant.  Their first delivery of 57 quarts of milk was made in a 1947 International truck.  As demand for their product increased, they grew their herd for the Windermere farm from the stock produced by the main farm. Because the milking area was small, the herd at this farm maxed out at 27 cows.

 

Left: The first delivery truck of Moser Farm Dairy, a 1947 International. Ed Moser at age 20 is pictured next to the truck.  Right: Ad published in the Rockville Reminder at the start of the Moser brothers home delivery business.

 

It soon became apparent to the Moser brothers that it would be a wise business decision to build their own plant.  In early 1959 they decided to build a milk and ice cream processing plant of their own.  Ben and Ed sought guidance from the Agricultural Department at the University of Connecticut. The plant was ready for production at the end of 1959.

 

Left: Moser Dairy  opened their plant and store in 1959. Right: Roger Moser filing 10 quart cans with coffee cream.

 

The pasteurizing room in the new plant had three 150 gallon vats.  All the equipment was washed daily by hand, including the inside of the tank truck.  Before owning the tank truck, milk was pumped from the bulk tank at the barn into 10 gallon cans to bring to the plant.  The milk was packaged in glass bottles and they had four vending machines in different parts of Vernon and Rockville in which milk could be purchased for 25 cents per quart.  The ice cream they produced was a creamy 16% butterfat.

In addition to a processing plant, a store was built where they sold all their dairy products, including ice cream by the cone. In addition, the store was stocked with a variety of grocery items making it the first “convenience store” in the Ellington area.  For the first few years the plant and store were managed completely by family members.  The brothers credit their mother Emma as being pivotal to the early success of the store.

 

From left to right: The first customers being served ice-cream- Moser Dairy Store was the first convenience store in the area- Ben, Roger and Ed Moser processing their creamy 16% butterfat ice-cream.

Growth Through the 1960s

Roger, the youngest of the four brothers, returned after serving in the Vietnam War at the end of 1967 and became the plant manager.  Ben was in charge of sales, marketing and administration and Jim was the farm manager.  Ed decided to leave the partnership and opened The Pines Restaurant in Vernon.

As the demand for Moser Farm dairy products grew, a few employees were hired in both the plant and the store.  They were using the milk from both farms and also began buying milk from other Ellington farms.

Moser Farms Dairy was the first in Connecticut to use plastic (throw away) milk bottles.  At first a hand operated quart filler was used and required four cranks to the gallon.  They then purchased a Crystal Matic filler in 1967. All the milk bottles were hand cased.  The processing of orange juice was added to the plant in the early 1960s.

Moser Miniature Farm, installed in 1963, was a big drawing card for 19 years until 1982.  It consisted of two calves in a barn, three little pigs, ducks, sheep, and goats.  There were also bouncing animals for kids to ride. The goats would escape from time to time, climb on cars and eat pocketbooks or anything else they could find! Moser Miniature Farm became very well known in the area and was a favorite spot to bring the family on a Saturday afternoon.

 

The ad on the left appeared in the Rockville Reminder in 1962 during election time. On right: Moser Farm Dairy had four vending machines in different parts of Vernon and Rockville. Milk was sold from the machines for 25 cents a quart.

 

Moser Mini Farm was a big draw for families for nineteen years from 1963 to 1982.

 

More Growth Through the 1970s

The 1970s brought much growth to Moser Farm Dairy. In 1971 the Ice Cream Bar’n was built to allow more room in the store.  At the same time they decided to stop processing ice cream in the plant and outsourced it in order to concentrate on their growing demand for milk and juice.  An addition was added to the original plant in 1972 and office space in 1974.

Moser Farm Dairy purchased the Valley Farm on West Road in Ellington in 1973 and moved their cows and milking center to that location.  They were milking in excess of 800 cows and planting more than 1,200 acres of silage corn. In 1975 they began leasing the Kupferschmid farm on West Road and all its surrounding land for planting silage corn (now the home of Data Capture Solutions and J.T. Farm) from elderly brothers Ernie and Elmer.  They were milking an additional 100 head of cows at that location.   A 308 acre farm was purchased in Melrose and was used to grow corn and house the young cows and beef stock.  Those 308 acres were put into the Farm Preservation Land program which guarantees that the land can only be used for farming and cannot be developed for other uses.

 

Left: The Moser brothers leased the Kupferschmid farm in 1975.  It is now the home of Data Capture and J.T. Farm. Right: The Melrose farm housed the young cows and beef stock and was also used to grow corn.

1976 brought the addition of a dry warehouse and two 50,000 gallon tanks for raw milk storage which arrived by railroad to Broad Brook from Mueller Tanks in Springfield Missouri for installation at the plant in 1978.  In the early 1970s the Dairy employed about 15 people and by the late 1970s the staff had grown to an amazing 200!  Many local area young adults, either working full time or part time, learned what “work ethic” meant after hours of  wheeling cases of milk from the fillers to coolers or milk trucks

preparing for deliveries.  The dairy also began a chain of convenience stores named Mount Vernon Dairy.

 

Left: The Ice Cream Bar’n was built in 1971 to give more room inside the store.  Right: Installing two 50,000 gallon tanks to hold raw milk.

 

1980s Bring Big Changes and Fire

As the demand for their juice products increased, Moser Dairy purchased property from the Miller Egg Farm on Rt. 31 in Coventry and moved their juice production there.  A large share of that business became the production of single serve juice cups with foil lids for the airlines, hospitals, and nursing homes.  They also packaged spring water cups under the name of Glacier Valley for airlines, and single serve paper cartons for schools that had breakfast programs. Major companies such as Tropicana, Minute Maid and Welch’s sent in their own products and formulas to the plant and Moser Dairy would then blend and package their juices.  The plant also did private labeling for major supermarket chains.

By 1982 Moser Farm Dairy was transporting 35-45 tractor trailer loads of milk, dairy and juice products per day.  They were a major supplier of dairy and juice products in New England and operated 15 Mount Vernon Dairy Convenience stores.  1983 saw the addition of three 30,000 gallon silos for pasteurized milk, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Moser Farm Dairy.  On November 30, 1983, with the new addition less than a year old, a fire was started by the back lights of a trailer that came in contact with the cushions of the loading dock.  Nine trailers were lost and because of smoke damage, every bit of product in the plant had to be dumped.  After incredible effort by the family and employees, the plant was up and running 24 hours later.

 

By 1982 Maser Farm Dairy was sending out 35-45 tractor trailer loads of milk and juice daily.  Fire struck the plant in 1983, just one year after the completion of an addition.

 

The biggest change in the history of Moser Farm Dairy came in 1986 when the brothers sold their name and customer base to H.P. Hood and stopped the processing of milk.  Their success with juice processing and sales led them to believe that was the direction in which the business should move.  Juice processing was an easier and more streamlined process and the demand was great for single serving juice packaging.  They named the new business Natural Country and H.P. Hood continued to process and sell milk under the Moser Farm Dairy name.  Ben continued with sales, marketing and administration and Roger managed the juice plant.  The Mosers continued in the dairy farming business with Jim, along with his sons Chris and Eric managing Valley Farm, and Jim’s son Ron managing the Kupferschmid Farm.  Both farms sold their milk to the Agra-Mark co-op.  The 1980s also saw the sale of the Mount Vernon Dairy store chain to Dairy Mart.

 

Jim, Ben and Roger Moser sold the dairy portion of their business to H.P. Hood in 1986. Seen here signing the paperwork.

 

1990s; More Growth, Fire and an End to Ownership

Natural Country continued to prosper and grow though the 1990s.  Things were going smoothly until December 29, 1994 when fire struck again in the plant warehouse, which was used to store items for packaging juice products.  At the time, construction was taking place around the warehouse and workers were welding pipes.  It is thought that the fire must have started during the day in wooden pallets stacked outside, near the welding site.  The fire worked through the wall at night and completely destroyed the warehouse.  It was the first cold day of winter and 10 inches of snow fell during the fire, making it very difficult for the firefighters to battle the blaze.  The family commended the incredible effort by the firefighters for saving the rest of the plant.  After three days the plant was producing again, but at a slow pace. The following months proved to be a difficult time with slow production and the necessity of using tractor trailers as warehouse space.

 

Fire struck again in 1994 completely destroying the warehouse.

In 1995 the brothers made the monumental decision to sell Natural Country to an investment group.  The name was changed to Country Pure Foods.  The Coventry plant was sold to two young brothers known as the “Boggini Brothers” and all juice processing was moved to Ellington.  The Boggini brothers continue to produce soda concentrates at the Coventry plant to this day.  Ben and Roger continued their same roles in the company but for the first time in their lives were now employees instead of their own bosses!  Jim continued to manage Valley Farms with his sons.

 

Valley Farm                                                                                                              The view from Valley Farm

 

The Final Changes, and an End to Moser Farming

Ben Moser retired as President of Country Pure Foods in 1998 and continued on the board of directors until 2010.  Roger continued his role as plant manager until 2002 when he decided to “semi –retire” and became the plant “sanitarian”, a role that he cherished until he completely retired in February of 2014.  Dairy farming ended completely for the Moser family in 2005 when Valley Farms was sold and the buildings taken down for the construction of the Big Y Supermarket Plaza on route 83.  As everyone knows, you can take the boy off the farm but never the farm out of the boy, so the Moser brothers still tinker in farming a bit.  They sell organic manure and top soil by the big carrot on their land on route 83.  Their remaining farm land is rented out to other local farmers such as Bahler Farm and John Hoffman, who grows sweet corn and vegetables on the land.  Ben’s son Steve raises beef cattle on some of the land on the Melrose property. The brothers remain active in town and are an amazing example of what can be accomplished by hard work, working together, recognizing and utilizing each others talents and being unafraid of change.

 

The buildings and structures of Valley Farm being removed for the construction of the Big Y Supermarket plaza in September of 2005.

Left: Moser homestead as it stands today.  Right: Country Pure Foods

 

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