. . . it has to be good. The chocolate milk, that is. How good? Good enough to steal from the back of a Bustead’s Dairy Products truck. That’s exactly what William Hamilton did when he was 10. He and a buddy used to hop on the Bustead’s trucks in Woburn center and go for short rides. One day he slipped a crate of chocolate milk into a snowbank and retrieved it later.
Hold that thought until the end of this story.
Every Saturday night, before she could go rollerskating at Wal-Lex in Waltham, Joan Bustead had to spend a couple hours of quality time with empty milk bottles. Many, many crates full of them. The fleet of eight Bustead’s trucks had retrieved them from customers in surrounding towns. As the oldest child in the Bustead family business, Joan had to drag the crates full of empty bottles into the “milk room,” the processing facility behind the family homestead at 14 Wilmington Road. Each crate weighed 12 lbs empty and almost 40 lbs full. Each bottle then had to be arranged for cleaning and refilling the next morning.
The next morning began at 4 a.m.
Besides cleaning and refilling those bottles, Joan also made the orange juice. And she made the chocolate milk. And she made the butter, using a butter churn. And she helped her father strategize the deliveries for the day. It was complicated. Some customers wanted a layer of cream at the top of their milk bottles. Others wanted their milk homogenized. Some wanted delivery daily. Others weekly. Others every two days.
And then there was Mother Nature. What if it was 90 degrees outside? You can’t leave perishable food on people’s doorsteps to perish. The customers had to receive the goods pronto. If this meant banging on doors at 4:30 a.m. before sunrise, so be it.
And then there were the deadbeats — the people who didn’t pay their Bustead’s bill. Some people were always home to receive the goods but always not home when it was time to pay up. They deserved to be shut off, but times were different then. “My father was such a softie. If they had children, he always delivered anyway,” Joan Bustead recalls. “That’s probably why he went out of business.”
Bustead’s operated at 14 Wilmington Road from 1897 to 1950, when competitors like Hood and Sunnyhurst Farms muscled in.
Not exactly helping matters was William Hamilton, the child thief in Woburn Center. Where is that rascal now, you ask? He’s often found in Joan Bustead’s house, because he’s been married to her for 61 years. By pure coincidence, he met her in Woburn Center when he was 21 and married her right away. Looking back at his chocolate milk heist, he says with a smile, “Boy did I pay for that.”