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  Features 10/30/02

Milkman: It's all about time and speed as Jay Jeppson works all night, then heads to class

By Andrea Nixon

It's just after 1 o'clock in the morning. Night blankets Cache Valley with a chilly, thin shadow. Inside a long building with white, dirty siding is 18-year-old Jay Jeppson. His attire matches the cool darkness outside. Black, baggy, slicky basketball pants hang loosely on his hips, the tiny white stripes running down the side emphasizing his skinny frame underneath. A gray fleece jacket covers a gray T-shirt. His worn-out pair of Nikes is also black and gray.

A milk delivery driver for Rosehill Dairy, Jay's workday starts well before his customers are out of bed. Jay's first responsibility is to load his truck for the morning's deliveries. Pulling open the heavy aluminum door to the cooler, he is met by shrouds of frigid air, blasted from massive fans above him. According to regulatory standards, the temperature of the cooler has to remain below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for proper storage. This cooler is kept at 30.

The cooler's long, fluorescent lights illuminate rows and rows and stacks and stacks of blue plastic crates. Jay hurries to transport the crates holding milk and other products to the cement loading dock where his insulated truck is backed in and waiting. While milk is the main product Rosehill delivers, it also offers Cream o' Weber products from eggs to chocolate milk to cottage cheese to butter.

"Our biggest thing is milk," said Mike Swasey, a Utah State University senior who serves as Rosehill's delivery manager. "The rest are just byproducts, convenience items that people buy a lot of the time. Our big selling point is milk."

It takes about 10, 15 minutes for Jay to lug the crates from the cooler to his truck, but he's not ready to go yet. Even though he drives the same route twice a week -- the one this morning covers Paradise and Hyrum -- he still needs his route sheets.

~ ~ ~

In a small office down the steps and to the left of the loading area, Jay's 5-foot-10 frame slouches in an old, brown leather chair. The cement floors and walls are missing splotches of paint here and there. Boxes, a few filing cabinets, an occasional stray candy bar wrapper -- the room is cluttered but not dirty.

Jay waits patiently, oblivious to the few flies that buzz around his pale red hair and throughout the office. In one corner, Mike listens to phone messages left by customers who wish to change their orders for today's delivery. A short, quiet, man with thin glasses, he enters the data into a computer and soon the racket of the dot matrix printer penetrates the air like a machine gun with a cold. Minutes later Jay is handed the updated route sheet showing how much milk will be delivered to each customer this morning. He glances at it briefly before attaching it to an old wooden clipboard. Loaded truck, clipboard in hand -- the route begins.

~ ~ ~

The air is cool and brisk. Stars, reluctant to retire and call it a night, still dot the ebony sky. A full, creamy moon overhead casts a white glow over Cache Valley.

"It's really nice when the moon's out to light up everything," Jay said. "If not, it's pitch black. Sometimes you can't even see the outline of the mountains, it's so dark."

Not this morning. Everything is clear and crisp, and Jay has a lively step as he hops limberly aboard his rickety, white truck. He turns the key. The diesel engine sputters, struggling, coughing, before roaring to erratic life. As the engine warms up, he flips on the interior light. A tiny bulb housed in cracked, prehistoric plastic (held barely in place by a crusty gray piece of duct tape) flickers, threatening to go out any minute but somehow managing to remain faithful. Jay knows he can count on it to shine so he can see his route sheet and make the right delivery. His seat cushion -- made of ripped blue leather that exposes yellow foam inside -- is loose and lopsided, no longer attached to its metal base. Jay shakes his head and straightens it before sitting down, knowing that before the route is over he will have knocked the cushion off more than once. He props the clipboard up on the dash next to a blue Gatorade.

Gripping the wheel with old, yellow leather gloves, he pulls out of the building and the driveway, his truck gathering surprising momentum as its tires grip the loose gravel below. Turning onto the main road, the gravel turns to asphalt. He speeds through the sleepy countryside, owning the road as he weaves from one lane to the other, straddling yellow and white lines alike. His truck is the only vehicle alive.

"Usually everything's dead," he said. "The whole town's shut down. I usually don't see anyone."

He barrels around corners and flies through intersections, rarely slowing down at all. And stop signs? "Sometimes if it's a really main road, I might stop," he said. "But I don't stop at every one. It'd take too long."

It's all about time. Time and speed.

Jay pulls up to the first house and first delivery of the morning. Throwing the truck into park, his soft, hazel eyes glance at the route sheet one more time. He grabs the order from the back of his truck and bounds out the door. Both sliding doors in the truck are left open so he can easily sprint in and out either side.

He dashes to the porch where a small box resides, about a foot square of white splintery plywood with flat, triangular hinges. Lifting the lid, he quickly places the fresh order inside, snatching any empty bottles the customer may have left in return. If there's only a few, he holds the bottles in his left hand as he drives to the next stop, tossing them into empty crates when he returns to the back of his truck for the next order.

His truck grinds as he pulls it out of park and forces it into drive. On to the next house.

~ ~ ~

Jay has worked for Rosehill, which offers the only milk home-delivery service in Cache Valley or the surrounding areas, since June. A native of South Jordan, Jay lives in Hyde Park with his sister and brother-in-law, Jan and Brandon Murdock. He first moved in with the Murdocks to help with his twin nephews, born in March, and his 2-year-old niece. Jan is a stay-at-home mom while Brandon works and attends Utah State University.

"My sister and I are pretty close," said Jay. "I figured I'd mow the lawn, do the dishes, get a job, save money." So four days a week, Jay gets up at 12:30 in the morning and drives the half-hour commute from Hyde Park to Hyrum, where Rosehill is located. Rosehill's facility handles all steps of the dairy process from the time the milk is obtained from the cow to when it is delivered to the customer.

Rosehill milks about 450 cows twice a day. In the milk house, two rows of cows -- eight on each side -- parallel each other, facing outward. Their thick, matted black and white flanks heave in and out as their bellowing fills the small room. A milker, wearing a heavy, gray rubber apron and green plastic gloves that extend well above his elbows, sprays down their back sides with a hose. Excess water, mixed with traces of dirt and manure, trickles toward a drain in the middle of the sloped cement floor.

The milker swiftly wipes the cows' udders with a damp white cloth before attaching the automatic milking device. Like an octopus with only half its tentacles, the machine's four suctioning hoses lock onto the cows' teats and immediately the raw milk is pumped through tubes from the milk house to the processing plant, a separate building only a few yards away. When they've given all their milk, the cows are sprayed down again before being turned back out to the yard. As soon as they're gone, a new load is herded in.

In the processing plant, a spacious room with a variety of steel machines, the raw milk is run through a separator that divides the cream from the milk. The cream is sold to West Point for butter, and the remaining milk moves on to the next step. The milk travels through an accordion-like machine where it is heated and cooled, passing back and forth through numerous tubes and machines several times before the entire Pasteurizing and homogenizing process is complete. Stored in four separate tanks on the east wall -- depending on whether the milk is skim, 1 percent, 2 percent, or whole -- the milk is now ready to be bottled.

Beneath his rubber, knee-high boots, foamy milk bubbles coat the wet cement floor of the processing plant. But Tim Wilkinson, who oversees Rosehill's processing, pays no attention as he loads empty bottles onto a circular conveyer-type machine. Like thick Elmer's glue, the milk flows into the bottles, filling them instantly before they are whisked around to the other side of the machine where the top is sealed with the appropriate colored lid. Skim milk gets a silver seal, 1 percent is gold, 2 percent is blue, and whole is red. The differently colored lids allow deliverymen like Jay to identify at a glance what kind of milk is in what bottle.

Bottling is complete when a small hose washes off any milk that may have dribbled down the sides of the bottles during the process. As quickly as the bottles are put on the machine, Tim takes them off and returns them to the waiting crate. Piled on a heavy plastic pallet in 3 x 4 x 5 stacks, the crates are then transported by forklift to the cooler storage room from which Jay stocks his truck.

~ ~ ~

The entire process happens hours before Jay arrives for his delivery run early in the morning. His role is the final phase of the ordeal, distributing the finished product to the customers. It's a demanding pace that keeps Jay busy. He delivers to about 220 customers on the route this morning, only a portion of the total 1,500 to 2,000 customers Rosehill serves in Cache Valley.

"That's a lot of running," he said with a lopsided grin and a shrug of his shoulder. Stop and go, house after house, delivery after delivery, Jay continues on his route.

"Sometimes you get sick of running from the house to the truck," he said. "It's a pretty good workout, but when you're tired it sucks.

"The first two weeks of this job I lost 20 pounds. Still haven't gained it back."

Jay's job is physically demanding, but despite the isolation and early hours, falling asleep while he's delivering is not an option.

"It's too cold, plus I'm always moving," Jay explained. "It feels like it goes by really fast, which is nice in a job."

Another perk Jay sees in his job is the pay. His wages are based on how many gallons of milk he delivers, and he estimates he earns an average of $12 to $13 an hour. In addition to taking care of his car payment, the money helps pay for his schooling. Jay is a freshman at Utah State University, majoring in civil engineering, and balancing school and work can be a challenge.

"The schedule's tough at first," said Jay. "It's still tough, but I'm used to it."

After finishing his route and getting home around 7 o'clock in the morning, Jay showers, eats breakfast, and does homework before heading off to his 9:30 a.m. class. He has a break from about 11:30 until 1 or 2 p.m. in which he usually tries to stay on campus and do homework. Occasionally he'll run home and grab something to eat before heading back for his afternoon classes.

"It's hard to balance. It'd be nicer if my classes were closer together and not so spread out," Jay said. "If I try to take a nap, I won't wake up for class. I turn off my alarm and don't get out of bed."

Jay waits until he's completely finished with classes for the day, around 5 p.m., before trying to catch some sleep.

"I sleep whenever I can. I try to sleep from about 6:30 to midnight," he said. Then he shakes his head. "But that doesn't happen very often."

In addition to getting little sleep, Jay has little time to do much of anything else besides work and school. Helping his sister, the original reason Jay moved to Cache Valley, has been "put on the backburner." He finds himself helping out only occasionally on Saturdays and Sundays. Any free time he has is minimal and rarely can he participate in activities he enjoys, like mountain biking and tennis.

"My social life doesn't exist," he adds. "The only time I have to do anything is Saturday night. [My friends and I] just hang out, go bowling or something.

~ ~ ~

It's nearly 6:30 a.m. The sun is just beginning to peek over the farthest mountain, chasing away the final dawdling stars of night and bringing pale shades of pink and yellow and purple. Jay's truck rattles down the road, returning home to the dairy like a tired, lost puppy.

In the back, the blue crates still hold half-gallon milk bottles. Five hours earlier they were full of fresh milk. They are empty now, waiting to be refilled and redelivered.

Jay pulls into Rosehill's driveway and backs his truck into the loading dock, preparing it for another day and another route. Jay fills an important role in Rosehill Dairy's home-delivery service and is appreciated by both his customers and coworkers.

"Not a lot of people are dedicated enough to get up that early," said Tim. "We expect a lot out of them [delivery drivers]."

And regardless of the early hours, the cold, and the lack of sleep, Jay doesn't mind being a milkman.

"I definitely wouldn't want to do this for the rest of my life," he said. "But I actually like it."




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