But by the 1990s, Rice began to prosper again, and now is one of 10 contractors delivering Crystal products along separate routes in the wee hours of the northern California morning. Times have changed — most customers have moved from whole milk to skim or 2-percent — but Rice still loves the neighborly feel of his job, even if he works while customers sleep.
"As I drive down the street, people wave to me who I have no idea who they are," he says. "Obviously, there are customers I've never met."
Customers have sent him chicken soup and casseroles when he's been sick. Virtually none default on monthly bills.
In the summers, he hires local college students to fill in so he can take vacations with his wife. People they meet can barely believe milkmen still exist: "Their eyes would go as big as sewer lids, and they say, 'Really?' "
Dairies around the country have discovered what Rice already knows — that overworked families long for convenience — and some have announced revived service by modern milkmen who deliver a wide range of other groceries.
But Rice may be reaching the end of the line. He plans to retire at age 65.
"I have a number of people who really, really want to buy this business," he says.
Several years ago, when police needed to know what kind of typewriter the Unabomber was using to bang out his frightening threats, they turned to Willi Kitz.
"I identified the typewriter according to the sheet of paper," Kitz says. "It was an Underwood."
It should be no surprise that Kitz — in consultation with a former colleague — would come up with the clue. By age 15, in his native Germany, he already had studied to be a typewriter repairman, completed an apprenticeship, passed a certification test and gone to work.
Now Kitz — along with his co-worker and son, Charlie — is one of the few remaining old-time typewriter guys in the San Francisco area.
Times have changed — out of necessity he's branched out to electric typewriters, fax machines and printers — but he still prefers getting the old manuals in his San Francisco-area shop.
"It's always been my passion to fix the old ones," he says. "To pay the rent and everything, you've got to go to the modern machines, too."
Luckily, even decades into the computer age, Kitz still gets to work on the old machines, often from older customers who still use them around the house, or office workers who use them to type up labels and forms. Writers are frequent customers, too — young ones who want to tap into an old-timer's vibe, and established ones such as Danielle Steele, who brings Kitz her many manual typewriters for maintenance.
"When it comes to something mechanical, it's not just replacing parts," says Charlie Kitz, 42, of the difference between typewriters and computers. "It's a lot of tweaking — a little bend here, a little bend there."
But when parts are needed, finding them nowadays can sometimes be a problem. That's why Willi Kitz has his own stash of unwanted Olympias, Torpedoes and Smith-Coronas cast off by modernization.
"If you saw my garage at home, I can hardly get my car in there," he says. "When I take my car out of the garage, my wife is like a co-pilot. She pilots my car into the garage because I've got so many machines in there."
Kitz does have a computer at his workshop to hook up to printers he repairs, but he does not use one at home.