Beef State: Bassett Livestock Auction

Bassett Livestock Auction is hub for local Cattle industry

By Mary Schuberg [Rock County Leader, Bassett, Nebraska, July 26, 2006 -- used with permission of the publisher]

The Bassett Livestock Auction is observing the 75th anniversary of the beginning of an auction in Bassett.  The Kenney family has been involved in the business for 46 of those years.

Sitting in the office at the Bassett Livestock Auction, Rich Kinney reminisced of earlier days and the changes he has witnessed at the market.  Rich recalled one of the biggest changes has been in the mode of transportation.  During the 1960’s the transport of cattle into the auction was primarily by straight trucks and pickups.  For the larger herds, driving cattle to market was a common practice.  Rich recalled Sandall, Buell, Dearmont, Merritt, Lackaff, Peterson, Stec and Hall ranches as having cattle drives in the fall.

During the 60’s, the freight trains were in operation and the purchased cattle were driven to the railroad to the south.  Hundreds of carloads of cattle were shipped out to the buyers feedlots as far away as Illinois and Indiana.  A representative from the Chicago Northwestern would be sent to the sale just to line cars up for the buyers; on occasion a special train would be sent from Long Pine.  In later years, the auction and buyers had to make their own arrangements.  Tom Thompson recalls as a kid helping to load the cars, sometimes at night.

The long cattle drives have mainly ceased in lieu of semi trucks and stock trailers.  With the capability of the bigger trucks and improved roads, the market is presently serving a larger area.  It is not uncommon for cattle to come in from ranches 100-150 miles from Bassett, while it used to be unfeasible.

Ranch management and buying practices have changed through the years as well.  Rich observed that with larger ranches, there are fewer individual consignors.  In earlier days, the time frame for selling feeder cattle was in the fall, particularly October.  Now the numbers are spread out through the year.  The cattle buyers are now mostly from Nebraska and Iowa.  With the coming of irrigation and more feed available, feed lots have increased in closer proximity to the market.

Rich added, “up until 10 or 12 years ago, 90 percent of feeder cattle were bought by farmer-feeders in attendance at the auction.  Now probably 90 percent of feeder cattle are bought by order buyers.”

First location was a snow fence
Bassett Cattle Sales Co., the forerunner of Bassett Livestock Auction, was started by Malter M. Fredrickson in the summer of 1930.  The first location was a snow fence erected for the ring with buyers and sellers standing around it.  Walt, as he was called, attended auction school and was the owner and auctioneer.  Dick Hunt was an early auctioneer and later Walt’s son, Jim Fredrickson called for 35 yrs.

A sale barn was erected in 1933 and another was constructed at the present site in 1936.  Rich said ownership of Otto Lamprecht, Howard W. Thompson and Paul Strand.  The ownership changed in 1959 to a group from Burwell.  In April 1960, Edd and Dean Kinney, father and son, took over the ownership.  Edd had ranched south of Ainsworth and had been an order buyer for a number of years.  Rich Kinney, who had been operating the ranch, joined his brother Dean in 1962 when Edd left for other interests.

One of the first acts toward expansion for the Kinneys was the name change to Bassett Livestock Auction, Inc.  The Kinney brothers began an expansion in the yards, the facilities and in public relations that continues to the present time.  Rich said when they started, there was yardage for around 1000 head.  They rented private property around the business for overflow.  Saturday sales in October were stated to accommodate the increasing number of cattle.  With the purchase of adjacent land and expanded pens, the auction currently can handle 10,000 head.

Barbecue prepared in parking lot
The cattle sorters made good use of the pens at the two-day Barbecue sale on July 12 & 13.  Approximately 9000 head went through the ring during those two days.  Rich recalled the first barbecue beef was prepared in the parking lot in 1963.  They used two 50 gallon barrels with a grate over the wood to cook the beef.  The next year they dug a hole and make a bed of coals, wrapped the beef in aluminum foil and allowed it to cook overnight.  Bob McCartney and Ed Larsen prepared the barbecue for years.  This year 1000 lbs of beef was prepared by George Friedrich and served each day by volunteers from the business community.

The number of cattle expanded as well during the Kinney years.  From selling around 45,000 head yearly in 1960, numbers grew to 85,000 head in the ‘70s and by 1976 over a million head had been sold.  Asked what they did to make the dramatic growth, Rich said “We went out to the country to look at cattle and got them consigned.  We had to convince the guys that we could do a better job for them than anyone else.”

On sale day, Dean was the ringman while Rich sat in the auction booth taking bids.  Although the Kinneys were expanding and modernizing, they had an office manager who kept close tabs on the financial income-outgo of the business.  His name was Earl (Andy) Anderson who had been beeping books almost since the beginning.  Rich commented, “We might not have survived those first years if it hadn’t been for Andy—he kept close track and times would say, “boys, you can’t do that”.  Andy retired in 1967.

Dean Kinney sold his equity to Tom Thompson in 1975.  Rich and Tom continued the expansion trend with the upper level addition in 1984 where a Board of Trade office was located for awhile, along with other offices.  The volume of cattle increased to 100,000 head annually which has been maintained to the present time.  Additional property and facilities were added to handle the numbers.

In 1994, Tom sold his equity to Rich who became sole owner.  That same year the Kinney connection continued with Rich being associated with this son-in-law, Bim Nelson and daughter, Jeri, who is the office manager.  Expansion continued.  In 1999, for ease of handling livestock, a 60x120 foot steel building was erected with pens and alleys connected to the sale ring for final sorting.

Tom Thompson, who is an order buyer these days, commented that the facilities at Bassett Livestock are the best he has seen in the state for keeping cattle ahead of the sale.  Rich added that a bale feeder in the pens accommodate the cattle more like home conditions and that it is not unusual for the cattle to come in on Saturday before the Wednesday sale.

In August 2001, Rich and Marg Kinney announced the sale of Bassett Livestock Auction, Inc. to Bim and Jeri Nelson and Don and Marsha Painter.  Their many years of ownership are recorded in part in a scrapbook of memories of pictures and milestones.

Rich mentioned a few of the people who through the years helped to make the enterprise work.  He gave praise to J.W. Merritt who was a staunch supporter, Kick Kane of Wisner was an auctioneer for years; Art and Leo DeBolt and Bill Hugerford were long-time employees.  For almost 40 years, Marcella Maurer worked in the office on sale days and for 20 of those years, Edith Keller was the ticket currier.  John Ammon remembers attending the sale at the snow fence location and also worked on sale days for 20 yrs.

Through the years, there have been several world champion auctioneers sell cattle at Bassett Livestock, including Mike Baxter in 1995 who still calls along with Terry Belville.

Technology came in earnest to the auction business in the early 90’s with office computers, computerized scales and other means to make the cattle exchange as accurate and time-saving as possible.  With a home computer, buyers can even purchase cattle on-line.  On sale day, cameras are focused on the cattle as they come into the ring and an interested buyer can bid on-line as the sale goes on.

Mail-outs of summaries of the weeks sale and upcoming auctions are sent to their huge mailing list.  Newspaper ads and radio reports keep ranchers and feeders informed.  A click onto the Auctions website gives calendar information and sales results for recent sales as well as previous years.  E-mail communication makes for instantaneous confirmation of consignments.

Marketing cattle via satellite
Another technological advancement has been the Video Market, the marketing of cattle via satellite.  Bim Nelson is a representative of the Western Video Market, the marketing of cattle via satellite.  Bim Nelson is a representative of the Western Video Market.  Jeri Nelson said selling by video is gaining in popularity, particularly with ranchers who live considerable distances from the market and have sizable numbers of cattle to sell.

The auction’s contribution to the economy of the area is incalculable.  One cannot imagine Bassett without the “sale barn”.  On sale day, 50 workers and 8 office personnel arrive to do their particular jobs to make the sale run smoothly.  On the Auction’s website are three words: Honesty – Integrity – Quality.  With that motto, it is not surprising that Bassett Livestock Auction is consistently among the top three auctions in Nebraska.

Bassett Livestock Auction and Rich Kinney are synonymous when people think of the progress cattle marketing has taken through the years.  Rich is still very much interested in the cattle market, but live is going at a slower pace these days.  He and Marg have gone on cruises and deep sea fishing vacations.  People may ask what he does for a living, and he jokingly replies, “Well, I used to be the president of the company, but now I’m just the janitor.”