If you know anything about agriculture, the odds are you also know about the National FFA organization. And if you know about FFA, the odds are also excessively high you know about the FFA Creed, by E.M. Tiffany.
Step through the doors of the Rackley and Madding Inc. trucking office at the Oklahoma National Stockyards, and you will find something even more powerful than the words Tiffany poured into the creed, which thousands now hold so close to their heart—you will find the FFA Creed personified through the lives of three men: Kenneth Madding, 90 years old; James Eaton, 90 years old, and Leland Wallace, 89 years old.
“I believe in the future of agriculture, with a faith born not of words but of deeds—achievements won by the present and past generations of agriculturists; in the promise of better days through better ways, even as the better things we now enjoy have come to us from the struggles of former years.”
The Oklahoma National Stockyards has been in existence since 1910, the last terminal market whose auction is still functioning. Madding, Eaton and Wallace have each been working at the stockyards since the early 1940s: Madding starting in 1944, Wallace starting in 1946 and Eaton starting in 1942.
The tales each gentleman recalls would be like stepping into a time machine—a glimpse at our own “past generations,” if you will.
Originally, the stockyards was operated via private treaty. The seller would have his cattle in a pen, where the order buyers would have the opportunity to cycle through to offer the commission man a bid.
The buyers took turns buying based on a number they drew earlier in the morning, giving them their order to bid. This took place five days per week.
The stockyards sold all breeds of cattle—even dairy cattle, a view not common today. A majority of the sellers came to the city with small bobtail trucks from their family dairy to sell just a handful of cattle.
“They’d be lined from here to 29th street,” Wallace said.
“Back then every family had about an 80-acre farm,” Madding said, “and they got by.”
Everything, then to now, is unrecognizably different while simultaneously strikingly the same, both in the way the stockyards does business, and in the way of the people who do the business—something each man repeatedly pointed out.
They held one another to a higher standard—refusing to let one another slip into mediocrity. The three recall a culture of tradition which acted as a common thread between the original 17 commission companies who operated at the stockyards.
Wallace reflected on a time when straw hats in the winter, something inappropriate for time of year, would not be allowed on the yards.
“If they caught you with one, they’d burn it,” he said.
Wallace laughed as he also remembered it was customary on the yards when a man got married to be thrown into a water tank. The early days were a time driven by tradition.
Back in the 1940s, the stockyards was not just a place to do business, it was home to all who worked there. They laughed together. They cried together. They celebrated together. One could even say we stand today to see the “better things we now enjoy” because our forefathers weathered the storm of the “struggles of former years,” as a family.
Truthfully, the entire work ethic of the employees of the 1940s can be summarized in eight little words: “faith born not of words but of deeds.”
Madding said he can remember his fellow employees “working the country,” meaning they traveled to their customers to solicit their business. Eaton still works in the alleys today. And there won’t be a sale day that you can’t find all three working in some capacity.
“I believe that to live and work on a good farm, or to be engaged in other agricultural pursuits, is pleasant as well as challenging; for I know the joys and discomforts of agricultural life and hold an inborn fondness for those associations which, even in hours of discouragement, I cannot deny.”
The stockyards, like any establishment, did have its hard times, however. The OPA price limit of 1942 truly embodied the “discomfort of agricultural life.”
“They put a price on cattle,” Madding said. “You could only give so much. It was during the war in the 40’s.”
Madding said it was really never made clear why the limit was necessary, but it significantly altered the price of all cattle, making it impossible for a seller to see growth in his income. Thankfully, the limit was removed in 1949.
“When they took the OPA off, the trucks stayed lined up for days—24 hours a day,” Wallace said.
“They took it off on a Thursday night,” Madding said. “By Friday morning we already have 6,500 to 7,000 head of cattle here.”
What seemed to bring instant relief to the cattlemen of Oklahoma, however, brought a wave of new challenges. It was soon realized the true value of cattle was now a mystery.
With time, prices began to establish themselves. It appeared the Oklahoma National Stockyards was out of the woods. But by 1951, the numbers were beginning to dwindle as local auctions increased in size and popularity.
Of course, the Oklahoma National Stockyards saw that change was coming—and they embraced it, so future generations would have something to cling onto.
“I believe in leadership from ourselves and respect from others. I believe in my own ability to work efficiently and think clearly, with such knowledge and skill as I can secure, and in the ability of progressive agriculturists to serve our own and the public interest in producing and marketing the product of our toil.”
In 1961, the Oklahoma National Stockyards went to live auction, something which, at the time, would be perceived as a risky decision. Nevertheless, the stakeholders of the Oklahoma National Stockyards were “progressive agriculturists.” They saw a vision, and they committed to it.
“On the first day we had 1,400 cattle to be sold through the live auction,” Madding said.
The stockyards made a gradual, but strong transition. Eventually, the Oklahoma National Stockyards established a balance between private treaty and live auction, selling private treaty on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of a week, and live auction on Tuesday and Thursday.
“If we hadn’t, I don’t think we would’ve made it past the 70s,” Madding said.
Live auction was an equalizer in the industry, Madding said. It gave the opportunity for all buyers to make an offer, rather than having to wait his turn just to have the cattle already sold.
Over time, it grew increasingly obvious that live auction was simply the superior way to sell cattle. The strong vision and “not of words but of deeds” nature of the people of the Oklahoma National Stockyards prevailed.
Oscar Holderbee, former President of the Oklahoma National Stockyards, decided it was time to add a third live auction sale day, Wallace said. A meeting was called, and all 17 commission firms were present. When the motion to add a third sale day came before the meeting, it was a unanimous ‘no.’
Wallace said Holderbee simply walked across the hallway of the old Exchange Building, and informed his secretary to send out a memo informing the masses the Oklahoma National Stockyards, indeed, would be adding a third sale day.
“The next Wednesday, we had a sale,” Wallace said, “and they all participated.”
It’s a prime example of, “leadership from ourselves and respect from others,” to be quite frank. The commission firms may not have agreed, but they trusted their leadership—a now obviously wise decision.
“I believe in less dependence on begging and more power in bargaining; in the life abundant and enough honest wealth to help make it so—for others as well as myself; in less need for charity and more of it when needed; in being happy myself and playing square with those whose happiness depends upon me.”
The Oklahoma National Stockyards is absolutely a business. But it was so much more.
The Oklahoma National Stockyards was about taking care of your neighbor.
“The people,” Madding said.
The people are his fondest memories of the Oklahoma National Stockyards. When the people of the stockyards made choices, it was “for others as well as [themselves].”
They were genuine. They saw the value in “being happy [themselves] and playing square with those whose happiness depends upon [them].”
And boy did the Oklahoma National Stockyards bring said “happiness”.
“I loved it,” Madding said. “When the sale ended on Friday, I couldn’t wait to get back here on Monday.”
“I believe that American agriculture can and will hold true to the best traditions of our national life and that I can exert an influence in my home and community which will stand solid for my part in that inspiring task.”
Madding, Wallace and Eaton without a doubt were able to “exert an influence in [their] home and community.” It’s displayed through the lives they’ve inspired to find his or her own home at the Oklahoma National Stockyards.
Madding’s daughter now owns and operates R & M Trucking Company, inspired by her father. Wallace’s mentee now co-owns and operates Stockman-Oklahoma Livestock commission company. Eaton’s son now owns and operates J and J commission company.
These gentlemen are nothing short of inspiring. The proof is in those who have been able to see their passion for the Oklahoma National Stockyards, and have felt a calling to carry this passion on.
There is just one more thing Madding, Wallace and Eaton have in common with the FFA Creed. They, like the creed, act as a moral compass to those who have been so fortunate to encounter their wisdom. Their words have, and will continue to be, a beacon of light to those who know them—past, present and future.