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"When we started working there I would be at work at 4:00 a.m. in the mornings, as any of the yard people were. And the yard people, which I started out as, we were the ones out in the yards gathering the cattle from the truck chutes or the rail chute house, those that came in by rail, taking them to our respective pens where we were assigned. And we would take them there. We would sort them. When I say sort them – oftentimes a farmer would ship in six steers and six heifers. Well, we didn't keep the six steers and the six heifers together. We would sort off the six heifers and the six steers."
     Question: "Why?"
     "Why? Different values. Different values. The steers usually were worth more money per pound than a heifer. And then there were some of the buyers, the packers only wanted steers or only wanted heifers. Okay, then we would get those cattle ready, oh like I say, from 4:00 until 8:00 a.m…
     "We knew after a while that the good cattle, the steers, they go up in the 'show alley' which is where the larger pens for the better cattle are shown. You always want to put your cattle in a pen that's advantageous to them. If you had great big cattle – and they weren't looking for big cattle – you'd put them down in a pen that had a low bottom because they just didn't look like they were that big against the back of the pen. 'Well, there's a lot of fence sticking above those cattle.' And that's what was done. We learned that, the tricks of the trade…
     "It's kind of funny [laughs]. What was the danger? Okay, a lone cow is a vicious animal. And we always used to chuckle about this. The cattle, the cow, when it was at home somewhere in Nebraska or Iowa, the owner would say, 'Well that cow's never bothered a thing in her life. She's just a little ol' dairy cow.' Well, that cow has been disrupted from her lifestyle, and she's gotten down to where all these other animals are moving and bellowing and people are hollering. And they get real anxious sometimes. You learned to read the cattle. You can tell by their eyes and their – the way they're moving their heads. And if they're flared – we called the flared nostrils. [If] you see that, you'd better be on your gear because you might have to head for a fence…
     "We were usually done with our chores or tasks, oh 7:00, 7:30. And then we would wait for the market to open. The market by regulation couldn't open until 8:00, or even 9:00 o'clock. It depended on – seems to me it was 9:00 o'clock in the winter and 8:00 o'clock in the summer. Then we would probably take our coffee break and go back downstairs. Work our way down to the exchange building on the first floor. We'd go down there for breakfast lots of times. But then we would hurry up and wolf down our coffee and brag about our exploits from the weekend and things like that. And then go back out to the yards. And if it was a hot market – in other words if the packers wanted cattle quickly and needed cattle, they would pay the price, which was usually – That would make a higher market. Okay, then we would sort those , take the cattle. And we would get what we call a turn at the scale to weigh the cattle… We would get a hold of the number man. The 'number man,' why they call him that? Because he would regulate the numbers. Whoever got him first, whether it was my commission firm or the one across the alley or down the alley, we got the first turn to weigh cattle… We would weigh them and keep track of them for ownership. If a load of, say, slaughter steers, the high prime, better kinds of cattle, we would weigh perhaps 25 or 30 of them at one time… And the scale is where ownership changed. They would go on one end of the scale belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Jones; and they'd come off the other end of the scale belonging to Armour or Swift or Cudahay or Wilson. And that was the point of sale, right there.
     "Yes, most of the packinghouses were right there. If the packer needed cattle right away they would take them immediately and walk them to their respective plants. Armour, Cudahay, Swift, Wilson were the big four then. And they would take the cattle, most of the cattle off the market in a particular day…
     "Then we would go back. Of course, there would be more sales. Most commission firms had a steer salesman. He, that was the top. You know, if you were a steer salesman, you were right up there along side of God in the stratosphere of the stockyards. And then there was the heifer salesman. He was okay. And then it got down into cows and bulls and calves. And those cattle – then they would be weighed later. And when the day was done and all the cattle were sold and weighed, then the yardmen (which is where I started) we would go down to the truck chutes and/or the rail chutes and check on incoming cattle to see if any of them were ours that we could take then up to the pens and have them rested overnight.
     "And then when that was all done, then we got to go and take off and do our social life. Which the stockyards was a great place to do it because there was many, many times – Like I say, get to work at 4:00 o'clock. To this day I still get up early."

Tom Hoffman – A Typical Sales Day

   

Other Excerpts from Tom Hoffman’s Interview:

Consumer Demands
Changes in Cattle Industry
Working at the Stockyards
Going to the City
The "Country" Market