Laura and I were walking the fairgrounds on Labor Day not wanting to head home as going home meant the end of summer and more importantly I still had beer tickets I purchased the day before. We cruised down by the hog barn next to the Double D stand as Dean Stevens told us about a place to get ice cream in that area when I spotted a semi-tractor pulling a hog trailer backed up to the swine barn. Laura asked who in the world would have that many show pigs to load out? I quickly responded only one person in South Dakota has that many hogs at the fair “John Morrell.”
If you are not familiar with the standard operating procedure for the 4-H swine project it is a brutally honest one for the young 4-H kids. You spend the summer raising, grooming and training your prize hog, you bring a market ready hog to the SD State Fair to compete, and then “Mr. John Morrell” shows up to purchase your prize animal. By policy, 4-H hogs can only leave the fairgrounds on a John Morrell truck destined for processing as soon as possible. Monday is not a fun day for a lot of 4-H kids in the swine project. It may be pay day, but seeing your buddy load out is not for the faint of heart. But hey, before you judge, remember your bacon comes from somewhere!
I was a swine showman for several years in Beadle County and at the SD State Fair and it was a great experience in the trials of hog farming and what it takes to be responsible enough to climb to the purple ribbon class. Don’t believe me … check the records, 1986 Beadle County Junior Class Champion Showman – Brad McGirr. My family had a small hog farm while I was growing up and we did the whole deal from breeding to farrowing (birthing) to finishing hogs ready to market. The majority of our hogs were delivered right from our farm to the now closed Dakota Pork in Huron.
Mr. X was my top of the class market barrow in 1986. He was named Mr. X as he was in the feed lot with our other market hogs that were going to Dakota Pork every week. And to be sure he didn’t get hauled off with the others bound for market, we kept a bright pink ‘X’ marked on his back. In his world a big pink X on your back was a good thing.
Finally, the day came to take Mr. X to the fair. I walked out to the lot to bribe him into the barn with some feed, a trick I worked on all summer, and you guessed it, Mr. X was nowhere to be found! It didn’t take my 12 year old mind long to figure out where he was. Mr. X was on a truck headed for Dakota Pork. Cell phones where not around for us in 1986 so a sprint to the house and a panic call to my dad at his mechanic shop was my only option. The wait begins for me by the rotary phone. I don’t remember how long the wait was but it was a month in my mind but probably only 30 minutes. My dad made a call to the lot manager at Dakota Pork trying to describe what our prize pig looked like. I can only imagine that conversation, “The white one with the pink snout, curly tail and floppy ears!” Good Luck only 700 or 800 of those go through there every day. Wait…the pink X. Sure enough the lot manager found the one with the pink X on his back and sorted him off for us. I personally never met this guy but he was my hero that day!
Later that day, we picked up Mr. X and took him over to the fairgrounds. The hard work Mr. X and I put in that summer didn’t go unnoticed, we brought home a purple ribbon for all our efforts. And in 4-H tradition later that week he was loaded on a truck bound for John Morrell and Mr. X went on to help feed the world.