Rain meant no farming would get done on that particular, strangely chilly September day. Interrupting the quiet surrounding, an engine croaked up the side of the house. In his Polaris four-wheeler, which was covered in dust and filled with loose tools, sits Larry Ecker, a more-than-classic-farmer with a big heart for his cows and land.

The land, tucked down the gravel driveway of 120th Street in Elmo, Missouri — a town with a population of 510 that sits 30 minutes north of Maryville — houses an abandoned dairy farm of empty stalls and land itching to be used again. A matted gray cat, perched on the front steps of the robin-blue farmhouse, keeps guard over the small acreage while clouds roll in above, bringing the smell of rain and fall air.

About 69 years ago, Larry Ecker and his wife, Sharron Ecker, graduated high school, and 66 years ago, Larry Ecker established Eckers Dairy with his first herd of dairy cows. He married Sharron Ecker that same year. The number 1955 is proudly written on the many signs around the Ecker’s property; it marks a year full of memories for the two.

But a new stepping stone befell the Eckers in March 2012, when Larry Ecker officially shut down his operation after a long 57 years of business, marking an end to Eckers Dairy.

The decision was not made lightly, considering the lively man Larry Ecker is, nearing 85 years old. However, the years tacked on, and his body told him to stop, though his heart never truly wanted to.

A tour of the farm was seen from a seat in his trusty four-wheeler, “his legs,” he called it, to show a diminishing sawdust pile. He drove deeper into the abandoned ghost town, to an open field now slightly overgrown — a different sight than the manicured yard that drew you to their house, just above the old dairy. Larry Ecker sat, thinking before he spoke again as he overlooked what could be seen of the old buildings.

“Every dairy around here has quit, you know. Most of them have died, and I guess I’m the last one now,” Larry Ecker said with a tired look on his face.

Larry Ecker was at his prime, though, when he was operating. His dream was to milk 100 cows he said — he milked 125. Afterwards, his herd fell to about 90 cows. There was no need to keep adding more, as he got his wish, Larry Ecker said.

Cow Story

Larry Ecker stands next to his 1,200-gallon tank, empty since the closing of Ecker’s Dairy in March of 2012. Ecker was proud of his milking building when it was in operation and always kept it up to code until the closing of his dairy. It’s now used for storage. 

The star of the whole operation was the milking area, a compact, yellow building eased behind a small hill. Towering glass doors barricaded people from entering the eclectic shed Larry Ecker had started to use as storage. There, they stored their 1,200-gallon tank, a treasure in the rusting room, which the tank filled over half of. The tank was guarded by a box of dusty plaques and awards, which Larry Ecker frantically searched through to find an award won by his favorite cow, No. 56.

The brown, Swiss cow — nicknamed Brownie — would come running when she heard Larry Ecker yell her name. In her heyday, No. 56 produced the most milk at a time for the Ecker Dairy. Now, she sits in his mind as the best dairy cow to pass through the property’s pastures. They shared a relationship he didn’t have with any other cow, he said.

“It’s a mess right now, but I never tore anything out. Most dairymen tear it all out. I know I need to sell that tank, but it's so small, no one nowadays would even need it,” Larry Ecker said. “But I think I want to keep it all for now.”

Exploring more of the yellow shack, Larry Ecker pushed open a door with broken glass and spider webs filling the gaps. He revealed a room with tubes hanging down like snakes from the ceiling. The room was long and narrow, housing these tubes for milking, which fed back to the previous room to fill the small tank with 1,200 gallons of milk. Larry Ecker was only able to fill the tank once, he said. The operation was small, so only four cows at a time could be attached, with four others waiting impatiently for their turn.

Milking room- Cow Story

Inside their milking room, Larry walks through the dimly lit room, tubes hanging down from the ceiling. The room was used to milk four cows at a time. 

Back in the tank room, Larry Ecker pointed out a garden spicket protruding from the wall, leading outside. It’s where the milk man, as Larry Ecker calls him, would hook his hose up and pump milk into 10-gallon cans to drive them down to a plant in Maryville for testing and distribution.

Larrys Awards

On the ground in front of the 1,200-gallon tank, sits a box of dusty plaques and awards with Larry Ecker’s name proudly printed on them. 

 

The small shack held more than just boxes and old equipment; it was where a nearby elementary school would stop for a field trip to take a break from math and to learn how to milk. Larry Ecker would save about five gentle cows for the kids to try milking, along with calves for them to bottle feed. At the end, Larry Ecker would hand out red, #2 pencils, his name and business engraved in the wood.

“Afterwards, I would ask ‘how many of you are gonna help me when you get out of high school?’ All of them would raise their hands.” Larry Ecker said, pausing before he finished as he shared a small smile with himself. “They haven’t come yet.”

Larry Ecker’s tour was ending, and the last dairy building left was the freestyle barn, where 96 cows could lay as they wished, keeping them warm from the harsh, northwest winters. He said the barn was a mock of one Larry Ecker had seen from another dairy, slanted so it could drain out properly, leaving the cows in a cleaner environment.

Ecker’s Dairy started at an auction. He bought his first two cows and milked them by hand, and he fell in love. Larry Ecker eventually added Heifer cows from Wisconsin to his growing herd. He started gaining equipment from a neighbor who was selling a milker and he built his Grade A building around the same time. It was then that Larry Ecker got together with other farmers to form the Interstate Diary Association.

“One thing led to another, and I finally got to where I wanted to be. I milked my cows, and after so many years, everyone died or stopped, and now this is where I’m at.” Larry Ecker said.

The tour was finished, but Larry Eckers' story wasn’t. Sitting around the Ecker’s kitchen, guests can see the overtfaith the couple shares. Every cabinet has a piece of copy paper with 48-point font scriptures, encased by sheet protectors.

Sharron stood under a cabinet, verses framing her as she made a cup of coffee. These signs were gentle reminders when grabbing a dish or walking through the kitchen, the stark black against the white reaching out hard to look away from. The sheet protracted verses made their way onto a wall of photos behind where Larry Ecker sat.

“I just became unable; I caught cancer the next year, so I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even drive if I had my knees right. I’m not what I used to be. I can’t do what I used to be,” Larry Ecker said. “I’m 85, most people are dead, and I would’ve been if it wasn’t for me going up to the clinic that day and the lord.”

Sharron put the versus up as an ode to getting through tough times. With the help of her grandchildren, she was able to shower her house with words that would bring faith to Larry Ecker in his time of sickness. He had quit the dairy operation in 2012, just in time for when he discovered he had cancer in 2013, which would’ve closed the dairy’s doors if Larry Ecker hadn’t.

“The verses were to remind us the Lord was still with us and not to lose hope in that time. I never took them down though; I just like to look at them now and remember.” Sharron Ecker said.

The Eckers didn’t go into too much detail about Larry Ecker’s cancer, a more private matter to the family, except for his gratefulness to the clinic and the trial medicine that cured him, making him cancer free. He keeps up with his regular checkups for peace of mind.

With the business shut down and Larry Ecker being sick, the dairy farmer had no choice but to buy milk. He was perplexed, as he thought he would never have to buy milk. Nonetheless, he proudly fished an empty glass bottle out of the sink. The front of the bottle displayed Shatto Milk Company, where Larry Ecker thinks his milk went for a short time. But the milk went everywhere, from Omaha, Nebraska, to Kansas City, Missouri.

Back outside, Larry Ecker drove further off the land, where the main dairy operation sat. About a mile from the house, the Polaris turns right off Catalina, a more rural road, this time dirt instead of gravel. He talked of getting his knees replaced so he could feel himself again.

Rolling hills come at the four-wheeler like waves and open land spreads across like sand with herds of dark brown cows. Each cow raises up their head at the familiar sound, a few yelling in excitement as they pick up speed to meet Larry Ecker at the gate.

Larry and Sharron

Larry Ecker stands with his wife Sharron Ecker under an Ecker’s Dairy sign proudly displayed in their front yard. It’s one of many signs displayed around their property. 

 

The stretch of road holds a lifetime of memories. To the left was Larry Ecker’s father’s old land where his house sits. Eventually, you would reach the ruins of where a house used to be, buried in the woods, belonging to his grandmother. The property is rich with family history continued by Larry Ecker today. Even though he isn’t in the dairy industry anymore, Larry Ecker continues to farm and keep himself going, rain or shine.

Rain meant no farming would get done on this strangely chilly September day. Interrupting the quiet surrounding, an engine croaks up the side of the house. In his Polaris four-wheeler covered in dust and filled with loose tools, sits Larry Ecker, a more than classic farmer with a big heart for his cows and land.

The land, tucked down the gravel driveway of 120th Street, in a town 30 minutes north of Maryville, houses an abandoned dairy farm of empty stalls and land itching to be used again. A matted gray cat, perched on the front steps of the robin-blue farmhouse, keeps guard over the small acreage while clouds roll in above, bringing the smell of rain and fall air.

About 69 years ago, Larry Ecker and his wife, Sharron Ecker, graduated high school, and 66 years ago, Larry Ecker established Eckers Dairy with his first herd of dairy cows. He married Sharron Ecker that same year. The number 1955 is proudly written on the many signs around the Ecker’s property; it marks a year full of memories for the two.

But a new stepping stone befell the Eckers in March 2012, when Larry Ecker officially shut down his operation after a long 57 years of business, marking an end to Eckers Dairy.

The decision was not made lightly, considering the lively man Larry Ecker is, nearing 85 years old. However the years tacked on, and his body said no before his mind could.

A tour of the farm was seen from a seat in his trusty four-wheeler, “his legs,” he called it, to show a diminishing sawdust pile. He drove deeper into the abandoned ghost town, to an open field now slightly overgrown — a different sight than the manicured yard that drew you to their house, just above the old dairy. Larry Ecker sat, thinking before he spoke again as he overlooked what could be seen of the old buildings.

“Every dairy around here has quit, you know. Most of them have died, and I guess I’m the last one now,” Larry Ecker said with a tired look on his face.

Larry Ecker was at his prime, though, when he was operating. His dream was to milk one hundred cows he said — he milked 125. Afterwards, his herd fell to about 90 cows. There was no need to keep adding more, as he got his wish, Larry Ecker said.

The star of the whole operation was the milking area, a compact, yellow building eased behind a small hill. Towering glass doors barricaded people from entering the eclectic shed Larry Ecker had started to use as storage. Here, they stored their 1,200 gallon tank, a treasure in the rusting room, which the tank filled over half of. The tank was guarded by a box of dusty plaques and awards, which Larry Ecker frantically searched through to find an award won by his favorite cow, #56.

The brown Swiss cow, nicknamed Brownie, would come running when she heard Larry Ecker yell her name. In her heyday, #56 produced the most milk at a time for the Ecker Dairy. Now, she sits in his mind as the best dairy cow to pass through his farm. They shared a relationship he didn’t have with any other cow, he said.

“It’s a mess right now, but I never tore anything out. Most dairymen tear it all out. I know I need to sell that tank, but it's so small, no one nowadays would even need it,” Larry Ecker said. “But I think I want to keep it all for now.”

Exploring more of the yellow shack, Larry Ecker pushed open a door with broken glass and spider webs filling the gaps. He revealed a room with tubes hanging down like snakes from the ceiling. The room was long and narrow, housing these tubes for milking, which fed back to the previous room to fill the small tank with 1,200 gallons of milk. Larry Ecker was only able to fill the tank once, he said. The operation was small, so only four cows at a time could be attached, with four others waiting impatiently for their turn.

Back in the tank room, Larry Ecker pointed out a garden spicket protruding from the wall, leading outside. It’s where the milk man, as Larry Ecker calls him, would hook his hose up and pump milk into 10-gallon cans to drive them down to a plant in Maryville for testing and distribution.

The small shack held more than just boxes and old equipment; it was where a nearby elementary school would stop for a field trip to take a break from math and to learn how to milk. Larry Ecker would save about five gentle cows for the kids to try milking, along with calves for them to bottle feed. At the end, Larry Ecker would hand out red, #2 pencils, his name and business engraved in the wood.

“Afterwards, I would ask ‘how many of you are gonna help me when you get out of high school?’ All of them would raise their hands.” Larry Ecker said, pausing before he finished as he shared a small smile with himself. “They haven’t come yet.”

Larry Ecker’s tour was ending, and the last dairy building left was the freestyle barn, where 96 cows could lay as they wished, keeping them warm from the harsh, northwest winters. He said the barn was a mock of one Larry Ecker had seen from another dairy, slanted so it could drain out properly, leaving the cows in a cleaner environment.

Ecker’s Dairy started at an auction. He bought his first two cows and milked them by hand, and he fell in love. Larry Ecker eventually added Heifer cows from Wisconsin to his growing herd. He started gaining equipment from a neighbor who was selling a milker and he built his Grade A building around the same time. It was then that ,Larry Ecker got together with other farmers to form the Interstate Diary Association.

“One thing led to another, and I finally got to where I wanted to be. I milked my cows, and after so many years, everyone died or stopped, and now this is where I’m at.” Larry Ecker said.

The tour was finished, but Larry Eckers' story wasn’t. Sitting around the Ecker’s kitchen, guests can see the overtfaith the couple shares. Every cabinet has a piece of copy paper with 48-point font scriptures, encased by sheet protectors.

Sharron stood under a cabinet, verses framing her as she made a cup of coffee. These signs were gentle reminders when grabbing a dish or walking through the kitchen, the stark black against the white reaching out hard to look away from. The sheet protracted verses made their way onto a wall of photos behind where Larry Ecker sat.

“I just became unable; I caught cancer the next year, so I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even drive if I had my knees right. I’m not what I used to be. I can’t do what I used to be,” Larry Ecker said. “I’m 85, most people are dead, and I would’ve been if it wasn’t for me going up to the clinic that day and the lord.”

Sharron put the versus up as an ode to getting through tough times. With the help of her grandchildren, she was able to shower her house with words that would bring faith to Larry Ecker in his time of sickness. He had quit the dairy operation in 2012, just in time for when he discovered he had cancer in 2013, which would’ve closed the dairy’s doors if Larry Ecker hadn’t.

“The verses were to remind us the Lord was still with us and not to lose hope in that time. I never took them down though; I just like to look at them now and remember.” Sharron Ecker said.

The Eckers didn’t go into too much detail about Larry Ecker’s cancer, a more private matter to the family, except for his gratefulness to the clinic and the trial medicine that cured him, making him cancer free. He keeps up with his regular checkups for peace of mind.

With the business shut down and Larry Ecker being sick, the dairy farmer had no choice but to buy milk. He was perplexed, as he thought he would never have to buy milk. Nonetheless, he proudly fished an empty glass bottle out of the sink. The front of the bottle displayed Shatto Milk Company, where Larry Ecker thinks his milk went for a short time. But the milk went everywhere, from Omaha, Nebraska, to Kansas City, Missouri.

Back outside, Larry Ecker drove further off the land, where the main dairy operation sat. About a mile from the house, the Polaris turns right off Catalina, a more rural road, this time dirt instead of gravel. He talked of getting his knees replaced so he could feel himself again.

Rolling hills come at the four-wheeler like waves and open land spreads across like sand with herds of dark brown cows. Each cow raises up their head at the familiar sound, a few yelling in excitement as they pick up speed to meet Larry Ecker at the gate.

The stretch of road holds a lifetime of memories. To the left was Larry Ecker’s father’s old land where his house sits. Eventually, you would reach the ruins of where a house used to be, buried in the woods, belonging to his grandmother. The property is rich with family history continued by Larry Ecker today. Even though he isn’t in the dairy industry anymore, Larry Ecker continues to farm and keep himself going, rain or shine.

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