By Stan Rasmussen
My association with the South St. Paul Stockyards began in the late 1930s.
I was born in 1930 so I can remember going to the stockyards when I was about 8 or 9 years old and it continued through the 40s and 50s.
As a young boy, it certainly was the highlight of the year for me.
Probably it was from the mid-40s to the mid-50s that I remember being there the most. I can remember Dad telling about sending rail cars of cattle and/or hogs to St. Paul before I was born.
Back in the 1940s it took about four hours to get to St. Paul by truck. We would load cattle or hogs in the evening. Once in awhile we would even “double" — take one load in and come right back and get another. So, I have seen the stockyards at every hour of the night. It seems as though it was just as busy at 3 in the morning as it was at 8.
Sometimes, Dad would go with the truck and sometimes I would. Sometimes, we would both go, that was the best. Course, Dad really knew his way around the yards and the Exchange Building.
When we would get there late at night, we would unload and then go and wash out at the wash racks behind the Shipper’s Club. I can remember Swift’s Packing Plant being close by. It seems like there was always activity there.
After we had washed out, it was on to the Shipper’s Club to get something to eat.
Again, 3 o’clock in the morning was busy there, too. Then it was time to go to bed.
Remember, those were the days before sleeper cabs on trucks. The Shipper’s Club had rooms to sleep in with just a simple cot. It seemed to me there were maybe 30 or 40 cots in a room. Imagine that many tired men sleeping (and snoring). It sounded like a saw mill.
You could rent a blanket or most of the truckers had their own right there with their own number on it. If you wanted to get up at a certain time, you tied a tag on the end of your bed and someone would come around with a flashlight and wake you up.
Then in the morning it was over to the yards, we sold more cattle than hogs so it was mostly in the cattle alleys. We would try to find Ralph McCarthy as he was Central’s head cattle buyer.
After the cattle were sold, it was up the hill and across the tracks to the Exchange Building to get our check and then home.
I can also remember what appeared to be trainloads of cattle in the fall of the year coming from the Dakotas and Montana waiting to be unloaded.
Many times Dad would buy feeder cattle there and take them home to be fattened and haul back to the yards to be sold by Ralph McCarthy. Those were good times. Thank you.
Dad was trucker
By Audrey Handahl Connor
My Dad was an independent livestock trucker for 44 years (1929-1972), taking many loads a week to the South St. Paul Stockyards.
As Daddy’s little girl, from the age of 3 on through most of my grade school years, I went with him on many of his trips to South St. Paul — probably one to two times per week during the summer.
We would get up at 5 a.m. and eat breakfast, leaving the house by 5:30 a.m. to start picking up stock from the various area farmers — (two to three head from one farmer, one from another. until we had a load of usually nine to 10 head).
Then we would head for South St. Paul, arriving between 11 a.m. and noon.
Dad would unload, then we’d have dinner at a trucker’s restaurant. I remember the catwalks and all the pens of livestock, going into the offices and then filling up with gas at the Trucker’s Terminal before we headed on home.
On the way home we always stopped in Belle Plaine for a treat!
Little did I realize that those good times in my childhood would pay off later in my life. In 1964, I ran for the office of Clerk of District Court in Blue Earth County and won!
At age 23, I was the youngest clerk in the state of Minnesota. Many of those farmers who voted for me remembered the little girl who tagged along with her Dad many years ago. Often one of the farmers would ride along to South St. Paul, too. (Was I campaigning already?)
Upon reading that the stockyards in South St. Paul was closing, it brought back many fond memories. I had planned to attend the April 11 celebration and visit the stockyards one last time, but due to our threatening April snowstorms didn’t make it.
However, I did call Central Livestock and they kindly agreed to mail me one of the historical booklets, which I will treasure.
Busy day at yards
By Al Kording
It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m leaving Hayfield and driving to South St. Paul for the final day of South St. Paul’s stockyard operation and the final day for Central Livestock’s cattle and hog sales. It’s raining and possibly snowing in the Cities.
It’s 7 a.m. and Highway 56 merges with Highway 52 and I remember when the road to the yards wasn’t a four lane and Concord Street was the only way to get to the yards.
At 7:30 a.m. I park, put on my coveralls and walk over the catwalk to the sale barn. Breakfast at the BS Cafe, take pictures of the auction ring and remember — Bob Tieden and my Dad loading cattle in the 1950s, visiting with commission men, getting the check for your cattle and driving home with money to pay the bills. Memories of a day in the big city!
8 a.m. — The cattle sale starts, people begin arriving for the governor’s speech and Central Livestock’s memorabilia auction. At 9 a.m. the announcement is given that the governor can’t make it. It’s a scheduling conflict or perhaps too much mud!
11 a.m. — Memories of breakfast and dinners past. I have a free one-half pound beef burger and potato salad with beans. The 50 people at 7:30 has grown to perhaps 800-1,000 and the sales yard is getting deeper in rain and muck.
2 p.m. — I’m home with memories for the last time of the smell of cattle, of steam rising from their breath in the cold pens and of stockyard workers having a cigarette in a smoke-free state.
5 p.m. — WCCO and KSTP television cover the final day on TV. I microwave supper and remember 50 years ago and today!
Riding the train
Lake Lillian, Minn.
In 1935, my Father was elected manager of the Thorpe Farmer’s Co-op Shipping Association. Thorpe is located five miles east of Lake Lillian on the Minnesota Western Railroad (now abandoned).
The train would drive from the west to pick up the loaded livestock cars about four o’clock in the afternoon on shipping days. My Dad did not like to ride in the caboose because it was a long slow trip. The train entered the Twin Cities in north Minneapolis and then the livestock had to be transferred by another railroad to South St. Paul. Sometimes they were not unloaded until the next morning.
My Dad usually got up early in the morning and drove to St. Paul in his automobile. One morning in 1936, one of my sisters and I went with our Dad to South St. Paul. We were there early in the morning. I think we had breakfast at Hank’s Smoke Shop on the corner of Grand Avenue and Concord Street. I guess I would have been 11 years old then.
The association also shipped a lot of livestock to Cudahy Packing Co. at Newport, Minn.
We crossed the river on the Inver Grove bridge. My Dad started hauling by truck about 1938. I was loading and driving to South St. Paul when I was 16 years old.
In 1942 my Dad decided to quit trucking so the association discontinued to operate.
We expanded our farming operation at that time. I occasionally drove for other truckers. In 1948, I brought out a local trucker and hauled livestock again for a few years.
In the spring of 1951, I saw the stockyards flooded. I hauled one load to Wertheimer’s yards at St. Paul Park and I could see how everything was under water, the stockyards and packing plant. I recall the strike of the packing plant workers in 1948. There are a lot of memories, too much to mention.
During World War II we always had a truck on the farm so sometimes we hauled our own livestock to South St. Paul. One time my Dad and I took a load of hogs to the market. When my Dad got his check for the hogs, we went to the stockyards bank to cash the check. I guess the local banks would charge exchange to cash a check.
When my Dad got the cash, the bank cashier asked my Dad if he didn’t think it was risky to carry all that cash on himself. My Dad told him, “It is only you and I that know I have it. And if anything happened, it wouldn’t look good for you!" Supposed to be a joke!
I don’t know how much money it was because during the war, there were price controls on. Hog prices could not go over $14 per hundredweight.
Biggest and best
Dean Eastman, Auctioneer
I read with great interest your story about the South St. Paul Stockyards. Just like you I have memories of going to South St. Paul to the stockyards when it was at its biggest and best.
As I was reading your story, I could remember seeing the blacktop road you took when you got into South St. Paul off of Highway 56 (we always stopped at Lil’ Oscars for breakfast and that was Highway 56) to get to where the stockyard employee’s parked.
Even now I can still remember the smell of cattle and sawdust that the auction ring contained before the sale started. My father was Jim Eastman, who was an auctioneer from 1960 to 1972 at the South St. Paul stockyards. He would sometimes sell up to three days a week there depending on what they needed.
If I didn’t have school and I got my mother’s blessing, I would get to go along with him. Watching the yardmen work the livestock along the alleys from the catwalk was always a highlight for me. My father needed to be at the stockyards early before the sale started to check the market and the cattle on hand for the sale. So this left a lot of time for me (10 years old at the time) to walk around through the commission houses., pens and sale barn.
My Dad made sure I knew the stockyard rule, “When you come to a gate, if its open leave it open. If its closed leave it closed. And if you here a lot of yelling get up on the fence and be quiet."
All the times I went there with him I followed that rule I never got in trouble. My father was an auctioneer for all most 50 years. He sold at many local sale barns, he sold cars at the Mason city car auction and at the North Star car auction at Shakopee, Minn.
If he were alive today I’m sure he would have been at the April 11h event saying the line he always said about cattle, “ Send them all to South St. Paul." , That says it all for me! Thanks.
Steer topped market
By Henry Bollum
Blue Earth, Minn.
I remember taking my first 4-H steer to the South St. Paul Stockyards in the early 1940s.
The Central salesman asked me how much I wanted for my steer.
I told him 16 cents a pound. The buyer said he would give me that.
The yardman told me I better believe in Santa Claus because there was not any 16 cent cattle there that day, besides he said, "you did not do a very good job of feeding him."
Riding with Grandpa
By Betty (Jones) Jenesen
My grandfather, Nathaniel J. Sargeant, hauled livestock from the Northfield, Minn., area for many years to St. Paul.
In the 1930s when I was 4 or 5 years old, I rode with him to the stockyard at least once that I remember. The other thing I remember most of all was how fast he would walk so he usually was way ahead of me.
Many times I scrambled up the side of a pen because the approaching animals would look pretty big to me as they came charging up the alley.
Also, there was a certain cafe he usually went to nearby. I don’t recall the name. I do remember that a ‘trucker’ sized dinner was 25 cents.
Painted across the top of his truck — above the windshield was “HERE COMES NAT."
The side door gave his name and No. 318-L (telephone).
A big adventure
By Gayle Goetzman
My memories of the S. St. Paul stockyards are vivid.
Being a farm girl from a small town, it was a big adventure to visit the big city. My husband, Bob, had friends, Gary Raak and Joe and Jim Simon, who ran a western clothing and tack shop directly amongst the stockyards.
My first trip to the shop led me to see the stockyards in an altogether different point of view from one of being a buyer or seller of cattle. We were purchasing horse gear and riding accessories.
In years to come, we opened our own western store in Winona, Minn., all under one roof with a 200 foot by 100 foot show riding arena, bleacher section, stabler’s lounge, rest room, 15 slip stalls and 20 box stalls.
We call our place, Big Valley Ranch, Inc. Riding Academy and Western Store. It was built in 1970.
Not being able to sustain the stores’ profitability, we gave the entire remaining merchandise to the South St. Paul Stockyards Western Shop and turned out store into an apartment.
Memories of the stockyards and western shop are bitter-sweet for us as we realize the good relationships and facilities will be history.
A happy time
By Paul C. Behr
My name is Paul C. Behr and I live in Denver, Colo. This is my story and some memories of my time being an auctioneer for more than 17 years at the South St. Paul stockyards.
My introduction to the stockyards was in late September 1973. I was a young auctioneer, just three years out of the United States Marine Corps coming home to my home state of Iowa after a Vietnam tour. I was returning at age 20 in 1971 and I immediately went to auction school at Reisch Auction School in Mason City, Iowa.
On Oct. 1, 1973, I started my first full day as an auctioneer at the yards. The week before that I had a tryout in the calf alley. I was recommended by the great auctioneer Col. Joe Reisch, who was the head livestock auctioneer at the yards for many years.
He was retiring and they were looking for a replacement. Stockyards President Joel Bennett and Vice President Glenn Long hired me for $8,500 per year to work five days a week as an auctioneer.
It was one of the happiest days of my life. I was there from Oct. 1, 1973, to Oct. 5, 1990 — 17 years and five days — realizing my dream to be a livestock auctioneer. During that time I realized another dream come true — being named 1989 World Champion Livestock Auctioneer.
People are what I most remember from the stockyards, those wonderful people who worked their trade at the yards. There was also the ingredients, the sights, sounds, smells, weather — blistering hot and bone-chilling cold.
The most beautiful sight in my professional livestock auctioneer career is walking over the catwalk in the fall of the year on my way to the sale barn and looking down to see and hear the cattle ready to be sold as the October sunrise burned off the morning dew.
People — in the yards and the exchange building — so many and too numerous to list had a profound effect on me. The stockyards full of men with all of man’s best elements: hardworking, dedicated, honest, loyal, caring, fun, always there to help each other out when they could. The integrity and work ethic they exhibited each and everyday.
They worked in whatever weather elements was presented to them: hot, cold, snow, sleet, rain, wind, whatever they were given, they made the best of it and did their job and did it well. There was always a lot of fun around the yards. It was never dull with always a practical joke at the ready, some of them became legend though the telling and retelling of each.
Like the Chisum Trail in Texas or the great buffalo herds of the west, when that era was gone it was gone forever, but not forgotten because of the people who experienced it.
I will miss the old stockyards as it was one of the best times of my life. I salute it and all the people who played a part in its history, we were all better because of it.
Thanks for the memories!
Special family trip
By Steve Landherr
Rose Creek, Minn.
My memories of the stockyards go back to the mid-1960s.
Dad had always told us that some day he would take us to the stockyards. We were on summer vacation from school and dad had eight big packing sows that needed to be sold.
Early one morning a truck from the Harrington trucking company of Austin pulled into the yard. One of the sows decided she did not want to go anywhere.
She came back down the chute and the trucker tried to stop her. She ran between his legs and he rode her backwards for a while. It was funny to watch a man ride a 650 pound sow backwards.
Finally the sows were loaded and the truck headed for St. Paul. Dad, my brother Jim, and I followed along in the family car.
We got to the stockyards and the sows were put in a pen of the Haas Livestock Selling Agency. A nice old man sold the sows and we were happy with the price.
After they were sold he gave them a half pail of shelled corn on the cement floor. We watched as the big white sows ate. It was sad to see the old girls go after all the big litters they have given us, but that is part of farming.
After we left the pens we went up on the ramp. We could see the pens of livestock and had a good view of the stockyards. We walked and watched for a while, then went to a place called the Hookem Cow Café, and had dinner.
The food was good and we talked about the stockyards. After that we headed for home. My dad and brother Jim are both gone now but I will never forget that special day with them at the South St. Paul Union Stockyards.