Weldon Ross: Child of the Depression; dairyman of the future
The Weldon Ross family as they posed for a picture in the front yard of their home in the summer of 1950. Seated on the ground are Claudia Jane, left, and Doris Jean, right. Seated on the chairs are Mr. and Mrs. Ross and Weldon Jr., and Jimmy, the baby of the family. OTIS HOWELL COLLECTION, HANNIBAL COURIER-POST/REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE HANNIBAL FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
For the Courier-Post
The Great Depression brought 10-year-old Weldon Wilson Ross, his parents and siblings to Oakwood, west of Hannibal, in 1927. His father, Claude Ross, had been farming in Shelby County, near Bethel, when hard times hit. In Hannibal, they thought, there was hope of finding work.
Weldon’s parents couldn’t afford to feed everyone in their family, so Weldon moved into the YMCA at Hannibal, taking a job delivering newspapers out to a dairy farm where Poage Motor’s now stands. In return, he’d deliver the dairy’s milk back to town.
“The YMCA was full of boys just like him,” said Jimmy Ross, Weldon’s son. “He made a lot of guy friends there. At the age of 12, he was saved by the Lord. The YMCA had such a strong message. It was the last hope for those young lads.”
The pre teen would visit his parents at Oakwood on the weekends, sometimes able to give them 25 to 50 cents from his earnings. “Things looked pretty bleak. Sometimes that was more than his dad made,” Jimmy said.
Weldon lived at the Y for a couple of years, until his parents could get back on their feet. “That’s what made him such a conservative person,” Jimmy said.
The country didn’t fully recover from the depths of the Depression until World War II. “Guys who were 16 would lie about their age to get into the military,” Jimmy said. Like others of his generation, Weldon Ross served his country during World War II.
Speaking of the men of his father’s generation, “Their young life was carved out for them,” Jimmy Ross said. “Nobody had money or food to eat. It was the way it was.”
In 1940, 23-year-old Weldon Ross was single, and worked as a pressman at Hannibal’s rubber plant. After that he operated a feed store in Oakwood. He also hauled livestock to St. Louis and St. Joseph.
But through it all, he never forgot his Shelby County farming roots.
By 1950, he was a husband, the father of four, and a dairy farmer with an entrepreneurial spirit. During the next decade, he and his wife would add five more children to their family.
of farmer’s success
During the late summer of 1950, the Hannibal Courier-Post put the spotlight on Mr. Ross, acknowledging the fact that he had started a dairy operation from scratch, including the construction of his own dairy barn on a farm he had purchased five miles south of Center.
The Aug. 29, 1950, newspaper reported: “Although he had never laid any brick or stone before, young Ross, by following careful instructions given to him by his father, set every concrete block in the 42 by 20 building. ‘Where there’s a will there is a way,’ was recited to him. ‘Yes, that’s right, but I pretty near lost the will, especially last winter when it was cold. But, I managed to stick by my job and got it finished,’” he told the Courier-Post reporter.
The Ross milking barn included six stanchions – frames that hold the cow’s heads in place during milking.
“Entering one end the visitor finds himself in the milk handling room proper,” the 1950 newspaper reported. “Between the milk room and the parlor is the feed room and a narrow, short hallway leading to the milking parlor. In the milk handling room is housed all of the technical equipment needed for handling milk in the modern way and to meet the specifications of the St. Louis standard milk ordinance. It includes a milking machine.”
Ross painted the interior of the barn – including the floor - in white.
By supplying his own labor, Ross was able to complete the project, including the building and all of its technical equipment, for under $2,000.
“He only had an eighth-grade education, but he educated himself,” Jimmy Ross said. “He milked Grade A for many years.”
Chose to farm
Weldon Ross had purchased an 80-acre farm about five miles south of Center around 1947 Then he went to St. Paul, Minn., and purchased 14 head of unbred short yearling Guernsey heifers. These became the basis for his main herd. The cows were all purebreds and he used a registered sire with the result that in 1950 he had number of heifer calves in his lot which were prospects for milk cows eventually.
To the north of the milking barn, Ross used his ingenuity and available resources to build a loafing barn.
“There was an abandoned negro church built out of limestone rock,” the 1950 newspaper reported. Ross built a frame building over it, cemented up the old walls and his purebread cattle were thus quite comfortable on the coldest days of winter.
Some time later that barn was destroyed by a fire.
The 1950 newspaper article explained that Weldon Ross raised only enough feed for his own dairy farm’s use.
farms the land
Jimmy Ross said early inspectors didn’t believe the milking barn would last long. His father quit milking in the late 1960s, but the milking barn is still standing in 2016. “We added tin to the outside,” he said, which helped protect the structure from weather. “Look how many years it has stood.”
A few years ago, Jimmy Ross’s youngest son built a house on the original family farm. To save money during construction, his son and wife and their four children moved into the old milk barn, where they lived for two months.
Today, the building is used for farm storage. “There’s a lot of history in that milk barn,” Jimmy Ross said.
Once the family got out of the milk business, Weldon Ross built an automated chicken facility on a farm he bought two miles south of Center. “He set it up to pay for itself in 10 years,” Jimmy said. “It paid for itself in 2 ½ years.
“He was a very good manager with his money,” Jimmy Ross said.
A scene in the milking parlor of the Ross dairy farm during the summer of 1950, with the purebred Guernsey cows in their places at the stanchions, ready to be milked. OTIS HOWELL COLLECTION, HANNIBAL COURIER-POST/REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE HANNIBAL FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY
An exterior view of the Ross milking parlor which Mr. Ross built with his own hands, and did all of the work, both masonry and carpentry. In the yard are shown a few of his heifer calves in 1950, which were considered to be fine prospects for future milk cows. OTIS HOWELL COLLECTION, HANNIBAL COURIER-POST/REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM THE HANNIBAL FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY