What's cookin' in LaCrosse?
One summer's day back in the 1940's, a woman walked into Hebberd's Drugs in LaCrosse, WI and asked for "bag balm" – a thick, greasy cream that farmers rubbed on cow's udders, to keep them from getting chafed and sore from all that squeezing and pulling. She explained she wanted it for her hands, not her cows. Enterprising young pharmacist Arthur Hebberd, the owner's son, said they didn't carry it, but he'd see what he could whip up.
Arthur liked to experiment with different concoctions – deodorants, perfumes, shampoos and such. Now he created a hand cream. Next time the woman came in, she tried it. "It's too greasy," she said. "I couldn't use it during the day."
So Arthur developed a new kind of non-greasy hand cream that people could use as often as they needed to, without having to wipe away messy residue. It was a rich, heavy cream, made from lanolin, allantoin, mineral oil and other ingredients. He gave it a simple name: No-Crack® Hand Cream.
"Perfect!" said the woman, next time she tried it. Other customers tried it and liked it too. Soon enough, Arthur was peddling the new product in nearby towns like Tomah and Caledonia, and sending out samples to drugstores around the Midwest. (South Dakota's famed Wall Drug was an early customer.) Word got around about this No-Crack cream.
Nurses and restaurant workers liked the non-greasy No-Crack feel because they could use it all day long, after each hand washing. Factory workers, farmers and tradesmen liked it for the same reason – it didn't make their hands all slick and slippery. Just plain folks liked putting in on before bedtime because it was a great all-around moisturizer, and those Midwest winters can really dry you up.
Today, 70 years later, working people still swear by No-Crack Hand Cream. And it's still made the good old-fashioned way, in a small building at the corner of Copeland and Hagar Streets in LaCrosse. Walk through the cluttered office and into the production area, and you'll likely see Jim Ames stirring up a batch of No-Crack as it cooks in a
5-gallon pot, while Paul Meyer packs up a few hundred 16-oz. containers for shipment to corner drugstores all across the Midwest.
No fancy machines or conveyor belts – Jim and Paul, co-owners of the Dumont Company, even fill each container by hand.
They bought the company from Arthur Hebberd in 1993. "If somebody couldn't have taken it over, it would have been lost," said Hebberd, later on. The inventive pharmacist stayed interested in the business almost to the time of his death in 2004 at age 94, calling every weekday morning at precisely 10 minutes to eight to ask if any big orders came in.
Meyer and Ames do things pretty much the way Hebberd did. The production process, which takes place in an area about the size of a kitchen your wife might complain bitterly about, has just a few steps. The ingredients are mixed in a 5-gallon kettle and heated to liquid in a water bath. Water is added, 3 parts to 1. More mixing is done, forming a milky emulsion. Then the mixture is poured into a tall cone-shaped apparatus and dispensed into containers – most often the 16-oz. size.
Dumont only manufactures a half-dozen products – a few lotions and the popular hand creams, which include Night Use No Crack, Arthur's original "udder cream". (Paul gives us a sniff, and we agree that "it smells more medicine-y," with camphor and menthol in it.) The products all have the same matter-of-fact look – they stand out on store shelves in an oddly humble way, amidst their splashy, brashly named competitors.
“They've tried everything…then somebody tells them about No-Crack. It's the only thing they've found that works.”
But who needs flash, when you're got a product that works? Just like the No Crack container says, the hand cream softens, moisturizes and protects dry, cracked hands, feet and elbows until the body's natural oils return. Every few weeks, the mailman delivers a fan letter that attests to the verity of that claim, or someone calls Dumont, singing the praises of No-Crack Hand Cream with an almost evangelical fervor.
"They've tried everything, they usually say," says Paul. "They're at the end of their rope. Been to the drugstore, been to the dermatologist, tried all the fancy stuff. Then somebody tells them about No-Crack. It's the only thing they've found that works."
So give Arthur Hebberd and the folks at Dumont a hand – both of them, if they're dry and cracked. As long as there are working people, there'll be plenty of customers for the "can do" little cream from LaCrosse.