Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Fort Worth Stock Yards

How would you like to step back into the "Old West" without having to pay the ticket price required to get into a western-themed amusement park? It can be done via "the real thing" by visiting the Texas historic district known as the Fort Worth Stock Yards. There are a variety of ways to get there: You can saddle up and ride your horse, which is how folks originally got to the location (like the character in the top photo); you can arrive via the Grapevine Vintage Railroad to the Stockyards Train Station. ( It was the arrival of railroads in 1876 that turned the livestock center into an important part of the cattle industry.) Train is how I traveled there, and arriving by rail car gave me an elevated view of the interior of the former animal stalls, that have now been converted into restaurants and retail stores (middle photo). What made my arrival by train especially memorable, was that a live band was singing the famous Johnny Cash song "I hear the train a coming, coming 'round the bend" just as we pulled into the stockyards rail station. It was a very enjoyable "Welcome to the Stockyards" serenade! The lower left photo shows that most people come by cars. It was, in fact the development of the motor-driven vehicles---specifically the trucking industry and better highways, that led to the decline that the Fort Worth Stock Yards started experiencing after World War II. Their peak year of livestock processing was 1944, which was also a result of World War II. Although cattle no longer come by rail or truck to the stockyards, they can still be seen there, AND, being marketed. But this is a different market---one based on video /satellite auctions of cattle, but still taking place in the Exchange Building. You will also see a considerable number of "iron horses" being ridden to the stockyards, as evidenced by the lower right photo line-up of fancy motorcycles..
Why, you may ask, would I want to go to some smelly old stockyards? Well, perhaps in years past (the stockyards have been in operation since 1866) these former livestock markets may have had a strong "aroma", but not so anymore. Today, The Fort Worth Stock Yards are one of Texas most popular tourist destinations. Now, all that is in the air, is a feeling of excitement, coupled with an occasional whiff of Texas BBQ or other Southwestern cuisines being cooked up fresh. There are "saddlebags full" of activities awaiting you at the Fort Worth Stockyards. There are pony rides for the kids (top middle photo), and one of the most popular events is the CowKid Roundup. That is where little buckaroos can learn all about roping cattle, branding, riding stick horses, and doing fancy rope tricks. You can take a walking tour of the distinctive architecture (middle photo) and visit the museum. You can even look for the star plaques in the sidewalk (similar to those in Hollywood), but these stars are for the "Cowboy Hall of Fame", not just ordinary Hollywood celebrities. If you have always wanted to jump on the back of a longhorn, plus get your picture taken on top---this is the place (middle left photo). There are even wooden stairs beside the longhorn, so you don't have to really "jump"! Not surprisingly, there is shopping for all things western. The lower left photo shows a worker custom fitting a cowboy hat for a customer, using steam. The photo on right shows just a small sampling of the hundreds of pairs of cowboy boots available for purchase. And finally, the middle lower photo shows an example of what many cowboys of old did at the stockyards---sit on a bar stool. If you're more inclined to a saddle, you can even sit in a saddle while you spend time at the bar. (lower middle photo). The Visitor's Center also has a short free video, that gives first-time guests a good overview of the history and current use of the stockyards. If you are there on a Sunday, you can attend Cowboy Church, held weekly at noon (western attire welcome, but not mandatory!) The Cowtown Coliseum, which was the home of the first indoor rodeo, still serves as a venue for big events, including the Red Steagall Cowboy Gathering/Western Swing Festival, scheduled for October 23. For a complete listing of future events or other information, visit the website www.fortworthstockyards.org or call the Visitor's Center at 817-624-4741.
The main reason I wanted to visit the stockyards was that I had seen so many advertisements in travel magazines about watching the Fort Worth cattle drive, that takes place on a city street. This is the only longhorn cattle drive in the United States that happens daily. Just like the sign on the left says, people line the street once in the morning, and once in the afternoon, to see real cowboys lead the cattle through the Stockyards (middle photo). But don't worry, it is nothing like the "Running of the Bulls" in Spain. These longhorns are mellow, very mellow---as evidenced by the lower photo, that shows the cowboy with his back towards those gigantic horns of the cow.

"We have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did." Although these words could have been spoken by the three fellas in the photo, as they sit on the steps of what used to be called "The Wall Street of the West", they were actually spoken by the brothers of Joseph (as in Joseph with the coat of many colors) when the brothers were appealing to the Pharaoh of Egypt to preserve their livelihood as stock herders. Fortunately, the leaders in Fort Worth's historic preservation efforts, have heeded such a plea, and we can continue to appreciate this important era of our country's past. Happy Trails! TriciaPosted by Picasa