The last days of the Madras Auction Yard
By Shannon Winegar
The building, with faded letters proclaiming Livestock Auction, rises with tattered dignity above the noisy traffic of U.S. Highway 97. The broken windows, peeling paint and weathered tiles merge with the sun-bleached pens and chutes lining the 12-acre property.
The old auction yard will no doubt be torn down soon after a pending sale is finalized; but for Calvin Crandall, owner, a lot of memories are contained in the structures he helped build over 50 years ago.
Cal and his 10 brothers and sisters were raised on a large farm in Iowa. During their farming days, his father, Lester A. Crandall, would bring his wife and daughters out to the valley to pick cherries in the summertime to help make ends meet. His father's love for Oregon brought them back to Madras, Cal says.
"He came home one day and said, `Do you want to build a barn in Madras? I bought a little piece of property there.'" Cal laughs. "That's kind of what got us started, back
They had done well in Iowa, feeding and raising livestock.
"We had a little money to spend" he says, "so we came out and spent it."
Cal stayed in Oregon and went to work with his brother and father building the auction building. Cal's younger brother, Don, did electrical work, and Cal's father and a friend, Jake Marker, worked on the cuttiing and planning. Cal squints at the multitude of rusty nails visible on the exterior of the building and yards.
"Him and Dad would discuss things, and they'd put me to work," he recalls. "I did most of the hammering. Surely I must have pounded two-ton (of nails), at least my ol' arm felt like it." He laughs again. "I pounded nails for three years, just about."
Another brother, Clinton, came to Oregon in 1953 and helped build the auction yard. Neither Cal nor his brothers were married at the time, so they worked hard and got a lot done. "We didn't get much time to run around," he says.
The auction had trouble getting started, so they took on a partner and ran the auction full-tilt for about five years.
"We had a very modern facility," Cal states with pride. "It was the best in the West at one time. It had offices, a nice restaurant. It was nice."
Ladies from different church organizations would cook meals all day long for the Wednesday auctions. Sometimes they had a regular lady do the cooking. They bought some comfortable seats from the theater in Madras that closed, along with benches, for the auction house.
The Crandall Auction house had first-rate artwork on the interior walls, also. "We had two guys who'd worked for Disneyland do the artwork on the advertising, and they were fantastic," Cal states. The pictures were big, about three feet by six feet, and painted on canvas, about 20 scattered about the auction house.
"After we closed it, a guy came and bought most of them for about a thousand bucks."
Auction buyers came from all over, with some of the cattle being shipped out to the Midwest. The beef sold was mostly consignments from local ranches in the area, but some came from The Dalles and all over.
"It's a big area," he comments about the market. The manager took care of the buying end of it, he says. "My brother and I mostly took care of the yards and made sure things flowed pretty straight there. You'd get better than two-thousand head of cattle, why, somebody had to take care of it."
Wednesday auctions were a lively time, he says. Cal "lotted" the cattle and kept track of where the different buyers' cattle went. His older brother, Clinton, was in charge of tagging and sorting the cattle that came in.
"Clinton was really good at that," he says with appreciation. "And it was a busy day, especially in the fall when you get 2,000 or so cattle. You'd have trucks, at that time a lot of `em would come in with trucks, and they'd be lined up clear down the road a ways, clear to the junction down there."
The building closed in 1963 when the partner built his own barn. After that, the Crandalls pulled out of the auction business and bought a ranch out of Chemult, Sellers Marsh. He says that because the cattle industry was really tough, buying the ranch proved to be a better investment.
Cal's family closed the building but continued to use the
acreage in town for wintering cattle, after which the cattle were moved to the ranch high country for the summer.
Cal met and married Sally Howard in 1961, and had two boys, Charles and Ronald. During his varied career, Cal was in charge of putting the roof on the Jefferson Plywood Plant among other projects there. After the plywood plant burned down in the 1960s (Cal was involved in putting
out the fire), he did maintenance and heavy-equipment operation at Pelton/Round Butte Dam for PGE. He rebuilt almost all of the generators on the dam, he says.
"I had that place tore apart -- I did everything."
He worked for PGE for 23 years before "retiring" to full-time ranching.
Commenting on retiring, Cal says, "I never really have retired and I'll probably have my finger in something. It's hard to retire when you're used to doing something."
When asked what he is doing now, 81-year-old Cal says he's "loafing". "We still got eight-head (on the ranch), not a very big cow herd."
When friends ask why he didn't try to salvage the auction building, Cal simply states that there are too many nails. "I know how many nails I put in that thing ... it was put up to withstand a tornado like we had back in Iowa," he says. Speaking of the difficulty he faced while building the auction yards, Cal says he has always loved a
"I guess that's something Dad always taught me and my brothers -- if you had a challenge, do it and do it good. I enjoyed building the barn and it was part of my challenge. I stayed with it a long time and it didn't hurt me a bit." He adds, "I've had a busy life and I got no complaints."
Cal Crandall and his wife hope to have the sale of the property finalized by the end of July.