Moore Brothers Dairy

Of all the dairies that have operated in Ames through the years, Moore Dairy, at 428 Fifth Street, was the largest and most modern.  A few of those active in the 1940s and 1950s were: Woodland Farms (819 Lincoln Way), McDonald (W. Woodland), Logsdon (210 E. 13th Street), Starkweather (2608 Hunt), Iowa Guernsey (300 S. Kellogg), College (ISC Diary Industries Building), and O’Neil (308 Fifth Street).  Moore Dairy was particularly popular with kids, especially teenagers.  It was strategically located on the corner of Fifth Street and Clark Avenue across from the junior and senior high school buildings, and directly behind the Collegian Theater.  Situating his dairy near these lucrative student and movie-going markets illustrates F.T.’s superb business acumen (“location, location, location!”)

Moore’s ice cream store and fountain naturally became the favorite hangout of students, accounting for the frequently heard expression “Meet you at Moore’s.”  On more than one occasion a student could be seen surreptitiously exiting an unmonitored class and slipping over to Moore’s to indulge in a tasty frozen treat.  The booths and stools were usually packed at noon and after class.  Decibels rose and the bustle increased when dozens of students entered at a time.  Twenty flavors of ice cream were available for cones, malts, shakes and sundaes, complemented by a multitude of flavored toppings, nuts and crushed peppermint.  Other dairy products included: packaged ice cream, cottage cheese, home-delivered pasteurized milk (homogenized, low fat, and skim) cream (half and half, coffee, and whipping), chocolate milk, orange drink, and buttermilk.  The latter was an essential ingredient for the making of “kringla” by Scandinavian descendants in the area.  Butter was not made onsite, but was purchased from a dairy in Hubbard and resold.


The key person behind this success story was F.T. (Fern Theodore) Moore, known to everyone only as “F.T.”  A native of the Ottumwa area, he came to Ames in 1921 to attend Iowa State College.  Graduating in 1925 with a degree in dairy science, he began his dairy career as foreman at the O’Neil Dairy.  He purchased the Iowa Guernsey Dairy Store at 114 Kellogg Avenue from Fred Davis and Alvin Banks in 1932 and operated there as the first Moore dairy.  With this business experience behind him, he felt it was time to launch a larger endeavor, and asked his brothers, Paul and Craig, to join him in this new venture.  Financial backer was Paul (1895-1949), a hog buyer who apparently made his money on the hog futures market.  He was seldom seen on the premises.   F.T., an honest and savvy businessman, was the chief owner and operator.  Craig Roosevelt Moore (1900-1964), nicknamed “Ted” from his middle name, functioned as plant manager and  head ice cream maker.  Completing the family involvement was Craig’s son, Gary.  Although not employed in the dairy business per se, he frequented the store enjoying free ice cream at any and all times.  This perk seems to have counterbalanced the hard work Gary did on F.T.’s farm.


The Des Moines architectural firm of Tinsley, McBroom & Higgins was contracted in 1937 to design a new building specifically as a dairy.  This firm was busy in the late 1930s designing buildings for Ames (Ames High School, 1938; Iowa State College Women’s Gymnasium, 1940) and Des Moines (Bankers Life Building, 1939-1940).   The modern compact, multi-purpose facility at 428 Fifth Street was christened Moore Bros. Dairy.  The “Bros.” was dropped in 1949 after Paul died.  Large plate glass windows on the front and northwest corner served to showcase the sales area.  Liberal application of glass blocks on the west side allowed plenty of light into the processing area.  Fenestration at the northwest corner of both first and second floors was an added feature.  A 12”-thick concrete floor supported the necessary heavy dairy equipment.  A garage, entered from the front side (shown in early photos), was later converted to office space.  F.T. had a separate garage for his own car on the south side.  On the second floor were a storage area and four apartments.  F.T. and his wife, Bertha, lived in the corner apartment and rented out the other three.  Her neat, Dutch-style garden was maintained on the east side of the building.

Moores plan new building

The construction of a new and modern dairy at Fifth Street and Clark Avenue will begin about June 1, it was announced Thursday by F.T. Moore, of the Moore Brothers Dairy, which has been located at 114 Kellogg.

Contracts totaling $52,000 were awarded recently, general contract being awarded to James Thompson and Sons, the wiring to Best Electric, and the plumbing to Palmer Plumbing.

The building will be 73 feet wide and 100 feet deep, two stories, and of brick and tile constriction.  The dairy will occupy the basement, first and part of the second floor, while the remainder will be divided into apartments.  The office and retail store will be located on Fifth Street with ice cream and milk rooms in the rear.

From the Ames Tribune, March 11, 1937


The dairy was a noisy, wet and steamy place of employment.  Showers and lockers were available in the basement for workers.  Iowa State College students were hired to do much of the cleaning. A compressor and gas boiler in the basement provided hot steam for sterilization of containers, 100 feet of pipes, large vats and other equipment.  Enough high-pressure steam was produced to sell some to the Shell filling station just south of the dairy for steam cleaning of auto parts.

F.T. hired independent truckers to pick up milk from farmers in the Ames-Nevada area.  Milk trucks were unloaded at the back dock (still visible on the south side of the building).  In the southwest corner of the main floor was a sunken tank for the receipt of milk delivered by farmers.  Since they were paid by the amount of butterfat content, apparatus with a centrifuge for determining that percentage was available there.  The pasteurization of milk required a 163-degree temperature held for 30 minutes to kill all harmful bacteria.

A mechanical bottle washer held six bottles in a tray for soaking in lye water.  Boiling hot water was then sprayed into the bottles.  An automated bottle filler was used to fill and cap the milk bottles.  A cellophane cover over the cap completed the operation.  Square cartons were introduced later to replace glass bottles.  A coating of wax was applied to the cartons by an automatic dipping operation.  It was not at all uncommon in the early days of this technology to encounter bits of wax floating on the milk after it was poured from the container.  Deliverymen used their own trucks to work the milk routes – three retail home delivery routes and two wholesale routes.

F.T.’s work routine did not always dictate being present at the dairy.  Once operations were up and running efficiently, he spent most of his time at the farm he had purchased.  Dairy customers and staff were thankful when farm work kept him busy and away from them.  F.T. was not beloved by either group.  In fact, some customers would leave the dairy if they saw F.T. in the sales area, returning after he had left.  Kids tapping coins on the counter to F.T.’s annoyance might have a quart of ice cream slammed down on their hands.  F.T. was a tough boss.  Workers not performing to his standards of perfection could be fired with or without reason.  In the words of nephew Gary, “If a student was not performing at 120 percent, the individual would be paid and told not to come back.  As a relative I could get by with performing at 105 percent.”


The success of the dairy allowed F.T. to purchase an 80-acre farm between 16th and 24th streets and Grand and Northwestern avenues. Gary recalls being employed to bail hay on this farm.  F.T. put up a 100 x 200 foot chain link fence on the land to enclose a plot for growing gladiola.  Dr. Harry Knight of Iowa State College, and later, Ernest Diehl also grew ‘glads‘ there.   F.T. eventually sold the farmland to Hunziker and Furman for a handsome return.  H&F then built many blocks of residential homes, also profiting and securing their niche as a prominent Ames enterprise.  Ferndale Avenue was named to honor the former landowner.  In the 1940s F.T. purchased a 155-acre farm at the west end of 24th Street just north of the Veenker Memorial Golf Course.  This was partially wooded land on which a timber rattlesnake was once found.  Gary worked on this farm as well, driving the tractor, helping put up silage and dynamiting stumps.  F.T. never lived on this farm although he had always intended to build a house on the land.  Surprisingly, he never engaged in dairy farming, but raised black Angus and chickens.  A garage was converted to a tenant resident for an Iowa State College student studying veterinary medicine.  This person lived on the farm rent-free in return for looking after the animals.  Dozens of fresh eggs were regularly delivered to Frangos Restaurant and the Star Café on Main Street.  F.T. died from a stroke in 1968; Bertha passed away in 1986, outliving her husband by eighteen years.


At Bertha’s death probate of the will began.  In it she left a bequest to the city of almost 90 acres of farmland and wooded property, a parcel that developers had coveted for years.  The land was to be used as a park, making it the largest at that time.  Stipulations were that “substantial improvements … in the form of roadways, vehicle parking areas and recreational facilities with special emphasis on playground equipment for young children” be made within three years.  The provision for the latter is striking in view of the fact that the couple had no children and Bertha never expressed any interest in children.  The Ames City Council accepted the gift on September 1, 1987, and a master plan was adopted on July 5, 1988.  The parcel includes land west of Stange Road on either side of Squaw Creek.  The park, at 3050 Northridge Parkway, consists of 50 acres east of the creek.  The forty acres west of Squaw Creek are rented to Iowa State University for agricultural research.  Of the original farm buildings, only the silo and machine shed remain.  Ribbon cutting of Moore Memorial Park was held on June 25, 1992.  Currently the park features a children’s playground, a 75-stall parking area, two shelter houses accommodating 250 and 75 people respectively, a three-story lookout tower, 1.5 miles of hard-surfaced paths, 16 acres of prairie grasses and wildflowers, 2,000 sq. ft. of native prairie sod, 20 acres of tall fescue open grass area, and a 1.3 acre pond.  Taken together these amenities constitute a fitting tribute to the Moore family.