Farm Boy Nostalgia

National City Stockyards, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, had acres of high, sturdy, wooden fences divided into holding pens for cattle, hogs, and sheep. Driveways for the animals and walkways for the people allowed passage between the pens to the scales and the slaughterhouses.

The animals would arrive around midnight by truck and were unloaded down a ramp. A horseman herded cattle through the driveway, a walking man drove hogs, and a Judas Goat led sheep over a long high viaduct to the holding pens. Once the animals were secure the owner or his agent consigned them to be sold by a commission buyer to a meatpacking firm.

After making sure that the salt fed, thirsty animals had access to plenty of water before being weighed the next morning, the owners had no further responsibilities for awhile. A select few might retire to the comforts of the National City Hotel, but most would relax in the walkways until time for breakfast and coffee at the Stockyards Cafeteria.

Spaced every few yards along the walkways were a couple of benches. They were not unlike regular park benches except for the seat boards. The seat boards were not attached by screws, bolts, or nails; They were simply a very large heavy board (2 1/2" x l6" x 8") resting on a shallow framework with only its weight holding it down. The top front of the seat board had a number of V shaped notches of various width and depth whittled into them. These seat boards were designed for easy replacement after the whittlers had notched them so deeply as to be dangerous to sit upon.

A right handed whittler would seat himself to the left of his selected notch, open his pocket knife, and proceed to enlarge it. After greeting any previous arrivals to the benches a brief discussion of the bad weather and the terrible market prices was in order. This out of the way, they could get to the business at hand, which was trading pocket knives.

"Mind if I look at your Uncle Henry?"

The answer came while handing over the razor sharp knife with all three blades opened. "It's not very sharp, been goin' to work on it."

The bench partner knew from the length of the spey blade whether the knife owner raised cattle or hogs. He could tell from the condition of the FOR FLESH ONLY etch on the spey blade how much the blade had been honed.

"I've got a pretty good old Case Cattleman here. What do you think of it?" He offered.

If the two men could agree on the relative value of the knives and the difference in "boot", a trade was consummated.

By this time, the sky was showing the first faint sign of dawning and the men parted ways, anxious to scrape the manure from their boots on the concrete steps of the Stockyards Cafeteria. After filling a plate with fried eggs, ham, hash brown potatoes, and biscuits, they chose a table under a bright light to better study their newly acquired pocket knife.

2005 - Cy Sarver, S.W. Florida Knife Collectors Club

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