Head 'em Up; Move 'em Out: Stockyard Memorabilia

Stockyard memorabilia collectors group preserves the heritage of the American stockyard.

| October 2015

The legendary Union Stock Yard & Transit Co. of Chicago closed more than four decades ago, but that’s done little to dampen enthusiasm for stockyard memorabilia. If anything, passion for relics of the stockyard’s glory days is on the upswing, a fact demonstrated at the annual conference of the Stockyard Collectors Club held in Davenport, Iowa, in June.

A crowd of about 200 attended the weekend conference, which included memorabilia displays and an auction. “People age out,” says club president Mitch McKay, “but the group has perpetuated itself.”

Nostalgia fuels that continuing interest. “A lot of our members had relatives who worked at stockyards or they were truckers,” he says. “For others, it brings back memories of their parents’ trips to the stockyards.” Among the group’s new members this year, each once showed cattle at the Union Stock Yard’s annual International Live Stock Exposition and Horse Show before that event was discontinued in 1976.

For the cattleman, selling cattle was a momentous event. “In the cattle business, you got paid once a year,” Mitch says. “You’d go to Chicago, stay in a nice hotel near the stockyard, buy some new clothes and have a big dinner out.” Stockyard memorabilia, he says, takes people back in time. “It’s a link to a way of life that is gone,” he says.

Preserving an American tradition

Now in its 16th year, the Stockyard Collectors acts as an umbrella group for people nostalgic for the old days of the livestock industry. Launched in 1999 with a barbecue on the steps of the Peoria Stockyard Exchange, the organization has grown to encompass those with a fondness for the Union Stock Yard, International Live Stock Exposition and smaller stockyards across the Midwest.

Members, who gather annually for a two-day conference, collect everything from pins to trophies, bullet pencils to watch fobs, photos to ephemera. The memorabilia auction is a particular highlight. Members use the auction to thin out duplicates and acquire new treasures. Buyers sometimes include museums, particularly those looking for vintage photographs. This year’s auction of 110 items netted nearly $12,000, a near-record figure for the event.