FORT LORAMIE — The pens are empty. The barns are shuttered. The air is quiet.
The United Producers stockyards near Fort Loramie closed in March. And Saturday, May 13, Max Middendorf, whose father, Charles, established the Dawson Road stockyards in 1914, died.
Middendorf and his daughter, Lisa Robbins, of Fort Loramie, talked with the Sidney Daily News in late April about the family business.
“It started as a grain elevator,” Middendorf said, wrapped in blankets in his chair at Elmwood Assisted Living in New Bremen while workmen installed a new bed in his room. “Then (dad) started the stockyards. I was helping there before I was in my teens.” Max’s brothers, Dick and Carl, also worked there, and the three sons ran the business when their father retired.
Farmers sold their hogs to the Middendorfs, who then sold the animals to slaughterhouses, usually in Cincinnati. The stockyard team also purchased feeder pigs at auctions.
“Dad went to a lot of sales barns outside of town,” Robbins said.
“That was a big part of our business, buying and selling feeder pigs,” her father said. A feeder pig would arrive at about eight weeks old, weighing about 40 to 100 pounds. The stockyards would then sell them to finishing farms, who would raise the pigs to market weight and sell them back to the stockyards for sale to the slaughterhouses. Middendorf also operated a trucking business to transport the animals.
“An awful lot of bacon” went through, Robbins said. “The busiest day was Saturday.” It was not unusual for breeding farmers to come in with 250 hogs on a Saturday. The porkers would stay at the Fort Loramie yards for two days before being trucked to southern Ohio.
The most difficult thing about running the stockyards was keeping the hogs alive during their two-day stay.
“After being commingled with strange hogs, they just fight. They knew the other hogs weren’t from their farm by smell. They’d jump on each other and just fight like hell,” Middendorf said. To break up a fight, the brothers would hit a hog on the nose with an axe handle.
The animals are known for being the smartest of barnyard beasts. Middendorf also saw them as strong-willed.
“If you try to get them to go on a truck and they didn’t want to go,” he said, “they’d come back down the the chute.”
Like her father, Robbins grew up working in the stockyards along with her brothers, Mark and Scott, and Carl’s sons, Kevin and Chuck. She enjoyed going with her father to sales barn auctions in Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky, Springfield and Fairborn, Ohio, and New York state. Middendorf was a real “people person,” she said. “He never met a stranger. He had a lot of good friends in the sale barns.” The marketing was done by word of mouth and it was Max who established relationships with farmers and slaughterhouse owners.
“My uncle and brothers dealt with the hogs,” Robbins said.
When it came to the numbers, however, it was Max who kept track.
“I’d come home from a sale barn and have so many head of butcher hogs and so many sows and boars and then I’d have a hundred or 200 feeder pigs on there. You had to be pretty sharp in your mind about how much things were worth, had to keep all the prices in mind when you were bidding,” he said. “It was a fast-going snip/snap business that took fast thinking.”
Middendorf earned a business degree from Sinclair Community College, and he said the courses he took there helped him.
“The biggest thing that helped me was the experience I got working in the stockyards,” he said.
Besides the yard in Fort Loramie, the Middendorfs also operated stockyards in Botkins, Kenton, Urbana, and Shipshewana, Indiana.
When the family sold the business in 1996 to United Producers, it was the people and visiting with people that Middendorf found he missed the most. He was very disappointed that 21 years later, the business was closed.
“It’s been a part of the community for a long time,” Middendorf said.
The writer had hoped to include more recent history of the stockyards, but several calls to United Producers were not returned.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4824.