PHOTO: After pumping milk into his truck’s tank, Jamie Schilling hoses out a farmer’s storage tank. (Photo by Pete Temple)
By Pete Temple, Express Sports/Ag Editor
When Jamie Schilling visits area dairy farms to collect milk, the farmers and Schilling like to engage in some good-natured needling.
With a photographer present, the jokes often run along the lines of, “Don’t take a picture of him, you’ll break the camera.”
Despite the kidding, it’s a relationship welcomed by Schilling and others in his business.
“We need them, and they need us,” Schilling explained, as a passenger rode with him on a recent milk run.
“You couldn’t ask for much better people than 95 percent of farmers. They’re down to earth, and old school.”
Schilling, 38, drives for his stepfather’s company, Randy Schilt, Inc. He collects milk from farmers in Jones and Delaware counties, then delivers it to Ra-Ly Transport of Earlville, the trucking company Schilt co-owns with Lyle Helle of Earlville.
The work is definitely steady; Schilling said he drives six and sometimes seven days a week.
“The farmers milk every day, so we have to pick up every day,” Schilling said.
It’s a longtime family tradition.
“My grandpa used to haul cartons of milk,” Schilling said.
The milk is pumped into larger trucks, and transported to bottlers and other milk-related companies across the Midwest.
Schilling occupies an important place in that step-by-step process. On this day, he is stopping at a total of seven farms. The first five give him nearly a full semi-load; 50,000 pounds, or about 5,800 gallons of milk.
He said he averages about 170 miles per day, and that’s with careful navigation.
“You have to plan the route so you’re not driving all over the place,” Schilling said.
He doesn’t mind the time on the road.
“It was difficult to get used to,” Schilling said. “I was working with nine or 10 guys a day (at his previous job). But it’s nice, nice and relaxing.”
Not always, of course.
“It’s OK this time of year, but when it’s bad weather in the winter, it’s tough,” he said.
Schilling sees all types of critters on his routes. He once saw an opossum that appeared to have several large cysts on its back. As he drove nearer, it became evident that opossum was carrying its babies.
He has also seen a small bobcat, fox pups, and a badger.
Jamie and his wife Mandee live with children Daulton, age 15; Alesha, 8; and Peyton, 7. Sometimes, Jamie will bring a child or two along to keep him company.
“He’ll be fourth-generation,” Schilling said of Peyton. “He’s all about milk trucks, semis, everything.”
At each stop, Schilling takes samples of the milk for quality testing. The samples are stored in blue tubes, about the size of a roll of quarters.
“They get bonuses for the quality of milk,” Schilling said.
A large hose is connected to the farmer’s milk tank, and rapidly pumps the milk – nearly 1,000 pounds a minute – into his truck’s tank.
Once the pumping begins – the largest tank he empties on this day holds 3,000 gallons, or nearly 25,000 pounds - there isn’t much to do.
“This is the boring part when you’re by yourself,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy job this time of year. In August, these milk houses can get up to 120 degrees. Sometimes you have to go sit in the truck to cool down.”
The milk, however, is fine, no matter the heat. The tank is insulated well enough that a load of 38-degree milk can sit out for 24 hours on a hot summer day, and only rise to about 40 degrees in that time.
After the farmer’s tank is empty, Schilling takes a hose and sprays it out. The farmers come back afterward to clean the tanks. Some use automatic sprayers; some have to climb in and do it by hand.
The tank on Schilling’s truck has automatic sprayers, but once a year, he has to climb in and scrub it.
“I hate that, because I’m claustrophobic,” he said.
Schilling, who first got his license to operate a semi at age 18, had been driving for Schilt part-time for 15 years. He spent four years paving for L.L. Pelling Co. of North Liberty, and then worked for 13 years laying asphalt for Pate Construction of Marion.
Earlier this year, he left the construction business to drive the milk truck full-time.
Schilling drives one of Schilt’s three route trucks that go to the farms to pick up milk. Schilt and Helle own 25 semis that take milk to the bottlers. During the summer, about 30 percent of the milk goes to bottlers, the rest for powdered milk, cheese and other dairy products.
“The biggest thing that moves milk is the schools,” Schilling said, noting that during the school year, as much of 75 percent of what Schilt’s company hauls gets bottled as milk.
Schilt, 55, got his start when he bought the milk business from his father in 1987. In 2001, he teamed with Helle to form Ra-Ly Transport.
“He started 12 years ago with one semi, and it has expanded,” Schilling said.
Milk was the only thing they hauled the first few years, but they have since added corn oil and soybean oil to the hauling business.
Ra-Ly averages about 10 semi loads a day, and once hauled 18 semi loads in a single day.
Schilt still does what his stepson Schilling does, going to the farms, but only once a week.
“I miss not being out on the farm more,” Schilt said. “Now it’s more managing other people.”
Schilt handles the dispatching, and Helle runs the accounting end of the business. They have known each other since they were small children.
“Lyle’s dad and my dad were hauling milk to the same places when we were five or six years old,” Schilt said.
Larry Sabers, who has been hauling milk for 49 years, works with the company. So does Jeff Bader, who has hauled milk for 10 years.
Meanwhile, Schilling enjoys being part of this operation, enough so that he wants to get even more involved.
“I’m going to start buying him out,” he said.