About the Santa Fe Historical Society

Livestock Operations on Model Railroads

with an emphasis on the ATSF

January 25, 2012

Railroad Stock Yards

It has been said that in 1950, 95% of the towns served by railroads in Iowa had a stockyard. On the 84 mile Howard Branch in Kansas, there were 13 stations; all had stockyards maintained by the railroad. Two of those did not rate a depot. The Santa Fe designed standard stockyard plans that can be obtained from the System Standards book or the stock car book listed in the resources.

On the branch lines, these pens were where cattle would be assembled before shipping to market, or, if in a feeding area, where cattle would arrive before being transferred to fields for fattening. The Flint Hills region of Kansas was a popular place to fatten cattle. Very few cattle shipments were of indigenous cattle.

There were several types of pens in stockyards. Holding pens were large fenced areas where stock from one shipper could be brought to await shipment. There could be several thousand head in one holding pen. The smaller pens were used to segregate individual car or shipper loads while being fed in route. Hog pens were usually roofed as swine are sensitive to sunlight and heat. Many sheep pens were also roofed. At major feeding stations, pens often had concrete floors to expedite cleaning and control disease.

On the Santa Fe, stockyards were measured in terms of car capacity and pens. For instance, Utopia, KS, had a 14 car capacity stockyard with 7 pens, and a pump. There was no depot here. This means that the stockyard could hold the number of cattle required to fill 14 cars (around 650), and that there were 7 pens available to allow cattle of various kinds or from various shippers to be segregated. The pump was for watering the cattle. Other amenities one might find at other locals included weight scales, electric lights, sheep shearing, hay and feed barns, and special unloading chutes.

Either the railroad or the shipper could be called upon to provide feed for the animals. The Santa Fe regularly shipped hay in the largest boxcars available. In the early 70s, 86' auto parts cars were occasionally used for hay shipments. Sand and/or straw for bedding must also be provided.

Some stockyards, most of which were used seasonally, had insufficient water for the brief stay of a large herd. The railroad might be called upon to park a company water tanker at the yard when it was occupied. These frequently were 12,500 gallon company tanks.

The First Quarter 1989 issue of Santa Fe Modeler contained an article on building a Santa Fe Standard No. 1 stock pen on pages 12-17. Bill Van der Meer used the jig described in the article to build the beautiful model of a Standard No. 2 stock pen which is shown in the February 2003, pgs. 64-65, issue of Model Railroader.

The Santa Fe standards called for the loading chute to stand 6'6" from the centerline of the stock track. The exception was in Texas, where state law demanded 8'6" clearance for the protection of crewmen.

Retired ATSF conductor, Gordon Locke, tells this story: "Back in the late 50's and during the 60's I worked lots of trains that either picked up or loaded cattle and sheep on the Lampasas and San Saba Districts. Mostly what we hauled were calves going to feedlots or to summer pastures in Colorado. On train 53-54 the Lometa to Eden Local most of the agents along the line would already have 5 or 6 cars loaded before we arrived. Some would pinch them down and some pulled the cars with chains and tractors or pickups. There always was a cowman sitting on the rail as they were loaded counting heads. Seems like 38 to 40 calves were loaded."

"The Santa Fe had a man contracted to load. I remember an old Plymouth coupe. He mostly loaded sheep. He had a Judas Goat. The goat would run in a car with the sheep following. The man would whistle and the goat would run out of the car over the backs of the sheep. That goat chewed tobacco like a cowboy and sat in the front seat of the Plymouth."

"The best cattle trains I worked were in the spring. Owens Brothers Ranches at San Saba,TX, had their own loading chute . We would run a caboose hop out of Temple at 0400; pick up 60 stock cars at Lometa and run to San Saba; load 60 cars of yearlings, eat lots of BBQ, and take the train to Brownwood in 16 hours. Owens always ran several trainloads of yearlings to Colorado every spring. In later years the agents and cowboys figured how to back trucks up to the cars on the stock tracks and load them like that. The mainline trains like TSF every afternoon and the West Local usually just picked up cars that were already loaded."

D. K. Spencer also has some livestock stories from Lamar, CO, on this website.

Feeding Stations

Compiled by J. Stephen Sandifer


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