South Saint Paul
I just read in the news that the last load of cattle is going through South Saint Paul.
So what, you say?
Well, it's the end of an era. The article talked about the auctioneer who had spent his life working the ring in South Saint Paul. His wife worked as a clerk, as did his three daughters, and his father hauled livestock. The stock yards at South Saint Paul were there for 122 years, and for a chunk of that time advertised itself as the largest stockyard in the world. That's a lot of guys hauling livestock.
A good number of them lived in Big Stone County. The first name that came to my mind was Henry Bornholt. I never knew him -- he moved away sometime in the Thirties. I knew all the Weinman boys, though.
Weinman boys. The last one passed away not so very long ago. Interesting, isn't it -- that you can live eight decades or so, yet still be identified as one of the Weinman boys?
And, of course, Wally Roselund. When I was young, a well-told story in our family was how my grandfather shipped a bull to South Saint Paul in the heart of the Depression. He got something like $4.00 for the bull, but the shipping cost was $5.00, so he ended up losing a dollar on the transaction. I didn't really believe it -- I thought it was just a fable that was brought out whenever some young person was about to do something frivolous with money, but it was a great story, so I told it often myself. I repeated it to Wally once, and he looked at me and said, "Well, yeah. I was the trucker."
Wally's been gone for over thirty years now -- he died the week our son was baptized. A lot of the others I remember have passed away also. Neal Finberg, Ansel Mattson, Gene Kashmarkâ€¦Red Lacombe is still alive, but his is a sad story. He gave up livestock hauling and became a county commissioner. It's always hard to see a good man go bad.
I'm sure I missed some names, but I have a clear picture of the men - good guys who showed up in battered trucks, trailing a two-wheeled loading chute, to pick up a bull that had outlived his usefulness or a load of butcher hogs. There'd be a burst of activity as the animals were loaded up the chute, the door quickly slammed shut and latched. The truck would head off down the dusty road and a few days later a check would show up in the mail from the Central Livestock Association, just in time to get a few bills paid.
They used to call hogs "mortgage lifters." There wasn't much glory in being a pig farmer -- no "pigboy" movies starring John Wayne, no folk songs about swine drives across the plains, but hog-raising paid a lot of bills and a lot of those hogs ended up in South Saint Paul. And they were all hauled there by guys who didn't get a lot of glory in their lives either, but they did hard, honest work that made other people's lives better and easier. I've always thought it was a shame that they never really got any credit for it.
Times change. The Central Livestock Association was a cooperative founded in 1921 (my grandfather was on the board of directors for a while), an effort by farmers to get a little bit of control over their livelihoods. The cattle packing industry is now dominated by a very few big packers, and this spring there are even fewer. A company from Brazil bought out a couple of packers, so now JBS SA from Brazil will be butchering about fifty percent of the cattle in the United States.