It’s really fun being a young lad ten or eleven years old. There are lots of great adventures out there if you’re willing to go find them. You’re old enough to accept a little responsibility for where you go and what you do, but young enough to pay attention to parental guidance. The golden rule at our house was be home for supper. Lunch was optional, but you had to be up to something special to miss it.
Spokane was a busy city in the early to mid 1950’s. Lumber, mining, ranching, and industrial mills were all dependent on Spokane as a transportation and equipment hub. The east/west railroads all merged at Spokane and so did the northern highway routes. Cattle ranches shipped their beef cattle from local rail heads to Spokane via rail. A huge stockyard was located on the edge of the railroad yards in southeast Spokane.
The stockyard was located about two miles from our home. There were hundreds and hundreds of pens, gated corridors, gated cross corridors, veterinary inspection stations, quarantine areas, dipping stations of various sizes, and railroad loading chutes. The stockyard was crisscrossed with a wood, eight foot wide, over head, sidewalk. It was about twelve feet off the ground. It was used for an observation deck by the people controlling the work, buyers looking at stock, and curious young boys. The whole place was a veritable who’s who of every species of animals found on farms and ranches. Cows, steers, bulls, horses, mustangs, mules, donkeys, burros, sheep, pigs, goats, and occasionally buffalo were on hand.
Rail cars were dropped at the loading chutes, stock was unloaded, sorted by markings or tags, and sent through the corridors and cross corridors to their proper holding pens. All of the stock being moved were worked by a couple lead cowboys who positioned the gates to get them in the proper corridors and into their pens. A couple of cowboys followed them and closed the gates as the stock were herded into their designated pens. The crew of cowboys would report to their next bunch of stock and move them to the proper area using the same methods. This sounds easy, but there were as many as six different crews moving animals all the time.
We were always welcome at the stockyards as long as we stayed on the over head sidewalk. We couldn’t do anything to disrupt the stock or the cowboys. It was a great place to view all the different animals and to watch how the cowboys worked them. Most of the animals were content to just follow the crowd. But like people, there were the arrogant, ignorant, and outright defiant individuals too. You never knew what was coming next, but it was never boring.
We learned a lot watching the stockyard activities…….and the cowboys taught us a few choice words too.