I grew up in a small Arizona community of about 2,500 people. The rural business area probably covered a 40-mile radius around the town proper, and the population from the outside part of the surrounding country was much higher than within the town limits.
The community had a cattle auction, a rodeo arena, and a very active FFA chapter. There were enough business activities, interesting people, and school functions to keep me both busy and entertained nearly all of the time. Everything a young farm kid needed.
Our ag teacher was a former Marine, a tough and demanding, yet very fair individual. He passed away several years ago, but I can still hear his voice and unique manner of speaking in my mind. His attitudes and positive mindsets affected a large number of his students.
We learned how to speak in public, weld, repair machinery, shoe a horse, castrate pigs, identify pests in field crops, judge livestock of all kinds, remove honey from beehives, keep farming records, participate in all kinds of agricultural judging events, and the chapter sponsored and organized a number of fund raising and community service projects.
An FFA student could have a full social calendar from chapter activities such as hayrides and the annual Sweetheart Ball. We traveled to all the local and state field days and judging contests.
In the ‘60s, the chapter put on an American Quarter Horse Association approved horse show every September, and a junior rodeo every May. Local ranchers donated the livestock needed to produce such activities, and the chapter always made a nice profit from the shows. The old wooden bucking chutes once burned down at the local arena. The FFA chapter rebuilt and replaced them out of pipe.
Cotton acres paved
I was driving along Chandler Boulevard on the east side of Phoenix a few days ago. I can remember when there were cotton fields lining both sides of the road. Now it is all paved parking lots and businesses. No farming is left.
The same thing is happening now out here on the west side. Everything on the other side of Phoenix is all developed, so the business projects and subdividing have had to move this direction. Land values have skyrocketed beyond anyone's imagination. Farm ground has become too valuable to continue farming.
I have enjoyed living in a small town atmosphere all of my life. For many years going into the small downtown area meant you knew everyone you saw on the trip. The past few years, when I go to the same places, I run into more people I don't know than those I do.
It would be very easy to go on for a long time about some of the colorful characters I have known in small towns. Many of them from my high school days I still remember clearly. A number of those still living are my friends today, and we communicate on a regular basis. I have made the long drive there a number of times in the past 30 years to attend a funeral of one of the old group I still recall so well.
A trip to that same cattle auction is still something I look forward to doing three or four times a year, even though it is more than 200 miles away. Many of the same people from 40 years back still do business there. In a way, it is like a homecoming.
A livestock sale is a character builder. Go there, attend the sale, eat a greasy hamburger, visit with old friends, and catch up on what's been happening in their worlds. Get an update on the cattle market.
It is a strong hope of mine that rural small town life does not completely disappear. I'd like my grandchildren to be able to experience some of the same pleasures that I had the good fortune to have during my adolescent days. I hope they are able to grow up with a farming perspective. If they do, they will understand both business and finances. They'll also develop a good basic understanding of people. There are worse things than growing up around a cattle auction, or in a small farming and ranching community.
(Editor's Note: Received a call recently from a fellow named Bruce Heiden who did not sound at all like the Bruce Heiden I have known for 30 years — the Bruce Heiden who has been National Cotton Council chairman; Calcot chairman and cotton industry leader forever. This strange sounding Bruce Heiden said he dabbled in cowboy-style writing for friends and family and wanted to submit some of his efforts for possible publication in Western Farm Press. I asked if he was related to another fellow name Bruce Heiden. “That's my uncle…Uncle Bruce,” said the strange sounding Bruce Heiden. This newly discovered Bruce Heiden is a 56-year-old Arizona native who has spent his life in production agriculture and in agribusiness. He owned and managed his own fertilizer and agricultural chemical dealership in the Buckeye area for 14 years. In recent years, he has been an agricultural insurance agent. He has evolved now into a crop consultant. Leisure hours are spent at a local roping arena with friends and neighbors. Bruce and his wife Sharon and granddaughter Lindsay own four quarter horses. His current mount is a Hancock-bred horse named Peaches. Buckeye has been home since 1967. His writings will appear from time to time in Western Farm Press.)