March 11, 1995
The recent news story revealing that Borden's is shutting down its Oklahoma City operation was not joyfully received there. But it does stir memories of an opposite reaction which occurred here in 1938 when plans were disclosed for opening a related industry in Perry. The Borden company later became part of that story.
On Nov.16,1938, the late Bud Warren announced that he was preparing to open a new plant in Perry to extract casein from whole milk. That sent a wave of excitement throughout the area. It was the time of the Great Depression, remember, and news such as this held promise of great economic impact that would benefit many here.
The new installation, creating Perry's first market for whole milk, resulted in a premium price for the milk. Area farmers who had milk cows naturally were excited. Until then, they had a market only for cream which was separated from whole milk on the farm and hauled into Chester Swart's Perry cream station, or to others in this area. The skim milk then was fed to their hogs.
Bud opened the new plant shortly after Jan. 1, 1939, and it was in full operation by the latter part of March. He left a position as purchasing agent for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety (the newly organized Highway Patrol) to operate the new business. His wife, Reba, joined him in the firm after resigning as a deputy in the courthouse office of Sadie Lee Freeman, county clerk. She was succeeded there by Ruth Ball, whose husband, barber Carl Ball, had recently died. Bud passed away in 1988, but Reba still resides on the Warren Ranch southeast of the city in the comfortable home the couple built.
The Perry Whole Milk Plant was the first of its kind in Oklahoma, although many others were in operation throughout the U.S. By 1942 the Perry plant was the world's largest independent casein plant. Casein was extracted from milk without removing any other properties. In the process, milk was allowed to stand in vats until all the whey was drained off. Whey was sold to local farmers for farm use. Remaining parts of the skim milk were then run through a drier which converted the solid part of the curded milk into dry, pea-size pellets -- casein. Casein sold for seven to eight cents per pound. It took 100 pounds of skim milk to make three and a half pounds of dry casein.
Casein was used in many ways, and in 1939 that included this country's growing contribution to Great Britain's war effort. The milk product was a component of explosives used in ammunition. Casein from the Perry plant was shipped to the Hercules Powder Co. in Chicago and from there to England. Casein also was used in the newly developing plastics industry for buttons, automobile steering wheels, rayon thread and transparent cloth. It also was used in making paint, glossy magazine covers, neckties, fountain pen barrels, glue and wall paper. A broad market was in existence, ready and waiting for the local plantís output. A long-time contract for its total production capacity of both casein and sweet cream already had been signed before Warren opened the plant.
The industry was housed in what was known as the Marchbanks building one block off the south side of the square on Flynn street, where the Wheatheart Nutrition Center is now located. At one time it had 35 employees on the payroll, Reba recalls, but it had an impact on a broad area. Milk was hauled to Perry from many points, principally from Mangum, Blackwell and Enid.
After a few years, equipment requirements for processing casein became so stringent that the Perry Whole Milk plant was converted to a conventional dairy plant and adopted the brand name of Dairy Gold. It then began producing bottled milk, butter, cheese and related dairy products. By 1946 Dairy Gold's success had caught Borden's eye, and the local firm was sold to the giant company. Warren stayed on briefly as manager and all local employees were retained. But in 1949 Borden closed the plant here, and that was the end of what once had been an interesting major Perry business.
Soon thereafter Bud and Reba Warren became two of the best-known figures in the U.S. Quarter horse industry. Early on they purchased Leo, a legendary and premier race animal who sired many high-priced offspring. His statue looks out from a prominent corner of an east side city park which is named in his honor.
Little is now visible of the Perry Whole Milk Plant on Flynn street, except a few old Borden trucks parked at the rear of the Wheatheart Nutrition Center building, but those who remember its heyday can still visualize the daily arrival of milk there and the dispatch of trucks to far away places. It was an exciting story and it helped to buoy the hopes of Perry area residents as they struggled to survive in a troubled time.