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CATTLE TODAY

IT'S THE PITTS -- THE WEIGHTING GAME

by: Lee Pitts

Scales have been known to lie.

Back in the old days, before ranchers could send their cattle to an auction market with certified and sealed scales, all sorts of games were played with the weighing devices that determine how much cattlemen are paid for the product of their toil.

In Fort Worth many years ago a crook hid himself under the pit scales and communicated with dealers using a two-way radio. When the dealers bought cattle they'd communicate their intentions to the scoundrel under the scale and he would push up on the beam of the scale so that the cattle would weigh light. Then when those same dealers sold cattle the outlaw in the pit would push down on the beam to give the cattle a heavier selling weight. You have to admit, they were creative crooks!

Their profitable enterprise came to a screeching halt one day when a ringside observer noticed cigarette smoke wafting up through the boards of the scale.

Now days you don't have to worry about being short-weighed for your cattle at the auction but that doesn't mean all shenanigans have stopped out in the country.

The auction owner should have known not to trust anyone named Slick, but he owned a large ranch in the trade area and the auction owner had tried for years to get Slick to consign his cattle to the auction. But Slick always sold his cattle off the ranch, though never to the same buyer. Which should have sent up another red flag.

Slick was the kind of guy who would willingly give a buyer a 3% shrink but would howl at having to pay a 3% commission at an auction where he would enjoy the added advantage of competitive bidding. He always told the persistent auction owner that his cattle would shrink too much on the 50 mile haul from his ranch to the auction.

The auction man had a knack for being able to put weight back on cattle. It was said that given three days he could put ten pounds on a grasshopper, so, knowing he could net more money back to Slick he made him a little side bet. “Slick, weigh your yearlings on your scales and send them to me three days before my sale and I'll bet that when they sell they'll weigh more or I'll personally make up the difference out of my own pocket.”

Because he had no buyer's left, this was an offer Slick couldn't pass up.

Now, something else our auction owner was good at was guessing the weight of cattle. Only with him it wasn't guessing but the result of 30 years in the business. He could estimate the weight of a canner cow or a stocker calf within 10 pounds, so when he weighed Slick's cattle off-car he didn't need any scales to tell him something wasn't right. Slick said they weighed 795 at home but the auction man knew they'd never seen 700 pounds on their best day. The auction man figured that if Slick's weights were right the cattle had just shrunk 14% after an easy haul.

How do you accuse someone of being a crook and still get their business?

The auction owner just happened to drop by Slick's place one day just in time for coffee. Slick, the lucky devil, had somehow conned a real hood-ornament to be his wife and she served up a delectable snack. She was petite thing, without a pound of tallow on her, kept in shape, dressed well but was very vain. After the requisite chitchat the auction owner casually invited Slick and his beautiful wife out to inspect the scales.

To test the scales the auction man suggested that Slick get on them but the scoundrel wanted to stand by the auction man to make sure he weighed right. Realizing too late that he'd made a fatal error, that left only Slick's petite wife to get on the scales. Slick knew he was had when the auction man slid the weight over the bar, balanced the beam right at 200 pounds and called out the weight.

I've been told the screaming and caterwauling could be heard throughout the county.

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