Tindall, Clark book explores famous dairy’s historical path
LiNCOLN PARK — Raised in Cranbury and Plainsboro, veterinarian Dr. Edward Tindall, 85, spent much of his youth within a short walk of the famed Walker-Gordon Dairy in Plainsboro.
His father worked there, and as a teenager, Tindall also worked there several summers in high school, moving bales of hay and working in maintenance.
Wanting to preserve the dairy’s history, he and Stanton Clark, self-published the book “Walker-Gordon: One of a Kind” in 1999.
It continues to sell and Tindall continues to attend farm functions around New Jersey, New York and eastern Pennsylvania.
In writing the book, Tindall and Clark had access to thousands of old photographs of the dairy from its peak years.
“Really it was to put into print facts from people that were still available to supply them,” Tindall said of why he pursued the book project. “People were starting to go the way of attrition and they were no longer available and so it was meant to be a tribute to the era, the people who worked there, to a lifestyle, to something that is no longer available.”
The Walker-Gordon Dairy closed for good in 1971, but before that, it became nationally famous for its “Elsie The Cow” advertising campaign. The facility sold milk to several generations of New Jerseyans and other consumers, mostly around the Northeast. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a fan of their bottled milk and cream and insisted on having it aboard during his ocean travels.
Tindall went to Princeton High School and began college at Paul Smith College in upstate New York before transferring to Rutgers in 1955 for Forestry and Wildlife Management. He got his Masters degree at the University of Delaware in Wildlife Entomology before going to veterinary school at Ohio State.
One of many benefits of having the Walker-Gordon Dairy in Plainsboro, Tindall said, was free milk for all Plainsboro public school students during its years of operation.
It wasn’t until several years after the dairy began shipping milk that pasteurization laws came into effect and Walker-Gordon of course complied before ceasing operations in 1971. Today, the former dairy site is a massive housing development that includes single family houses and townhome style attached housing, given its location so close to Princeton, which saw a boom in growth in the 1980s and 90s.
He said there were about 150 full-time employees at the fabled dairy at its peak, his father was one of them.
Tindall couldn’t cite an exact production figure, “but suffice to say, they milked 1,650 head of cow twice a day, so that’s a lot of milk. It went straight into bottles and eventually they did go to cardboard cartons, waxed cartons.”
He and several of his high school classmates worked there during summers, moving and storing locally grown bales of alfalfa and hay in various barns and doing painting and other maintenance. He recalled many Princeton High School football players worked at the facility to build their physiques.
Tindall recalled temperatures in some of the hay storage barns would get close to 120 degrees F in summer months.
“Walker-Gordon: One of a Kind” details the story of Elsie the Cow and the dairy’s mass milking system, the roto-lactor.
“Elsie the Cow was introduced by Borden at the 1939 World’s Fair,” Tindall said. He said he attended the fair in Queens as a four-year old.
“At one point Borden was the major stockholder and owner of Walker-Gordon Dairy, and that was a cooperative thing,” he said, noting Borden already had a nationwide distribution network for its milk and other food products.
“They had a roto-lactor set up there for the public, but the one in Plainsboro milked 50 head of cows in one rotation in 12 and a half minutes,” he recalled. At the World’s Fair, to accommodate the spectators, they set one up that milked just 10 cows at a time and cows stood sideways so all could see the milking process easily.
Tindall argued that the famous Elsie the Cow “was probably the most successful advertising campaign, ever.” Elsie became an iconic figure, nationally, not just here in the Garden State, Tindall said, “because in those days, Borden was pre-eminent in the dairy field.”
As he details in his book, “Walker-Gordon: One of a Kind,” cleanliness was a big part of operations there and was constantly monitored.
“Cows were washed prior to coming in to the milking areas and the employees themselves were tested regularly for any illnesses by a house doctor,” he recalled. Sick cows would go to separate barns, an on-site hospital of sorts, “until later on, when it was not so feasible to hospitalize cows, they would be sold and replaced.”
While Tindall agrees legislation enabling raw milk sales again in New Jersey would be a shot in the arm for the state’s precious few remaining dairy farms, he argued continuing depressed milk prices make it a precarious business venture. But he said he sees some hope for smaller farmers who might be able to do raw milk, cheeses, meats and vegetables.
Currently, New Jerseyans who want raw milk for their own consumption simply drive across the border to Pennsylvania to any number of dairy farms in eastern Pennsylvania that sell it. “For those of us who grew up with the taste of fresh raw milk, today’s milk pales in comparison,” Tindall said.
“It would be difficult, but [raw milk sales] would certainly be a boost for smaller dairy operations, and my personal feeling is it may be a niche market for smaller farmers, based on the economics of it and the level of care it takes for that kind of an operation.”
(Note: Dr. Edward Tindall’s book, “Walker-Gordon: One of A Kind,” with Stanton Clark, is available from Covered Bridge Press, 39 Upper Creek Road, Stockton, NJ 08559. 908-996-4420.)