Busy at sunset
Sunset means quitting time for many businesses along US Highway 2 in Rugby during winter months, but at Rugby Livestock Auction, the lights stay on, cattle are tended and workers stay busy.
“On weekends, usually somebody’s here from 7(a.m.) to 10(p.m.); Mondays and Tuesdays, there’s somebody here 24 hours a day,” said Lynn Meyer, who co-owns the auction with his wife, Guynell, and Kevin and Brenda Heilman.
“We have somebody stay overnight and load trucks Monday night usually; and then he loads trucks Tuesday night to get them out of here, because the trucks come all night,” Kevin Heilman agreed.
“It’s non-stop,” Guynell Meyer added.
“Everybody pitches in and works together Guynell in the office, the rest loading trucks,” Lynn nodded.
Not only do the two couples share the workload at the auction; they also share a love for hard work and extensive backgrounds in agriculture.
Lynn and Guynell both grew up around cattle on ranches in Watford City and Berthold, North Dakota.
“My grandpa, Herb Birdsall, is in the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame,” Lynn noted. “He was a horseman and a cow man. He was one of those guys who believed in never feeding yourself before you fed the cows. He never had breakfast until chores were done.”
The Birdsall homestead is located near Berthold.
Lynn’s mother, Geraldine, continued the family ranching tradition, branching out into public service. She represented North Dakota District 3 as a state senator in the 1980s. Geraldine passed away in 2010.
Lynn said of his father, “My dad, Darrell Meyer is from Nebraska. He came up (to North Dakota) when he was 16 years old as a thresher, shocking corn. And he married Herb Birdsall’s daughter, and he’s been in ranching ever since. He’s 93- years-old, and still ranching.”
Lynn turned to Kevin Heilman: “Kevin, you lost your dad young. But I remember one thing from your dad it didn’t make any difference what time you got home at night, you were going to start in the morning when he was ready to start.”
Kevin agreed. “I farmed with (my dad) forever. I never went to college. I just started farming with him, and had the opportunity to buy in with these guys. I had a farm and ranch, down by Balta/Silva,” he said.
Kevin, whose grandfather homesteaded near Balta continued, “It was always hard work, and we enjoyed every minute of it, working with family.”
Kevin said he still farms in the Balta area with his brothers when he’s not working at the auction with Brenda. Daughter Allison Heilman greets visitors outside, wearing rubber muck boots as she helps to put cattle in their pens. Son Cade works at the auction when he’s home from college.
Lynn and Guynell have a daughter, Nici Meyer, who ranches in Mandan and works as an attorney for the North Dakota State Attorney General’s Office in Bismarck.
Kevin described a typical day at the auction as “beginning sunup, to after sundown.”
“We check in cattle Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and some Monday morning; we have our sale Monday, and then Tuesday and Wednesday the cattle go back out on trucks,” Kevin noted.
“Wednesday, Thursday, get cleaned up; get hayed up for the next sale, and it just keeps rolling over.”
Both Kevin and Lynn said Rugby Livestock Auction has changed hands a few times in the more than 60 years it’s been in business.
“Glenn and Helga Thiel were the previous owners,” Lynn said. They retired; the Serights and us (Lynn and Guynell) bought it, and since then, Kevin and Brenda bought out the Serights.”
Guynell indicated the auction barn was built in 1958.
Lynn attributed Rugby Livestock Auction’s success to what he called “two strong points first, Monday sales. We work weekends, and we thank our help and crew that’ll work weekends so we can have Monday sales. It works really well to put more buyers in the seats, because everybody’s ready to go to work on Monday. And, (the second point) our family history our caretaking of the livestock goes a long way on how we take care of them both before and after they’re sold.”
“We take care of them like we take care of our own,” Kevin agreed.
Many Rugby Livestock employees have local ranching backgrounds as well. Auctioneer Mike Ostrem, who raises cattle south of Rugby, presides over the Monday sales.
Guynell noted several major buyers visit the Rugby Livestock Auction.
“We have all the major buyers from throughout the state of North Dakota and beyond,” nodded Lynn. “We get buyers from Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana. Seven states.”
“We send cattle to Idaho, Texas, all over Nebraska ” Lynn added, ticking off names of states from memory.
“We have a restaurant, too,” Guynell noted. The restaurant is open Sundays and Mondays.
Ranchers and farmers interested in talking to the Meyers or Heilmans at Rugby Livestock Auction may call 776-6393.
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