For more than 40 years, a silent sentinel extolling a life-sustaining substance – milk – turned continuously along U.S. 52 in Mount Airy, to the delight of passersby captivated by the local monument to moo juice.
However, the giant milk carton perched high in a field outside H&S Dairy ground to a halt in 2007 – after taking its first spin in 1963. The story recently received a happy ending, when the fixture familiar to generations of local residents began moving again after a repair effort spanning several months.
“It ran 24/7 for 40 years,” Bryan Miller, who earlier this year joined the dairy operation that is a local distributor of Pet products including milk and ice cream.
“The mechanisms just wore out in it,” Miller said regarding the replica of a half-gallon milk container. “When I came here in March, that thing hadn’t turned in 10 years, so I just wanted to get it turning again for Gary.”
Miller was referencing Gary Hamm, the president of H&S Dairy, who agreed that such a restoration was worthy given the formerly revolving milk carton’s stature (about 12 feet tall to be exact) as an iconic piece of Americana.
Its emergence as a unique advertising medium for the dairy industry pre-dated that of the familiar “Got Milk” slogan by four decades. It was built in the 1940s, according to the book “Strange But True North Carolina,” which features a small article about the Mount Airy attraction and a photograph.
Hamm, who has been with the local dairy operation for 27 years and in the milk business as a whole for 44 years, said the giant carton initially stood in front of what was then Coble Dairy. The operation, which currently employs 24 people, went through multiple name changes as time passed, including Flav-O-Rich, Sealtest and most recently, Pet.
Not only is the 4-foot-wide milk carton a rare sight for Mount Airy, it also is unique in North Carolina as a whole.
Hamm knows of a dairy operation in Eden which displays a milk carton similar to the one here. “We’ve got the only two in the state that I know of,” he said. “But it (the one in Eden) sits on a pole and doesn’t rotate.”
When Miller sought to get the old milk carton moving again, he soon realized why it had been stationary for so long.
Since the mechanized device was built so many years ago, there was a shortage of parts available for repairs, including brass bearings that were critical to its operation which had deteriorated over time and are not universally made today.
Miller turned to Merritt Machine in Mount Airy, which he credits for referring him to an out-of-town business that provided the ultimate solution.
“They (Merritt) were a big help in getting me involved with Allied Bearings in Statesville to get us the parts to fix it,” he said. Allied Bearings ended up supplying a whole new gearbox to power the antique device, with other repairs made as well.
“I really appreciate Gary giving us the money to get it going again,” Miller said of an expense totaling around $1,000.
Hamm was excited to have the milk carton returned to its former glory.
“I really enjoyed seeing it going,” the president of H&S Dairy said of his initial reaction.
The public also appreciates the sight.
“There’s a lot of people who come by and take pictures of it,” Hamm said.
He also views the situation philosophically, saying there is a parallel between the milk carton ceasing to turn in 2007 and what was occurring in the country as a whole at that time.
“When the economy went south, the milk carton went south,” Hamm explained.
“The economy is back up and running – and so is the milk carton.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.