NORMAN — James Brockhaus remembers the old Rhodes granary and Norman’s local dairy industry well.
“We used to get feed up there some,” Brockhaus said. “We had a dairy out east of Norman.”
Brockhaus said there used to be a dairy “right west of it there, right across from the park on the north — Sloan’s Guernsey Dairy.”
Brockhaus said he lived Norman’s history.
“I worked at the fire department and started in ’48. I knew all the streets, really, from delivering milk,” he said.
As a child, Brockhaus delivered milk house to house.
“Sometimes we set it on the porch and knocked on their doors,” he said. “Some people had us go in and put it in the ice box. Back then, people didn’t lock their doors like they do now.”
He remembers “a grain mill south of Main Street, west of the railroad tracks. There was a big ice plant across the street from it, and Steffen’s dairy was across the street.”
That grain mill south of Main was likely Rhodes’ predecessor, Massey Grain Co.
Brockhaus said the plant furnished ice for small ice plants.
When delivering milk, Brockhaus said they used a large, insulated box with ice.
“We bought 600 pounds of ice a day to keep the milk cold,” he said.
“At one time, there was probably in the neighborhood of 50 dairies in this area, but I guess most of them sold to Highland, but it was McCormick’s Gilt Edge Dairy back then,” Brockhaus said. “When they moved down to where Highland is now, they changed it to Gilt Edge Dairy.”
Gilt Edge Dairy is listed on 302 S. Porter Ave. in the yellow pages of the 1950 Norman phone book.
McCormick’s dairy originally was located by the railroad tracks near Gray Street on the southwest corner, Brockhaus said.
Bob Goins and his friends would walk the railroad track near the granary. Local kids attended Woodrow Wilson Elementary.
“I was born at the corner of Main and Cockrel,” Roy Hamilton said. “In 1936, we moved to the corner of Jones and Johnson and I attended Wilson Grade School.”
He said Woodrow Wilson Elementary school was built in 1930.
“We would play around the granary, and we got in there at night a couple of times, just like we did the old cotton gin,” Hamilton said.
Much of the area east of the railroad tracks is still as it was back in the ’30s, Hamilton said, despite all of the change and growth in Norman.
“We’ve seen a lot happen in 80-some years,” Brockhaus said. “I can remember when a lot of the streets were dirt and gravel in Norman. Robinson was a mud street when I was a kid. In fact, I’ve been stuck on it.”
Richard McDonald was Cecil Rhodes’ son-in-law and worked for Rhodes Grain Company for 40 years. McDonald said the grain business was hard work. He remembers sewing up bags full of grain and throwing them on pallets.
“It was a small company, and whoever worked there had to do everything,” McDonald said. “We manufactured dairy feeds until maybe the late ’80s, early ’90s, when most of the dairies when out of business.”
He said the family dairies required someone to be there to milk twice a day, seven days a week. Farming was a family affair, with kids growing up around the farm helping out. But later generations of kids moved away, not wanting to continue the demanding life of a dairy farmer. Many of those small family dairies liquidated and went out of business.
“They didn’t go broke as much as they just didn’t have people to replace the old folks,” said Ray Doussett, longtime Rhodes employee. “It was so rough, the boys didn’t come home. It all but quit there at the last; the dairies had dwindled plumb out.”
“When we didn’t have any dairy business, we had to scrounge around for other stuff,” McDonald said. “What kept us going for the last 20 years was the emerging horse business in Norman.
“I think we lost our last dairy customer in 2004 or 2005,” he said. “That was the end of dairy, but the horse business started up out in the 10-mile flat.”
In addition to professional ranchers, equestrian enthusiasts who raised pleasure horses bought feed.
“It was an interesting journey,” McDonald said. “We had a lot of good customers. That’s the part I miss about not being at the elevator anymore. Our customers became friends.
“There are several families I remember. The Heitz family, they go back quite a ways. I know four generations of them. That was kind of neat that you had the continuity.
“Being a small business, that’s a part you don’t get (dealing with chain stores),” McDonald said. “The personal end of it is gone.”
The demolition of Rhodes granary will make way for other uses of the property, likely a new public library proposed for the site, though nothing is officially scheduled at this time. City leaders voted to move forward with the $100,000 demolition project primarily because of public safety concerns.
The property at 602 N. Santa Fe Ave. (now James Garner Avenue) was purchased by the city from the Cecil Rhodes family on Feb. 25, 2009, for $350,000, according to Cleveland County Assessor’s property records and Transcript news accounts.