Working real horsepower

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GUELPH, Ont. – Ron Guest knows the true meaning of horsepower.

His name was Jim. And throughout the late 1930s, Guest’s horse and partner accompanied him on rounds as they delivered milk for the Creditview Dairy.

“The horse was a real challenge, that one,” he chuckles. “You get behind a good hard-mouthed horse and see who’s boss.”

But they worked long days together as they plied the roads of what’s now Mississauga, Ont. By 10 p.m., Jim was being fed, with the first load piled on at 11 p.m. Horse and driver returned by 7:30 a.m. and then Guest would load cans onto a 1931 Chevrolet to pick up milk from area farmers, driving at a top speed of about 45 mph, if you dared to drive that fast! (To this day Guest can still name all the stops on the route.) Then it was back to the dairy by noon.

After a seven-day workweek, he had as much as $25 for his troubles.

“If you had $20, $25, that was your money. No taxes,” he adds.

Guest was actually driving a motorized truck as early as 1929. That year, his 1921 ton-and-a-half Model T bounced along with 30×3-1/2 tires on the front and hard tires on the rear axle, delivering ice and coal for Victor Skinner in Port Carleton, Ont. at a top speed of about 32 mph.

“It was just like a buggy seat cushion, with a half-dozen springs,” he recalls. There was one door on the right-hand side, and the curtain had long been missing from the half door on the driver’s side.

“The rain just came right in,” he says. But the opening made it easier to control the windshield wiper that was pulled back and forth by hand.

“If they were 23 hp, they were doing good,” he says of the four-cylinder engine. “The engines had no water pump. No oil pump. Just the fan and the radiator.”

“Three of us delivered it around the lower part of what is Mississauga, now,” he says, adding that everyone needed to have a level of mechanical know-how. “You had to know how to fix it to get home.”

A year later Guest was working for a competitor, traveling about 40 miles per day in a Model A. And this truck had one shifter on the floor with a second under the seat. But it also had the luxury of doors and wind-up windows.

Guest was making $20 for a six-day week in 1929, making it a good-paying job in those days.

Now, he continues to show up to work at Inter-County Milk, the company he founded in 1946, but little more than half of the business is related strictly to milk these days.

Today, Inter-County Milk has 23 power units, all Sterlings with 350-hp Caterpillar engines and 18-speed transmissions. The suspensions are air rides, and the steering is powered.

Without a doubt, they offer a more comfortable ride than the trucks that launched his career. But Guest laments the loss of those days when trucking was more of an art form. There was no sand for the ice, and the roads were never plowed. Anti-freeze wouldn’t be available for more than a decade. Instead, alcohol was used as the coolant, with 1-1/2 pints of light lube on the surface to ensure it didn’t evaporate. And oil would become so loaded with soot that the engine had to be regularly cleaned with a steam hose.

Times change, but the memories remain. n

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