Filling an ever-growing desire to know where food comes from, campaigns such as “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” have been on the move for years now.
Vegetables, meats and dairy are on the menu, and even though it hasn’t returned here yet, even the home delivery milkman has returned over the years to many people’s doorsteps in areas such as Loudon County, Arlington County, Fairfax County, Manassas, Alexandria and more.
But once was the day when Blue Ribbon Creamery was located in South Boston, and one former employee, Billy Ligon, delivered milk to county residents. He remembers it like it was yesterday.
The 1951 graduate of Scottsburg Agriculture High School began his days as a milkman in the early 60s after stepping away from the tobacco company.
He also had previously served in the U.S. Army with deployments in Korea and Japan.
The veteran began delivering milk after reaching out to Paul Edmunds who set him up on a route with Stanley Cole to Clarksville and Chase City.
“He said, ‘Ride with Stanley a time or two and see how you like it,’” said Ligon.
The duo began their route at 4 a.m., and by the end of it, Ligon reported back to Edmunds saying, “I appreciate the opportunity, but I don’t think I am cut out for this.”
Edmunds encouraged him to stick with it, saying, “Don’t quit, it’ll come to you,” and he offered him a $2 raise making his weekly paycheck $67.
“At that time, there was no way I could walk away from a salary paying that kind of money,” said Ligon.
So, he went home, set his alarm for the wee hours of the morning, and he began delivering milk to homes daily with Cole.
Three days a week they were in Clarksville, and another three were spent in Chase City.
The milk came from the Blue Ribbon Farm, located where Edmunds Park stands today.
Milk was produced, pasteurized and homogenized before being bottled in glass bottles, and peaches, apples, black cherries and blackberries also were grown on site for ice cream.
“That black cherry was the best,” said Ligon.
Those glass bottles were filled with pure whole milk, placed in metal crates and dropped off at homes that Ligon said were usually unlocked and empty.
“At a lot of these homes, the man and wife would be at work, and they would leave the doors unlocked. I would leave the bill at the end of the month and get a check or cash the next time I came by,” he added.
Also each morning, Ligon would pick up any used glass bottles and take them back to work where they were washed and sterilized.
“That was quite a process,” he added.
Over time, things began to change with new regulations from the health department and agriculture department and competitors using different products.
“They began to say, ‘has all that stuff been inspected?’ and to make a long story short, we couldn’t use the stuff we raised anymore. That hurt a whole lot. We bought stuff from outside for a good while, but it never had that same taste as producing our own fruits,” Ligon said.
The milkman said competitors soon began taking the cream off the top of the milk, and calling it 2 percent.
“That trend began to move more and more. They wanted skim and 1 percent. So we had to go along with our competitors,” he added.
The glass bottles eventually turned into paper cartons and then plastic, and those metal crates used to carry the bottles eventually turned to plastic as well.
Throughout all the changes, Ligon said he stuck with it delivering six days week, sometimes going as far as Farmville and Emporia.
A wreck in the 80s couldn’t even slow him down.
On that particular day, he was on the way to make his deliveries to Chase City and South Hill when he drove up on several horses in the road that he was unable to avoid.
His delivery truck struck multiple horses before going off the road into a field.
But, luckily, Ligon was fine, and even though he felt bad, he was able to get back to South Boston, reload and complete his route that day.
“I kept going, and I give the Lord all the praise,” he added.
Looking back on his 35 years as a milkman, he can’t help but to think of those he worked for in addition to Edmunds, Jimmy Epps Sr. of Boston-Durham Ice Cream Co. and Pete Whitlow as well as those he worked with including Runt Powell, Wesley Newbill, Buddy Harris, Archie Taylor, Ralph Cole, C. J. Wilson, and he said Ernie Green had just retired.
“We treated each other with love and respect. We became like family,” said Ligon who retired in 1999. “It allowed me to build a home and support my wife and two children.”
Ligon was married to the late Margaret Ligon, and they had two children, the late Robert W. Ligon and Tammy Ligon, who he still calls “Half Pint.”
After he retired, he once again set his alarm at 4 a.m., and when he woke up, he reached over, turned it off, and said, “Praise the Lord I don’t have to get up.”
The return of the milkman to Halifax County is unforeseen, but residents like Ligon will always have their memories of what once was.