Lee Pitts: Royalty
I’d be willing to bet that not two dozen people who regularly read this column have ever heard of Charley Royal. He wasn’t “famous” by any stretch of the imagination, but we can’t all be celebrities, athletes, tycoons, junk bond kings, politicians or sustainability consultants. Someone has to do our dirty work and that’s what Charley did.
As a kid sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s Kenworth I used to see auction markets along the road and I thought, “What a great job. They only work one day a week!”
What an idiot I was. The work at an auction market never ends and whether it’s out back or in the office, it’s one of the most thankless jobs in America.
Charles Royal was the yard man at Western Stockman’s Market 20 miles north of one of the hardest working towns in America: Bakersfield, California. Charley died at age 70 and was loyally on the job there for 50 years. And hardly anyone noticed.
My mentor Skinner Hardy owned WSM for most of its history and, in my humble opinion, he ran one of the best livestock auctions in America. Skinner was one of the earliest World Champion auctioneers but that didn’t even begin to describe how good he was. On sale day you’d find Skinner on the auction block and Charley on the out gate. It might seem like swinging a gate was insignificant but the secret to any good livestock auction is momentum. Get the sale cooking and don’t let anything stop it. Charley just seemed to know innately when to swing the gate, letting the animals out a few seconds before Skinner said “sold” so that he hardly had time to take a big gulp of air before the next beast entered. It was a beautiful partnership to watch. A regular bovine ballet.
In the entryway of our home is a beautiful rug that means the world to me. Charley’s wife Linda made the rug in her “spare time” as a donation to a charitable cause and I bought it to remind me that you should never too busy to do something nice. Linda also worked at WSM keeping the place clean. With all the spitting, defecating and tramping in dirt and manure can you imagine how hard it is to keep an auction market clean? And that’s just the cows.
You could say the Royals “worked from home” and didn’t have to commute to work as they lived in a single-wide mobile home on the grounds of WSM. (Years later they finally got a double wide.) As a society we tend to make fun of hard working folks who live in mobile homes. The term “trailer trash” has worked its way into our vocabulary. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Since when in this country did hard work become something to scoff at? This country was built on the backs of the working class.
I have always been proud to be a member of the working class and to this day the nicest compliment I’ve ever received is that I was a “hard worker.” So too was Charley. He was working class royalty. If a truck rolled into WSM at three A.M. Charley was there to meet it. If Skinner had one of his marathon sales of 5,000 head and it ran into the next day, Charley was still at his post. Most yard men spend a good amount of time on horseback but not Charley. He walked every inch of that yard several times a day and I couldn’t begin to count how many times he circumnavigated the globe within the confines of that yard.
Charley died on a Monday, sale day, and up Highway 99 is another auction market that has traditionally been WSM’s most heated rival. My friends Randy and Beth Baxley now run the market at Visalia and at their sale two days after Charley’s death they asked for a moment of silence for a man who worked for a competitor and spent 50 of his 70 years doing a job few would want and none did any better. That, my friends, is class. Working class.
How do you take the measure of a man upon his death? I’d suggest there can be no higher honor than to see a tough, grizzled cow buyer try to hide a tear or two.