Lee Pitts: Another Friend Gone
The much-dreaded morning arrived and I was in a funk. Even though I’m prone to being that way, this day was especially depressing for it was the day of the last sale ever to be held at the Templeton Livestock Market. The owners, friends of mine, had sold the property and the land will soon be planted in houses. I don’t blame them, I’d have probably taken the cash too.
We had been expecting this day for a long time but the sale of the property was held up by a lawsuit. It seems the neighbors went to court to stop the sale of the land because they’d grown to love “their” sale yard. These were the same people who years ago moved into the new neighborhood and then complained about the noise and the dust of the auction barn which had been there for 70 years. Now they were especially upset because it was being torn down to make way for houses. It seems they preferred cows to people after all.
In the past, whenever you said, “I’m going to Templeton,” everyone knew you were referring to the auction market, not the town of the same name. Although the town always has been a very agreeable place where people are real people, if you know what I mean. And while it’s true that I’ve only been to two of the seven continents, I’d have to say that Templeton is truly one of the greatest places on earth.
Templeton was the unofficial cow capital of my county, home to three cows per person, and the only sale yard left within 200 miles. At one end of town was the sale yard and at the other was the feed and grain mill. Templeton has one way of entering and one way of leaving and I’ve never altered that routine in 41 years of going there.
I think I’ve worked every bull sale they ever had and bought cattle, been a consignor and fed cattle out back in a small grow yard they had. Next to the sale yard was a roping arena where I worked horse sales and went to “play days.” Hoover’s restaurant was also on the grounds, a staple of simple food and a popular destination for the town folk. They used to sell 100,000 head of cattle a year at TLM and it was the home of the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship in its heyday. Dean Schow of Paxton, Nebraska, was named the winner that year and I’m so glad he became a good friend of mine. Like TLM, he was real easy to like. I’m sad to say Dean died a few months ago… there seems to be a lot of that going around.
And now the auction market has breathed its last breath too. At the last auction ever held at TLM I worked ring for the bull sale and when I looked up into the crowd it hit me that this was the last time I’d ever see many of these fine folks who had become my friends. It felt like a funeral. Old timers greeted me with a lump in their throats and Randy Baxley, who grew up at TLM and ran the sale yard, but did not own it, almost broke down as he fine-tuned his going away speech. He and his wife Beth lease another yard at Visalia and are wonderful people.
It was such a large crowd there wasn’t room for everyone inside the sale barn. We had all come to say our final goodbyes and to make the day a special one. No one wanted to leave, or for the day to ever end. The top three bulls that day were the three highest selling bulls ever sold at TLM. We all did her proud on her final day.
I suppose it had to come to this. The sale yard was standing in the path of an onslaught of people. Now Templeton town is growing up and I suppose before long it will either have a prison or a casino. Signs of what passes for progress these days.
The last animal ever sold at the Templeton sale barn brought more than seven dollars per pound, as if it was for a county fair junior livestock exhibitor battling cancer. On the morning after the last day I couldn’t help thinking that the consignor who owned that last animal sure was lucky. As were we all to have known this wonderful grand dame who took her town’s personality and identity with her when she left.