In-Transit Stock Pens


As a kid growing up in 40-50s, I spent a great deal of time poking around the Valley Stockyards in Valley, NE. Valley is approximately 25 miles west of Omaha on the UP mainline. This stockyards is long gone but the memories remain. Livestock of all types were brought into Valley, off-loaded, fed, watered, rested, etc. and eventually shipped to the Omaha packing district.

The stockyards was switched by a 2-8-0. On Sundays, I would run home, change clothes and go to the yards. Depending upon what was happening, I usually had the option of riding one of the old saddle horses or catching a ride in the cab of the Consolidation with the hogger, Herb Schroeder.

The Consolidation was semi-permanently "stationed" in Valley. The wye on the west side of Valley remains but the three stall enginehouse that was located in the middle of the wye is gone. It served the few feed mills and some very small local industries including the fledgling Valley Manufacturing Company which a mile or so west of the stockyards. Valley Manufacturing had one steel building which still stands along the tracks on the north edge of the company now know as Valmont. Of course, it is a tad larger now!

The stockyards were located approximately 3/4 of a mile west of the wye and was a fairly large operation. The main set of pens were all enclosed in a "big barn" with concrete floors. The two parallel sidings that served the main barn ran down a small grade from the main, past the yard office, through a cut that brought the floor of the cars level with the floor of the barn. The cut trackage was curved towards the southeast. There were no chutes for the livestock, rather simply sliding gates that set perpendicular to the car sides. All of these facilities were covered with a roof to provide some protection from the elements (which, unfortunately, were not always successful).

In addition to the main barn, there was:
1. the aforementioned yard office,
2, an auxliary barn west of the main barn,
3, a horse barn (the arriving livestock were fed by horse-drawn, rubber-tired feed wagons), 4. grain elevator,
5, fire barn (with two hand-pulled hose carts - fire hydrants were placed throughout the yards),
6. wood shop (including a rope-making device which we used to collect the bailing twine and make our own lariats),
7. repair shop,
8. feed wagon storage barn,
9. hay barn, and
10. a water tower with an adjacent pumping station.

Additionally, there many outside pens as well.

Quite frequently, many of these shipments of livestock were accompanied by some western cowboys which, as you might imagine, always stirred the "passions" of an 8-10 year boy. The yard office was 2 1/2 story constructed of brick. The lowest level consisted of a boiler room, storage, etc. The main level included a scale, offices, and a huge walk-in vault. The top level was a bunk room for the drovers.

Just east of the office building was the grain elevator. The yards had acquired a great deal of adjacent farmland and grew most of their own corn and hay. (In fact, many of us would spend the summer working the fields.....long before OSHA! LOL) The corn would be picked and stored in corn cribs (ie. left unshelled on the cob). When corn was need at the elevator it would be shelled and delivered by company trucks (straight frame - no semi's) to the elevator for grinding. (When shelling was the order of the day, there would be cob piles three stories high which made for great "King of the Mountain" games.)

As I noted, all of the feeding, hay and grain, was down by horse-drawn wagons well into the 50s. The draft horses were accustomed to the process, and the driver would simply tie the reins to the front of the wagon, grab a scoop shovel, yell "git" and the horses would draw the wagon parallel to the feed bunks. The alley-ways in the barns were one-way and very narrow. As the horses moved down the alley, the driver would scoop out the ground-corn. The daily progression for these folks were to groom and harness the horses at the horse barn, walk the team to the storage barn and hitch to the wagon, drive the wagon to the elevator, load the cracked corn, move to the scale at the yard office to have the grain weighed and added to the shipper's bill, pick up his feeding assignment, and then drive to the assigned pen(s). After scooping his wagon clean, repeat the assignment! Sounds like fun, right?

I should note that there was no cleaning facility at the yards. I do seem to recall that there was a cleaning facility in North Platte, NE as well as Omaha but do not have any details on their operation other than they included a steam plant for cleaning.

Might also note that one of the Omaha Stockyards unloading sites was built on a curve (which I am including in my own stockyards model). If you go to the site below there is a nice photo of this siding along with some others.

If you go to there is a "nice" photo of the pens as they looked in 1999.

Today, the only building left standing on the site is the old Exchange which has been turned into Condos. Some of the old stockyard land and sites of the former packing houses have been converted into a campus for Metropolitan Community College where I am an adjunct professor. It is a rather sad feeling to see the changes that have occured with the demise of rail shipping and the packing industry in Omaha...but that is progress.

Jack Hanger

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