Family Man Doesn’t Hesitate to Share his Expertise
A son shares his memories of his father’s years at Swift
Bob Gale learned how to be a butcher at his young age. His expertise provided a good life for his family and fresh meat for Ogden residents.
Robert (everyone called him Bob) Gale started working at Swift in 1959. The father of five felt lucky to be working at Swift because of the great pay and benefits. With five children, it seemed the expenses never ended. Bob learned at a young age how to be a butcher as he helped run the small market with his parents on 22nd and Jackson in Ogden.
Mike Gale loved going down to Swift on holidays with his dad, Bob Gale. The two would grind fresh meat, take it to McDonald’s and then eat a fresh burger as reward for their hard work.
A Butcher in His Youth
By the late 1950’s the smaller markets were going under due to larger grocery stores coming into Ogden and seeming to be bigger and brighter than the small markets. Bob’s family’s market was one of the markets that all but disappeared by 1960. Bob knew before it closed he needed to find something else and started honing his butchering skills at Custom Meats and then was hired on at Swift.
He started working on the “kill floor”- the area many considered to be the toughest spot. But his talent for cutting meat did not go unnoticed by the “higher ups” at Swift and Bob was soon moved to what was called the “sales cutting floor.” That was the area where talented butchers cut specialty cuts of meats for specific clients – mostly high end. One of their clients was the Jackson Lake Lodge in Jackson, Wyoming. Bob was always very proud of the work he did in that area and liked to tell his children about it. One time Bob took his family on a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. They didn’t stay in the lodge – it was a little too pricey for his family, but they did eat dinner there and feasted on the meats that Bob cut for the place. Bob’s son, Mike remembers the day with fondness. “We always thought it was super cool that we got to do that,” he said. “It was an interesting place and that was a good time.” he noted.
A Unique Holiday Tradition
Because of Bob’s expertise with the meats, he was also on call for many of the major holidays, in case any of the local places needed some extra beef. Summer holidays were usually the days he was on call. One of Mike’s best memories was when McDonald’s would call and run out of hamburger meat. Bob would take Mike with him to grind the hamburger and make it into burgers. Mike loved to watch the meat-grinding process and then watch his dad work his magic – making the freshly=ground beef into patties. They would then deliver the freshly-made patties straight to the McDonald’s on 11th and Washington and 39th and Washington. They made about 500 to 750 patties per store and it took about two hours to complete the job. They loaded the patties up in Bob’s 1965 Pontiac and away they went. And of course, they ate some burgers after the deliveries. Bob and Mike never gave a thought to the fact that they had just prepared the beef they were eating. “We didn’t think a thing of it. We were meat eaters,” Mike said with a laugh.
Nowadays, all the meat is trucked in and patties are pre-made, but it was always nice at that time to know the how fresh the beef was at those local restaurants.
A Great Way to Provide for a Family
Bob loved the job because he was making a great wage and could provide for his family. He also loved the way he was treated while working there. Swift was a great family employer. Bob played softball for the Swift softball team at the All-American Park, right next to John Affleck Park on Washington just off 33rd Street. They always loved going as a family to watch the games. There was always a big summer party for employees and their families too. “We all thought it was a cool place to work,” Mike said. Swift liked to be involved in the community and wanted to support the families of the employees.
The union made all the difference, but it was the union that ended up bringing on the demise of Swift as well. It was just a few days before Christmas when the plant officially shut down and those were bleak times for the Gale family. Mike was a teenager and so he could see and feel the pain of job loss more than some of his younger siblings. Bob went from job to job for a while and really liked being a butcher, but with so many other butchers out of work too, butchering jobs were not easy to find, especially paying the wage he and his family had become accustomed to at Swift. For a short while, Bob worked at some smaller stores, like George’s Market on 36th and Monroe, as a butcher, but it wasn’t anything that would be long-lasting for the family. Others found work at Oscar’s Meats or Wilson’s Meats, but the wages were poor at best. Bob finally landed a banking job at Commercial Security Bank.
Looking back, it was a union disagreement that really caused Swift to shut down. Bob never had a bad word to say about the union, he knew it was necessary and knew it was why Swift was such a great place to work, but there were some union demands on the Ogden facility but the facility was also in great need for some big repairs to meet federal regulations. Swift didn’t want to put the money in to meet both the union demands and the upgrades, so it made more sense to them to just shut down operations in Ogden. Besides, meat was not going in and out on the rail cars as much and trucking was a much bigger industry – which could be handled from anywhere. At first, some of the operations went to Salt Lake City, but eventually, everything moved to Arizona. The union was threatening a major strike and that would be bad for publicity for Swift too and they didn’t want to deal with that. By 1970 Bob could see that the facility was quite old and knew of the need for upgrades and repair. Materials being used were different for the times and it was a struggle to be like the other meat packers or even some of the other Swift buildings.
Bob and his family didn’t feel bitter feelings toward Swift though and look at those years as good ones. They also like the fact that they are a piece of Ogden history in a unique way and Mike will always remember those patty-making days with his dad. A great father-son memory for sure.
Rachel J. trotter
Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com and Mormon.org. She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.
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Evalogue.Life was hired to capture the history of the Ogden Union Stockyards and the old Swift meat packing plant, including oral history and other research. These vignettes were written by Evalogue.Life team members.