June 2009
Featured Articles

56 Years at Work. . . and Still Counting

Charles Thomas in his “office” on a sale day at the Northwest Alabama Stockyards.


Stockyard worker demonstates uncommon versatility and tenacity

Charles Thomas is a jovial, happy man, a life-long resident of Franklin County and has the distinction of making a career out of a job he started when he was 15 years old. When Charles began working at the Hester Stockyards, he never dreamed he would still be at it 56 years later. Charles has done everything at stockyards but work in the office and be an auctioneer. Now it is a part-time position at Northwest Alabama Stockyards in Russellville that occupies his Mondays where he pens cattle according to who buys them. This is an important part of stockyards’ operations because some of the buyers may purchase different classes of cattle going to various places. Penning them according to the buyer’s number enables them to be loaded out correctly, therefore saving time and money.

Mr. Thomas began working for Mr. H. R. Hester at the Hester Stockyards in 1953, doing whatever needed to be done. The Hester Stockyards was located on Highway 43 just north of Russellville where cattle, hogs and goats were sold on Mondays. Charles worked during the sale on Monday and the rest of the week doing maintenance, cleaning up and lots of riding, which he really enjoyed, because Mr. Hester also bought, sold and traded horses. The stockyard was sold to Jack Clayton, Jimmy King and Duke White with Charles continuing to work for them until Johnny Little and Shorty Anderson bought out Duke White and Jimmy King becoming partners with Jack Clayton. Charles worked full-time for the partners until the early 1970s, when an association of area farmers was formed and bought the stockyards. The association sold shares, voted in a board of directors who hired a manager. The association operated at the old yards for two to three years while a new yard was designed and construction started on purchased land just southeast of Russellville on Highway 243. The first manager for the association was Johnny Little with Clinton Hardin, Bill Kilpatrick, Junior McGuire, Wendel Mitchel and current Manager Jim Martin following. When Junior McGuire retired after 16 years as manger, Charles also retired but was asked to stay on part-time and do the penning on Monday.

How did the grand opening of the Northwest Alabama Stockyards go back in 1977?

"We had 2,500 head on that Monday because area farmers had saved stock for the grand opening. It was a wreck because the gates didn’t have safety chains and gates were popping open all over the yards. We were still sorting the cattle that had gotten mixed up on Friday after the sale."

What changes have you noticed during your years spent at the stockyards?

"The quality of cattle has greatly improved compared to back in the ’50s. Back then the majority of cattle coming to the yards had dairy influence due to the number of dairies in Franklin and surrounding counties. As area dairies declined, better beef cattle were introduced resulting in better quality livestock at the stockyards. We sold a lot of hogs and a few goats back then which is just the opposite of now."

Have you worked anywhere else over the years?

"The only places I have ever worked have been at other stockyards. I worked at Florence Stockyards on Tuesdays for two or three months a few years ago, but then the sales at Northwest began to run over into Tuesday so I had to quit there. I also worked for about a year at Moulton Stockyards for Roland Gargis doing the penning. Then gasoline got so high I couldn’t afford to drive there and back."

What hobbies do you enjoy now you are retired?

"I spend a good bit of time fishing, which I really enjoy. My favorite kind is for crappie, which I also enjoy eating. I don’t cook them, but my cousin does a real good job of preparing my catch."

Charles Thomas is a fun-loving man with a multitude of friends who all wish him the best and hope he has many more years of working at the stockyards. I salute Charles and am really glad our paths crossed. It’s not often you meet someone who has worked his whole life at the same job. I also wish him the best and hope the pen always stays closed after he pens them.

If you do know someone like Charles, congratulate them for their tenacity in their chosen profession.

As always, please shop at your local Quality Co-op where we strive to earn and keep your business. If we don’t have what you’re looking for, we will try to get it for you.