By Janet Kubat Willette
SHAKOPEE, Minn. — It’s been about 70 years since Joe Koskovich last saw the South St. Paul stockyards.
He remembers driving down a steep hill to approach the yards in "grandma gear" with a truck loaded with five tons of Blue Joint hay.
He and his father, John, would arrive at the yards around 6 a.m., following a stop for coffee at Forest Lake on the way south from McGregor.
There was always a lot of hustle and bustle at the yards and men would climb aboard to unload they hay.
"We’d unload in about 10 to 15 minutes," he said.
From there it was over to the Hook’em Cow Cafe for a good breakfast for 25 cents before beginning the long trek back to McGregor. It was a 300-mile round trip.
His father was paid $20 a ton, or $100 for each five ton load of the Blue Joint hay delivered to South St. Paul. Blue Joint was the name of the grass variety.
"A hundred dollars back in those days would be big money," said Joe, now 88.
His father would drive east on the new Highway 210 built between Brainerd and Duluth and then head south on Highway 61 at Carlton. With a full load, they went the extra miles to stay on paved roads. On the return trip, Joe would drive, taking 65, which was paved to only Columbia Heights. It was washboard gravel the rest of the way home to McGregor, he said. Joe was only 12 when he started driving home from South St. Paul.
Their trips to the stockyards would start after chores at around 8 p.m.
"They worked all day and after chores started out," said Joe’s wife, Muriel. "It makes me tired thinking about it."
John’s 1929 Chevrolet one and half ton truck could travel as fast as 50 miles per hour. The truck had a 45-horsepower, six-cylinder engine. Gas was about 14 cents a gallon and they could get eight to 10 miles a gallon.
"For its day, it was a pretty powerful truck," Joe said. It probably sold for somewhere around $650 new. The truck also doubled as one of the first school buses in the McGregor area.
They’d drive back north without a load and Joe’s older brothers, Arthur and Albert, would haul the next load to South St. Paul.
From 1932 to 1935, the family hauled about four loads a week to the stockyards during the summer. The Blue Joint grass would be three to six feet tall when cut with Minnesota mowers pulled by horses and mules.
"It kept us going most of the summer I tell you," Joe said.
The hay was baled into small square bales weighing about 80 pounds. Most hay put up at the time was loose hay, stored in haylofts using hay hooks.
Later, at age 16, Joe earned his chauffeur’s license. He fudged his age, he admitted, as young men were supposed to be 18 to earn a chauffeur’s license.
"I was a big kid," Joe said. "I looked like I was 18."
Once he got his chauffeur's license, he hauled swinging beef from South St. Paul to Chicago in a "reefer," or insulated truck. Four barrels of ice were used to keep the meat cold on the trip.