Thriving business now empty barn

by marlys good

The Greybull Livestock sales barn on the north side of Greybull sits silent and deserted. Surrounded by weathered and worn corrals and overgrown with weeds, it bears little resemblance to the bustling enterprise it was five/six decades ago when the pens were filled with sheep, cattle, horses, goats, pigs. The parking lot bumper-to-bumper with pickups and trucks, farmers trading news of crops, drought, rainfall, planting, harvesting, whatever the season happened to be.  Everyone waiting the call of the auctioneer as animals were shuffled quickly in and through the sales ring.

An article in the Aug. 1, 1946 Greybull Standard said “Construction will start immediately on one of the finest sales rings in Wyoming.”

Jack and Richard Smith and Floyd Heitz all of Ten Sleep had been looking at different locations around the Big Horn Basin, and decided to locate the pavilion “north of the highway overpass and west of the CB&Q railroad tracks north of the Greybull city limits” on a tract of land that was part of the A.W. Sabbe farm. The new business would be known as the “Ranchers and Feeders Commission Co.”

The facility, which would accommodate between 1,200-1,500 people was completed in October and the grand opening was a complete success. It was estimated that 700 spectators, buyers and consignors were in attendance. When the sale was over $14,000 worth of livestock had been run through.

The Greybull Jaycees hosted a stockmen’s banquet that evening at the Norris Hotel.

Maybe the most well-known owners were brothers Guffy and Lloyd Groseclose who purchased it Feb. 1, 1956, from Marion Petsch of Riverton. (“Glimpses of Greybull’s Past” by Tom Davis). Jack Smith (no relation to the Shell Smiths) was the manager/auctioneer.

Doratha Groseclose said she and Lloyd moved to Greybull in June 1947 when Lloyd took over the Sinclair Service Station.

“Lloyd would leave his own business and go out and work at the sales barn for Smith,” Doratha recalled.

Several years later, Guffy and his family moved to the area from Wray, Colo., and Guffy became the auctioneer at the sales barn in March 1954.

Doratha said Guffy and Lloyd “decided when they were kids that someday they were going to own a sales barn,” and when the one in Greybull came up for sale, “They jumped at it.”

It was a good partnership, a true family affair. Lloyd was the manager. He would go out to neighboring farms and ranches to get animals to be consigned, Guffy cried the auctions, and Leah did the bookwork.

When the Grosecloses first purchased the business, Guffy and Leah lived in two rooms on the north end of the sales barn. They later moved into a house on Fifth Avenue North.

The facility was “extremely well built,” Doratha said. Well built, it was, but in the late 1960s, a Wyoming State Law required that a sales barn had to have a concrete floor wherever animals were kept in pens, not just “manure and dirt” because of the diseases that could be spread.

“We put in all concrete. Cost us over $10,000 and at that time that seemed like a horrible amount of money to spend,” Doratha said.

A strict routine was followed for running animals in and out of the sales ring itself. “When people brought in animals, they were put in pens on the left; they ran them through the sales barn and they came out on the right side, the scales were just outside, they were weighed and then penned on the right. It was extremely well organized.”

Doratha recalls wanting to help drive some sheep from the farm they owned along Dry Creek to the sales barn. “I begged Lloyd to let me take old Bobo (their well-trained lead sheep). He said, “Bobo gets to going pretty fast; you’ll have to watch for that and promise me you won’t let go. Promise me?”

It was a well-intentioned promise. “Things went pretty good,” Dorotha recalls 50 years later (she also recalled she was wearing sandals) ”But the nearer we got to the sales barn the faster Bobo was going. I could see the sales barn just ahead but by that time Bobo was really running. Then I saw a thistle patch coming up and I knew it was just a matter of time until I had to decide whether to keep my promise, and hold on and get dragged through the thistles, or let go and get yelled at.

“I decided Lloyd yelling at me was better than weeks to digging out thistles so I let go. I figured I would be raked over the coals for a hour, but Lloyd didn’t say anything.”

Doratha’s and Lloyd’s sons, Gordon and Jerry “went out every morning before school and took care of the livestock that was there,” Dorotha said. She didn’t know if they enjoyed their chore or not. “I don’t think they minded too badly, but they certainly learned to work and that is what kids need to learn.”

Sales were always held on Wednesdays, according to Doratha, “but on other days also. We used to have big horse sales, but they were always held on Saturday nights. Sometimes before a sale someone would bring in furniture, and we would cry the furniture sale before the regular start of the livestock sale.”

A sign still visible on the old building advertises “sales every Friday. No date is known as to the year the sales switched from Wednesdays to Fridays.

The lunch counter, a part of the facility from the very beginning, remained a popular spot. Buyers, sellers, big and little kids, enjoyed the hamburgers, and sundry other food stuff, and the smell of good, strong coffee lent a hominess to the atmosphere.

Long after the sales barn had closed, the Grosecloses were holding a “mini-family reunion,” and Ralph and Vicky Groseclose Temple and several and sundry cousins went over to look through the sales barn. “It brought back so many memories of family – and the sugar was still on the lunch counter,” Doratha recalled with a laugh.

It was a good life for the Groseclose families. Lloyd and Doratha raised LoiDene, Gordon, Jerry, Marvonne and Laura, and Guffy and Leah were busy raising Gary, Connie, Vickie and Becky. “It made a nice living for us,” Doratha said.

The Grosecloses owned the sales barn until the 1970s. Doratha is not sure what triggered the selling but said, “Guffy’s health began to decline; he could no longer cry the sales. I think that had something to do with it.”

Since then it has passed through the hands of half-a-dozen other owners including (first name unknown) Ward, Hugo and Hilda Ward and Dick Looby.

Jay Wilkinson bought the business from Looby in 1986 or ’87 and ran it for six years. “It was fun; I enjoyed it, but I got tired of ‘begging’ people (for consignments).”

Wilkinson sold it to a California couple, Ken and Carol Koppel in “either 1992 or 1993,” he isn’t sure which.

After Ken died of a heart attack, Carol continued to run the sales barn for several years. No one is sure when the place was boarded up and closed to business but the closest estimate is circa the late 1990s.

Driving by the deserted barn and the empty corrals one wonders if its closure was a portent of things to come for what was once a thriving town and a growing community.

The only answer comes from the wind rustling through the dry leaves and the tumbleweeds skittering across the abandoned corrals.