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Last livestock auction signals end of era

Published: Saturday, May 3 2008 12:19 a.m. MDT

Van Kelly, right, watches as his father, Brent, works cattle at the Utah Livestock Auction in Spanish Fork Friday.

Jason Olson, Deseret News

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SPANISH FORK — After the last bid is called out and trailers loaded with newly purchased livestock vacate the Utah Livestock Auction parking lot this afternoon, the property will close its gates for the final time.

And with the passing of this auction — the last of its kind in Utah County — comes the end of an era.

"It's sad in a way that the agricultural part of the state of Utah is going away," said Midway resident Brent Kelly, 59, who's owned and operated the auction at 5906 S. 650 West in Spanish Fork for nearly 30 years. "It's a dying industry."

For many decades, the Utah Livestock Auction was one of two Utah County locations where livestock buyers and sellers could gather to trade and earn their livelihood. Last May, the Spanish Fork Livestock Auction — formerly located on Main Street — folded. Now, changes in the livestock industry have prompted the Kellys to follow suit. They've sold the property to a developer who coveted the land for its proximity to a railroad spur.

"It's time for us to move on to other things," Brent Kelly said.

After this final auction Saturday, only six active auction grounds will remain in operation throughout Utah, located in Cedar City, Richfield, Salina, Roosevelt, Ogden and Smithfield, said Terry Menlove, director of the animal industry division of the Utah Department of Agriculture.

While the Kellys move on, the auction will leave a big hole for others.

"I'm gonna miss it dearly," said Andy Thatcher, a 66-year-old livestock dealer from Axtell. "It's been a big part of my life and livelihood."

All in the family

The livestock business has been in Brent Kelly's blood as far back as he can remember. His father worked as a livestock trader and often brought Brent and brother Ed to three or four auctions per week. Eventually, Brent landed an auctioneer gig at the Utah Livestock Auction, which opened in 1955.

In 1978, the auction's then-owner, Neil Scott, pulled Brent Kelly aside and offered the property to him. Brent recruited his brother as a business partner, and the two went in on the venture.

Keeping with family tradition, the two brothers included their children in the business. When Ed sold out his share of the business, Brent and his family kept with it. Every Saturday for 30 years, the Kellys and their five children loaded up animals and made the drive to Spanish Fork from their home in Midway to operate the auction.

"One thing I have to say, the auction raised a good family," Brent Kelly said. "They didn't know what Saturday morning cartoons were."

Brent and Mary's oldest son, Jason, now a 31-year-old resident of Midway, said the auction kept them in line. His childhood was filled with hot, dusty summers walking up and down the auction's alleys and winters so severe they froze the corral gates shut.

"We were never in trouble because we never had time to be in trouble," he laughed.

Hundreds of livestock traders and onlookers flocked to the auction ground each Saturday. By Brent Kelly's estimate, they auctioned off hundreds of thousands of animals. But the auction grounds also became a place where parents could give their children opportunities to experience the farm life, Jason Kelly said.

"A lot of people don't have those (experiences) anymore," he said.

Modernizing

But times changed.

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