Old-fashioned milk shakes still a big hit at county’s 4-H fair

Taking advantage of the calm before the storm on Thursday, July 20, Kathy Blinn readies a milk shake machine to churn out hundreds of cold and creamy treats for visitors to the Huntington County 4-H Fair.
Taking advantage of the calm before the storm on Thursday, July 20, Kathy Blinn readies a milk shake machine to churn out hundreds of cold and creamy treats for visitors to the Huntington County 4-H Fair. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published July 24, 2017.

Mix 1,500 gallons of ice cream with a few hundred gallons of milk, toss in some chocolate syrup, and what do you get?

New pens for the goat barn.

That’s after you serve hundreds and hundreds of milk shakes.

Shakes that have developed such a following that the line to order one sometimes snakes clear across the Huntington County Fairgrounds.

“It’s not unusual to have people waiting at the window even before it’s open,” says Kathy Blinn, the long-time coordinator of the Huntington County Goat Association’s milk shake booth at the Huntington County 4-H Fair.

If you want, you can order an ice cream sundae or  straight milk. But the milk shakes are, by far, the main attraction.

“We sell many, many more milk shakes than sundaes,” Blinn says.

The sundaes come in chocolate or strawberry, and the milk is available in white or chocolate, but there’s only one flavor of milk shake — chocolate.

Thick, cold, creamy chocolate.

“The milk shakes are made the old-fashioned way,” Blinn says.

Volunteers chop the ice cream in tubs, then put it in the mixing machine with milk and syrup. For every three gallons of ice cream that go in, 25 shakes come out.

There’s a pair of mixing machines in the booth, and their origin is kind of a mystery, she says. The machines came with the booth and have no manufacturer’s name and no serial numbers. Blinn thinks they may have been prototypes made in the 1950s, but she’d welcome information about the machines.

With no indication of who made the mixing machines and when, there’s nowhere to order spare parts. With typical 4-H ingenuity, the group enlisted 4-H dad Pat Scher, who works at Shuttleworth Inc., to make spare parts when needed.

“We are very appreciative of the help,” Blinn says.

The Huntington County Goat Association succeeded the founding organization, the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, in operating the booth.

She’s not sure when the DHIA debuted its milk shakes, but she says the booth’s history goes “way, way back.” The trailer it now occupies is its second home; the first was a small wooden structure that Blinn’s husband helped maintain.

“When my husband was in high school, they painted it,” she explains. “And he’s 49 now.”

As the DHIA’s membership dwindled, the goat association stepped in 17 years ago to help with manpower — and ended up striking a deal to buy the business from the DHIA. The goat group now has help from the 4-H dog and robotics clubs in running the once-a-year ice cream stand.

Volunteering in the milk shake booth is a way to serve while having fun, Blinn says.

“A lot of times, a whole family will take a shift,” she says. “Or a bunch of friends will take a shift.”

Volunteers staff the booth for about 12 hours a day, starting around 10 in the morning and going until 10 or 11 at night. This year, they started serving shakes on Friday, July 21, as the livestock was being unloaded at the fairgrounds; they’ll continue until the auctions are over on Thursday, July 27.

“It takes a lot of volunteers,” she says. “Without them the milk shake booth would not be the success it is.”

And they get lots of help from the community. I-69 Trailer Sales donates a trailer for them to use, and Prairie Farms and Owen’s South help the group with the purchase of the milk and ice cream.

Blinn stores 80 gallons of ice cream at a time at the fairgrounds booth, making frequent trips to the nearby grocery store to replenish.

And Owen’s will take back any ice cream that doesn’t get used, she says.

“This year I ordered 1,800 gallons of ice cream, so it’s not a small venture,” she says.

Last year, she says, the both went through 1,530 gallons of ice cream; the year before, it was 1,740.

Her order for this year’s fair also included 100 five-gallon bags of milk and four tubs of chocolate syrup.

Blinn says the number of milk shakes sold depends on the weather.

“If it’s too hot, people go to lemon shake-ups or something like that instead,” she says.

The demand for shakes may slow at times, but it never comes to a halt.

“We have people who get one every day,” she says.

A family might order six or seven shakes at a time; groups attending the fair together send one person up to order 25 or more shakes.

“You just keep making the milk shakes,” Blinn says.

Blinn no longer has kids in 4-H — they completed the program a couple of years ago — but she and other former 4-H parents continue to be involved in the Huntington County Goat Association. The group also includes current 4-H parents, area goat breeders and others interested in goats.

The association helps with the annual Ag Day program for third graders and puts on goat education programs but, Blinn says, “Our main goal is to help with 4-H.”

The milk shake booth is one way of doing that.

“It’s an awesome little venture here,” she says.

Profits from the milk shakes have paid for improvements to the goat barn at the fairgrounds that have included a cement floor, metal pens, fans and electrical improvements.

They’ve also funded scholarships and contributed to Ag Day. The goat association helps pay for the T-shirts given to each 4-H’er who shows goats.

“And each kid who shows goats gets a free milk shake,” she says.