ORAL HISTORY: Delivering Milk by Horse and Wagon

David Mitchell today (13 years after his remarks transcribed here). Photo courtesy Marion Naar

David Mitchell today (13 years after his remarks transcribed here). Photo courtesy Marion Naar

March 24, 2014

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Cape Charles Historical Society has for more than a decade been recording oral histories of the area’s earlier days.  A grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities enabled 15 interviews to be transcribed, and the Historical Society has made this one available for readers of the Wave.  All the transcriptions may be read at the Cape Charles Museum.)

David Mitchell speaks April 12, 2001


I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and I left there at the age of five and came to Cape Charles.  I lived with my aunt and uncle, Jesse Mitchell and Sally Mitchell.  My uncle worked for the town back in those days.  He used to haul garbage, and the garbage dump was over where the Coast Guard housing is right now [Washington Street east of Sea Breeze apartments].  Used to be the dump pile.  They had a horse and wagon they used to haul garbage with.

I always loved having my own money, so at an early age my Uncle Jesse had me working.  He used to do a little gardening and he would sell butter beans and tomatoes and stuff from his garden.  And he would take orders from private homes to sell butter beans and we had to help shell them and so forth.  And, of course, he would give us a little bit for helping and delivering.  My aunt used to wash laundry for families and she did some housework also.

When I was about 12, Mr. Gladstone had a dairy.  I know a lot of people are familiar with Gladstone Dairy over on the other side of Washington Avenue.  His father had strawberries and stuff.  I didn’t know that much about his father, but I did know Paul Gladstone.  I used to watch the cows and they would graze along Washington Avenue.  They had fields along it, but no fence.  So I happened to be out there playing one day and he came by and asked me if I wanted to keep the cows from going out in the street.  He’d give me something for doing it.  Well, I was playing anyway, so I told him yes.  So I would just throw a rock out and make them go back and then I would continue to play.  I’d see them come over again and I’d throw and make them go back.  And I guess he must have seen that I was faithful in what I was doing, so when I got a little older he gave me a job at the dairy.


I used to go there after school.  I went to school over the hump here, over the railroad tracks, they called it “over the hump.”  And after school I would go out and watch the cows for a couple hours or whatever it was and he paid me ten cents each time I watched them.  So at the end of the week, whatever it was, he would give me the lump sum.  In the summertime, I would do it twice a day when I wasn’t in school and he would give me ten cents for the morning and ten cents in the afternoon.  So after fourteen times a week, he’d give me $1.50 and that was my week’s pay.  I used to give that money to my aunt.  She would always give me a little bit of it back, to do with it what I want.  It wasn’t that much, but it seemed like a lot to me to spend.

So this went on for a while, but when I got older, enough to do a man-sized job, he gave me a regular job of helping to milk the cows, bottle the milk, and deliver.  They had glass bottles then, which you don’t see anymore, glass bottles delivered door to door.  It’s not too many porches in this town that I haven’t gone up on to deliver milk.  We had a horse and wagon then.  Another fellow and I used to deliver the milk.  His name was Joseph Reed.  And another one was Jesse Spady.  But Joseph Reed and I worked the longest.

That horse, you call it horse sense, he had human sense!  He would trot along the route that we would have to go and he knew the route that well that you really didn’t have to give him the reins to turn the corner or pull him up to stop.  He would just trot along the curb.  There wasn’t that many cars in town then as there are now.  He would come out and pass a car and go by it and go back to the curb and just continue to trot along.  And we would jump out on each side of the wagon, run to the doors, put the milk down on the porch, come back and pick up some more milk.  That’s the way we would go and we worked until we got down to Mason Avenue.  Of course, the restaurants and the food stores that we put the milk in had stopping there.  And we delivered milk to those places and the horse would stay there and wait.  We would finish that and we would go on to finish up the route.  Most times, Mason Ave was about the half-way point.  And we’d go the rest of the town.

I don’t know just how many years that horse did this work, but he got old and sick and they had to put him out of his misery.  I think that was one of the saddest things I’ve ever had up to that point.  To see somebody have to shoot him to put him out of his misery.  That horse’s name was Frank.  And then they got another horse, I don’t remember his name, but he was just too fast.  He was real lively and a bright tan color and long mane and he just ran to go all the time!  You had to hold back on him all the time.

This concludes Part 1 of David Mitchell’s reminiscences.



5 Responses to “ORAL HISTORY: Delivering Milk by Horse and Wagon”

  1. Andy Dickinson on March 24th, 2014 10:31 am

    David — Jack Gladstone and I were best of friends growing up and I spent many a night at the Gladstone home. I remember you well as we were about the same age. Paul and Mae Gladstone had the most burdensome life one could imagine in operating a dairy farm. They never had a day off and could never go out of town, and neither could you when you worked for them. What a commitment! Their day started around 3 or 4 each morning and ended around 8-9 p.m. after another of Mae’s wonderful suppers. Mae was the best cook I ever knew and Paul was a living testament. I can still savor her fried chicken, hot rolls, macaroni and cheese and lemon meringue pie!

    You look great, and all that hard work appears to have agreed with you.

    I remember Frank!

    Andy Dickinson

  2. Andy Zahn on March 26th, 2014 9:31 am

    I love your stories of older and better, less complicated times. I authored several stories published in the Irvington, NJ weekly newspaper about that wonderful town when the residents were middle-class, hard working, tax paying citizens and the town was entirely safe for young children and everyone else. It is now a wreck, a hot-bed of crime with many residents not paying their taxes, hospital bills or rent. The wonderful Olympic Park is no more and its merry-go-round is at Disney World in Florida. Many homes are abandoned and boarded-up.
    The politicians destroyed Irvington and they have also destroyed New Jersey. We had a beautiful sea shore and great agriculture, factories and the latest in technology but the leaders kept spending and taxing and regulating to the point where many of us, myself included, “voted with our feet”.
    In my 30 or so years in Virginia I see a lot of New Jersey being played out in Accomack County and in the Commonwealth.

  3. Larry Beckett on March 27th, 2014 12:12 am

    Thank you, Mr. Mitchell, for your oral history. I have always respected you. And my uncle, John Jr., loved you until his death. Also, I thank you and your wife for visiting my mother; she enjoys the both of you.

  4. Bill Powell on April 11th, 2014 9:31 pm

    Like Andy Dickinson I was a good friend of Jack Gladstone and loved to go to the farm after school or on Saturday. Jack was an only child and had the neatest cowboy gear and RCMP uniforms to play with. One stand-out memory was my old dog “Prince” liked to roll in the cow pies, then come where we were playing and shake himself. He was not popular. Strange what you remember from so many years ago.

  5. Lena A. Ames on April 13th, 2014 12:10 pm

    Mr. Mitchell,
    I absolutely love your comments on how Cape Charles was in “the good ole days!” I have fond memories of waving to you in the tunnels on the Bay Bridge-Tunnel; however, my best memories are of your absolutely beautiful voice in First Baptist Cape Charles! I just remember your voice being SO beautiful and your raw and natural talents have always been an inspiration to me. Just thinking about some of your solos brings a tear to my eyes! I hope you’re still singing because your voice brought me and numerous others moments of pure joy! Thank you for being such a role model for young people as a good, Christian man! Give my love and best wishes to Mabel and Laurie (my cousins) and know that I think about all of you often! I’m so sorry to hear about Darrin; I did not know; however, I know that he is in a place where there is no more suffering and he will always be with all f you! All my love, Lena Ann
    P.S. Maybe we can get together and do a duet and I will realize a dream! :-0)