Did “Schilter“ Save Alpine Cheese Making?

Schilter on an alpine farmMountain farming has always been hard work. In the plains, mechanised agriculture started soon after the invention of the steam engine. But in the mountains, on steep, rocky hills, farmers had to rely on manual labour until far into the 20th century. In fact, producers of farming machinery were not really interested in this very small niche market and nobody catered for the needs of small alpine farmers. This changed in 1959: The first «Schilter» vehicle came on the market, put together by Thomas Schilter, his father and his brother. They were situated in the little town of Stans, surrounded by the mountains of central Switzerland where many of our selected cheeses come from. The Schilter, a very simple 4x4 pick-up, used a patented “twin chassis“ to conquer every kind of terrain.

Schilter chassis

The famous twin chassis of the first Schilter pick-up

It was a great design, and in its heydays the company produced up to a 1000 vehicles a year. But not for long. Thomas Schilter was not a very good businessman. He was rather a man with a big heart: Instead of charging what would be economically right, he sold his products for prices which were way too low – he wanted to help the cash poor mountain farmers. Schilter also had many ideas, and every idea was turned into a new model, until the model range became too complex to be profitable. This and some other management errors lead to the demise of the company, some 15 years after being founded. When we go cheese hunting in the Swiss mountains, we still encounter some of the now at least 40 year old vehicles, either still in business or waiting for better times. Like the two models pictured. We’ve spotted them  in the Etivaz region, from where our Super Gold Award winning cheese stems from. 

Schilter tractor in Etivaz

The “Schilter“ certainly helped many alpine cheese producers to stay afloat and to continue alpine farming. Who knows how many might have given up their “alpages“ without Thomas Schilter’s great design – and his even greater heart.

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