When Highway 41 was a Milky Way

MARQUETTE — It was an icy day after a sleet storm and Howard Bolduc, a milkman for Bancroft Dairy, was driving a new truck. He swerved to avoid an oncoming car that had skidded sideways and rolled the truck ten times.

As he told the story to The Mining Journal in 1986, “The State Police came and had to get me out of the truck. They took me back to the dairy. All the bottles had come forward and I was coated with milk, chocolate milk, and buttermilk …. They did a story about it in the paper and the headline said “‘Highway 41 Made a Milky Way.'”

Bolduc, who lived all his life in Marquette, graduated from Bishop Baraga High School in 1932, during the worst of the Great Depression. As a child, he had spent summers on an uncle’s farm where his chores included milking the eight cows and the rewards included going down to the creamery for a ladle of fresh buttermilk.

So he loved milk and knew he wanted to be a milkman. Even though there weren’t any jobs, he showed up at the Northern Dairy every day just to wash bottles. As he’d hoped, he got the word that a new delivery route was going to open up and was able to get the job. The day started at 2 a.m., and often didn’t end until 7 p.m., and the milkmen worked seven days a week, with one day off each month. They even worked Christmas Day. But the pay was $65 a month, which he explained “was big bucks, then.”

He delivered milk first for Northern Dairy and then for Bancroft Dairy for a total of 43 years, finally retiring in 1975.

At left, a worker fills half-gallon bottles of milk at the Bancroft Dairy. Below, Howard and Florence Bolduc are pictured on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1986. (Photos courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

Not surprisingly, a number of the other stories he told in The Mining Journal interview also centered on storms, including the storm in 1938, when much of the downtown burned and cars were buried so deeply that the firemen had to stick poles into the snowdrifts to find them.

He dug himself out of his house and snowshoed to work, and then with the other workers, who had arrived the same way, used a toboggan to bring milk and eggs to the hospital and one restaurant that managed to stay open through the storm.

But Bolduc also remembered that every spring an elderly woman on Fourth Street would leave him a note that this was the day she was changing her mattresses and she needed his help. Another time, a new mother left a note that just said “Howard, I need your help bad.” It turned out that she’d never diapered a baby and couldn’t figure it out. Howard, who with his wife Florence, had six children, was glad to set her on the right path.

When Howard and Florence celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1986, their children gave them a trip to Hawaii. They remembered how much they enjoyed riding the route with their father, although he suspected that some of their pleasure was stopping at the Elite for breakfast when the route was over.

Bolduc died on Oct. 30, 1995, leaving behind his wife of 59 years, six children, 23 grandchildren and five great grandchildren. His Mining Journal obituary also noted his years of service to St. Peter’s Cathedral, the Marquette Catholic Credit Union and the St. Vincent dePaul Society.

He never lost his love for milk. As he told The Mining Journal about how much he enjoyed being a milkman, “I loved it every day. I drank all the milk I wanted. We still do, her and I. It was a great job.”