Growing Up in Dodge City (The Feedyard)
Butter & Egg Road. Whoever named it had a sense of humor. And mention of it always makes me a bit hungry for breakfast no matter what time of day it is. But for five years it was the road home.
Head south from the “Hitchin’ Post” truck stop, over the overpass which passed above the tracks, take your first left and you are on… Butter & Egg Road. The steeply rising and falling hills can give you that unexpected sensation of falling. Turn left at the T-junction and keep following the road around the curve, down the hill, over the tracks and back up the hill, and you have arrived.
Once the house was ready we left the classy heights of the Lora Locke for a much more prosaic home on the grounds of Coake Feedyard. That’s right, we didn’t live next to the feedyard, we lived at the feedyard.
I didn’t mind in the slightest! It was fascinating to be surrounded by so many cows… or cattle more appropriately. At that age, though they were definitely called cows. I was used to seeing a pen or two of cattle at Grandpa’s farm. Or herds of cattle grazing in a pasture. But never before had I seen literally thousands of them all in one place. I would stare out the big picture window in the living room at the cattle trucks that would roll in and out. The feed trucks that would come and go from the mill and the loaders that scooped and dumped the feed, over and over again, every day.
Of course eventually the fascination wears off. After you’ve seen the 20th scoop of milled grain dumped into the feed truck, you’ve also seen the 2,000th. Soon I stared out the window, less in marvel of the economic machine that was unfolding in front of me, but rather waiting for the workers to quit for the day so I could go ride my bike around the wide stretches of concrete around the yard.
It was here, and on that bike that I ripped my left pinky fingernail directly off of said pinky finger. I remember the experience quite clearly. I was riding my sweet bike all over the concrete stretch that was infront the mill. Part of the concrete sloped down rather steeply. I had no problem riding straight down the slope. It was rather exhilarating! As my confidince in my machine and my skill grew, I just simply decided to would ride my bike parallel to the slope. A feat that is pretty easily accomplished with almost any bike. Except: bikes with training wheels.
As soon as I hit that slope, the training wheels quickly righted the bike perpendicular to the slant and I was thrown immediately from the seat like a cowboy riding his first bull. I hadn’t even considered the geometry of the situation in the moments leading up to this and I was caught completely off guard. As I apparently flailed to the earth, my pinky nail snagged the concrete as my momentum continued to carry me forward. I immediately knew just from the feeling, “that’s not good”. Then looked and pretty much instantly started to cry as my pinky nail clung by a thread of soft tissue to my now bleeding finger. Definitely the most gruesome moment of my life to that point.
I sobbed the long walk back to the house leaving my bike where it lay. It had betrayed me after all. I remember the shock followed by hesitation by my parents as I cried for them to fix me. Pretty sure they were trying to hide a bit of laughter as they were negotiating who would be the one to yank my dangling bloody fingernail from my pinky. I certainly didn’t appreciate their hesitation at the time. Good news, my nail eventually grew back.
What doesn’t appear to exist any longer in the photo of the house above is the chainlink fence that ran around the house. One of the first winters in our new house a blizzard blew in and on the north side of the house in the yard between the house and the road, the biggest snow drift I have ever seen in my life had built up over the fence. It was taller than four foot tall me, that’s for sure. Tall enough that Dad would pick up my sister and me and throw us into the side of the snow drift and we’d just stick there! It was incredible! I remember digging tunnels into the drifts and thinking it was the most awesome thing in the world.
We’d go out and “check the bunks” with Dad. I remember doing this most of the time on the 4 wheeler. We’d ride up and down the lanes and I never really knew what Dad was looking for. I just assumed that some of the cows needed fed, and some of them hadn’t ate all the feed yet. So I’d just lean over the side and declare, “Looks good.” or “Need some feed.” It was always fun though. I never was allowed to play back in the lanes, so as we would ride back and forth and through the intersections at Coake Feedyard, I just remember it all feeling very big and disorienting. Just like trying to navigate a new town for your first time.
What seemed like every year, a large load of white gravel rock was delivered right in front of our yard next to a lamp post. This gravel served a practical purpose of course. To spread across the drive and fill in low spots to keep everything from becoming a muddy mess. More importantly however, it gave my sister and me the opportunity to scale a mountain. This pile of rock had to be at least 10 feet tall. Which felt enormous to a small person like myself at the time. I remember the feeling of the gravel slipping under my feet as I fought against gravity, and the chalky white dust that adhered to my hands, shoes and pant-sleeves. Somewhere exists a photo of my sister and me perched triumphantly atop this pile of rock.
This was also the earliest Fourth of July celebration that I can recall. In an empty feed bunk out by our garage we lit various sparkling fireworks, ground blooms, jumping jacks, those kinds of things. Whether it truly was my first fireworks experience or not, I remember it feeling all very new. Maybe it was because we’d just moved, and everything felt new. But I know that since that moment, I’ve always had an incredible love for fireworks and the Fourth of July.
In that very same pen, some time later there was a cow that was incredibly unique compared to the thousands of others. In general if you were to walk up to a pen of cattle, most of them will calmly but quickly back and trot away from you. This animal however had absolutely no issues if you decided to step into its “bubble”. It was so content in fact that Dad lifted my sister and I to sit on its back. With a “ho-hum” attitude, the cow just stood there. You could almost feel that it was enjoying the company. Mom and that were both there and I just remember all of us laughing and shocked at the docile behavior of this cow. I hope that one was particularly tasty.
While we lived there, we got my first dog. Tiger. He was… well a mutt. That’s all I really can say. Part this and part that. Always high strung, and never particularly intelligent. He was strong enough to really push me around at my age. I remember I had an insulated coat that looked kind of like a flight jacket, with patches and insignia sewed on it. I would put that coat on and Tiger and I would rough-house together in the front lawn. That log loved every minute of it, and I did to. I felt like that coat would protect me from anything that dog could do.
One night I remember waking up. I had to go to the bathroom and as I opened my bedroom door I heard crickets. Out here you ALWAYS heard crickets, but these seemed close, like right there in the room. I stepped in to the hall to turn on the light and CRUNCH. Right at the same time the switch flipped on revealing what had to be a dozen or more crickets just chirping and hopping away in the middle of the hallway. “MOOOMMM! DAAADDD!” I shouted. Not so much out of fear, but mostly out of genuine confusion about how to handle the situation. I made it to the bathroom and was put back to bed while I assume my parents vacuumed up dozens of live crickets.
Right across Butter & Egg Road from our house was a dirt lot on the top of the hill that was free from trees or buildings. It was the perfect place for kite flying. I remember two kite “events” that took place on this hill. First was the “Sesame Street Kite Event”. Wind is one of Southwest Kansas’s greatest natural resources. Today, just drive 10 miles in any direction and you’re sure to find a modern wind farm. So naturally it’s prime kite flying real estate. I had a Sesame Street kite, nothing special, just one of those triangular kites you get at Wal-Mart or any other store. With a fantastic breeze the kite was flying so easily. Letting out a little string at a time, the kite got higher and higher. Excited to see how high it could go, I let out more, and more. Until suddenly the string let loose of the reel I was holding and the kite fluttered higher and higher, farther and farther. You would think that a kite would crash to the ground without the pull of the string, but this kite just steadily rose higher in the sky, as the wind carried it farther and farther away. I remember starting to cry and we turned back home after all hope of recovery was lost. Even in the time it took us to walk back to the house, the kite never hit the ground.
The second kite event were our time honored “Kite Fights”. It was what it sounds like. Two kites, you try to knock the other one out of the sky. Dad and I had had several kite fights before. It was always good fun. You’d knock one person’s kite down, launch it back up and do it again until you finally grew tired of it. I had just gotten a new B2 Bomber kite. It was awesome. Sailing up in the sky it was majestic and intimidating. And what better vehicle for a kite fight than an actual war machine? I was unstoppable. Dad was flying whatever girly kite my sister had, when as quickly as we started, Dad’s kite ripped a gaping hole in the wing of my B2 Bomber. I still remember pulling back on the string with all my 6 year old might only to watch it spiral down into the dry dusty soil. Once again, I walked back across Butter & Egg Road with one less kite and a heap of disappointment.
In that wood paneled living room we brought home our first Nintendo. Mom says I worked to save up half the money for it. For what felt like ages I had longed for one and Super Mario Bros. When we brought it home from Wal-Mart I remember my parents saying it was going to take 30 minutes to get it all hooked up and thinking what an eternity that was going to be. Later I remember watching Mom rescue the princess for the first time and being in awe of what she had “accomplished”.
We lived in the house at the feedyard from 1985 to 1990. The more I write about it here, the more I remember. Some little moments like popping wheelies in the tractor, or Mom & Dad laughing about how I pronounced “pint”, as “pent”. (Thanks a lot phonics). Some memories have more gravity surrounding them like watching the Nativity story every Christmas morning with my sister, and watching out the big picture window for Dad to come home so we can open presents. I write these memories down so I don’t forget them. But on the other hand, I feel like if I keep writing this post will never get published!
A few memories that deserve more attention:
- The star on the top of the grain leg
- Being first and last stop on the bus route
- Breaking down in the Monte Carlo and walking home
- Watching the “Ripper Planes” buzz by
- The diamonds on the gates at the entrance
- Getting pops out of the old pop machine
- The swingset behind the house
- Taking every toy out of our toy box
- Bert & Ernie Halloween Pumpkins
- The failed attempt at having my own room
- Eating the “cornflakes” from the mill
- Getting the NEW couch and lovseat
A feedyard isn’t on anyone’s list of “Great places to raise a kid,” but I do remember it fondly. Maybe I just didn’t know any different. I remember it as a place to play. A place that can be dangerous with so many trucks. A place that was rarely quiet. A place for work. But more than anything it was a place that felt like home.
And what about that smell? Well, it stunk. You get used to it.