BENNINGTON >> Growing up on his family's dairy farm Hoosick Falls, Mark Cottrell gained an appreciation for hard work and a lifelong hobby — collecting local milk bottles.
Cottrell, who is the facilities and grounds manager for Southwest Vermont Medical Center and the maintenance manager for the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation, gave a presentation for the residents of CLR on Friday, speaking about growing up on the farm, the rise and fall of the industry, and just how rare and valuable classic milk bottles have become.
Cottrell, who was born in 1960, worked on the farm as a kid, waking up at 4 a.m. and earning 15 cents — and later 20 cents — a day for his efforts. "We didn't mind," he said, "that was our baseball card money." The barn that housed the cows was built in 1907, and by the sixties Cottrell Farm, which had been in the family since the 1850's, had become the largest dairy farm in Hoosick Falls, with 86 cows. His grandfather, Ed Cottrell, was the first Democratic town supervisor in the history of Hoosick Falls, and ran for state senate but was narrowly defeated.
Besides working on the farm, Cottrell has held three jobs in his life. First, he worked at a furniture store for about three days at the age of 17 before getting a call from his second employer, Oak Industries of Hoosick Falls, where he worked for 23 years. After they closed, he began working for SVMC.
When he was young, Cottrell and his father delivered the milk to customers in a 1950 Ford pickup truck. "He would load up the back of the truck with milk crates," he said, "and pack it with ice. He would also pack it with cork. Cork was great insulator back in the day." He showed the residents a cork-lined crate that could hold four quarts of milk, which was how they would deliver the milk to their customer's doorsteps. Besides regular milk, they sold chocolate milk, raw milk, a rare sight in today's age, and even, for a brief period of time, orange juice. That last product, Cottrell said, didn't last long.
"In the early 1960's," he said, "the dairy industry had moved to a bulk-type system, where it was cheaper to have someone pick up the milk, rather than peddle your own milk. The U.S. government got involved, part of it was stricter regulations on peddling milk, testing got involved, and farmers were kind of forced out of the peddling business into processing the milk, then the bulk tank would come to your farm and pick up the milk, probably every other day." He said the smaller dairy farmers in Hoosick Falls would bring their milk to Cottrell's father, who would buy it, then sell in bulk to larger distributors.
Cottrell said he has scoured the area for his family's milk bottles, and milk bottles from other area farms, picking through flea markets and eBay.com. One bottle still had a price tag on it from when Cottrell had purchased it — $70. Looking through the listings on eBay, it isn't uncommon to see rare bottles selling for hundreds of dollars, sometimes even over $1,000 per bottle. So far, he has managed to collect every bottle his family has sold, except for a series from the 40's that were decorated with a large "V" to symbolize victory in World War II.
"We had thousands of milk bottles, everybody had thousands of bottles," said Cottrell, "but when we put the new milk process in the farm, the bottles went to the dump, because they were no longer needed."
Contact Derek Carson at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.