By Gordon Hodgin
In 1881 as the first settlers came into the Gunnison Valley and saw the Ute Indians’ fat and healthy ponies, they realized that livestock would be a very big item in the growth of the area which would be Delta County. Soon it came to pass that Delta County was doing more horse trading and livestock rising than anywhere else on the Western Slope. This led to the establishment of sales yards and auctioneers.
1945 found Roy Shults coming from Grand Junction and buying up several small sales yards around the area. He merged them and formed the Delta Sales Yard at 700 West 5th Street in Delta. He was a good businessman and the Sales Yard grew to be the biggest in Western Colorado.
In 1952 Shults had bought some tourist cabins on the San Miguel River near Placerville, Colorado. This seemed to be taking most of his time, so he sold out to Troy Lane and his son Don. The Lanes went to work and built up the Delta Sales Yard into something special. They used every Thursday as their big sale day –every Thursday except one in fifty years and that was because of a bad fire in February 1985.
At first all the livestock were loaded onto rail cars and shipped out for the buyers. Now, of course, it is a big semi-truck that lines up every Thursday to be loaded with horses and cattle destined for California, Minnesota, Kansas and other states. Buyers make it a must to be in Delta, Colorado, and every Thursday at the Pavilion. There the livestock is paraded through to the accompaniment of a well-known auctioneer’s lyrical voice. There is between 700 and 1,800 head of livestock going through the auction each week.
In 1988 Troy and Don decided it was time for some younger blood in the Sales Yard and took in Mike Lane and his wife, Linda. Then in a few years they took in Greg and Candice Leavitt, Candice is Mike and Linda’s daughter. Now the Delta Sales Yard has seen four generations of Lanes.
1996 changed all that when the Lanes sold out to Dan and Holly Varner, ending forty years of Lanes as the owners.
The biggest times of the year are fall, winter, and spring. Every Thursday you can hear cows mooing, big livestock trailers on the street, with license plates from all over Western Colorado and many states beyond.
The Delta Sales Yard has been a big plus for Delta with its input of sales and involvement in the community. Every year during Deltarado Days they hold a free Delta Merchants Lunch. One of the most unusual events held in the Delta Sales Yard Pavilion was the funeral of Judge Kelly Calhoun, a lover of horses and cattle and also a rancher in the Escalante Canyon and on the Uncompahgre Plateau. His favorite horse was led through the pavilion during the funeral service with the Judge’s favorite saddle, boots and Stetson hat tied on.
The Delta Sales Yard-Revisited
By Don and Leona Lane
Roy Shults moved to Delta in 1924. Being an auctioneer, he conducted farm and estates sales, and other sales. Seeing a need for a livestock sales yard, he built a sales yard on the north end of Main Street, about where Kentucky Fried Chicken is now, opening it on September 1, 1932. As more farmers and ranchers realized the advantage of selling their livestock by auction, so the need for a larger sales yard. In 1945 Roy Shults built a new larger sales yard on west 5th street, capable of handling 2000 cattle and 800 hogs.
The old sale yard was sold to Reford Wear, a livestock dealer. The office from the old yard was moved to the new yard and is still being used today. On June 2, 1952, Roy Shuts sold the sales yard to Troy Lane and his son, Don. Tory had worked for Roy several years as a field man. Don and his wife Leona had also worked for the Shults, Don as a scale operator and Leona in the office.
In 1957 Tom Lane became a partner and took over the bookkeeping. Mike and David, sons of Don and Leona, worked at the sales yard all of their school years. After high school Mike worked full time and David went to college and the army. In 1989 Don and Mike bought out Tom’s interest and they operated the yard until 1996 when Don retired and the yard was sold to Dan and Holly Varner.
The Delta Sales Yard is one of the oldest livestock auctions in Colorado. Farmers, ranchers and cattle buyers from across Western Colorado and Eastern Utah come to Delta on sale day and spend a lot of money in Delta on sale day, for gas, motels, and cafes. Some merchants’ say sale day is their best day of the week.
Since the Delta Sales Yard was built by Roy Shults in 1932, there have been a total of eleven livestock auction houses between Montrose and Rifle. (Some houses operating for many years and other for just a few years.)
Today the Delta Sales Yard is the only one still in operation. The only regular sale that was not held as planned was in February 1985 when the sale pavilion was burned along with the hog barn and bull barn, and several corrals. Even then the sales yard had advertised a sale for 1,000 sheep from Calvin Hamilton, of Cedaredge, Colorado, so the sheep were sold by going from one corral to the next one. By the next week a temporary building was put up and the sales continued.
Editor’s Note: Since this article was submitted, Don Lane passed away on December 16, 2003. His Delta legacy will remain for many years. He will be missed by his many friends. (Article written January 2004)
Director, Delta County Historical Society and Museum