Shipping livestock was vital to Cokato farmers years ago

February 4, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

Up until 70 years ago, Cokato had stockyards that were a center of activity for the town.

The stockyards were just west of Jackson Avenue railway crossing, on the north side of the tracks, where Centra Sota Cooperative is now.

On designated days, usually Monday or Tuesday each week, farmers loaded wagons with cows, pigs or sheep and drove to the stockyards in Cokato. From there, the livestock were shipped by rail to South St. Paul to be sold at the market, according to “Cokato’s First Century” by Carlton Lee.

The livestock were handled on a consignment basis by the Cokato Farmers Cooperative Shipping Association, Farmers Union Shipping Association, or sometimes by independent operators.

In 1931, the Cokato Shipping Association reported $50,000 in business that year. Elmer Morris was chosen manager of the organization.

Then as motor trucks became common and the highway was improved, the stockyards were used less and less.

Finally in March 1940, the physical assets, including a scale, fence posts, fencing, a 16-foot-by-20-foot building, and a “car-mover” were sold, and the stockyards were no more.

Trucks, not the stockyard, became the focus of the association. In 1942, the Cokato Farmers Cooperative Shipping Association bought a GMC truck with a pair of saddle tanks for a total of $2,696 to add to its fleet.

The association continued to ship livestock. According to the association’s manager, Howard Morris, in 1946 the association shipped 7,061 head of cattle.

Art Holm was elected chairman of the organization. Emil Boie, field representative for the cooperative, said Cokato’s association was one of the best organized groups in the state that year.

Morris and the association were doing so well, that when Morris was reclassified as 1A by the selective service and in danger of being drafted into the military, the 350 members of the association almost panicked. They got behind the secretary of the organization, LeRoy Anderson, to fire off a letter to State Sen. Thomas Welch of Buffalo, to get Morris reclassified.

“This is a big business,” Anderson told Welch. “In fact we have no one in our community who can take the place of Mr. Morris.”

Anderson sent figures about the total weight of animals shipped, 2,037,790 pounds in 1945.

“This has further significance than mere dollars and cents. It means that the livestock which Mr. Morris has handled has arrived at the stockyards in good condition. In this critical time of food shortage this means much to people, whose cupboards are nearly bare. Dead and bruised animals arriving at the markets means only that much food lost to hungry and undernourished people,” Anderson said.

Cokato farmers got their wish and Morris wasn’t drafted in 1947. The Cokato Enterprise showed the livestock shippers had a report of $318,732 in business. The association shipped 5,283 head of livestock to St. Paul.

In 1948, though, Morris sold his trucking business to Roy Fleming, and concentrated on his farm in Stockholm Township. The last association annual meeting was in the fall of that year.

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