Thursday, August 10, 2017

Interview with John Finn, Part II of II

In Part II of Tina Zakowsky’s interview with retired livestock transporter John Finn, she learns about a very unique set of Angus cows John transported to Georgia from Alberta, and how he unknowingly helped contribute to the downfall of a United States President.

Tina: Now you also mentioned something to me about the Carter administration. Could you tell me more about that?

John: There were 300 head of bred Angus cows sold by the Stampede Cattle Station to the first Vice-President of the Calhoun First National Bank of Georgia. A guy named Billy Lee Campbell bought them. My first load going down of 38 head, I get to the Stampede Cattle Station and Jim Mowbray is there, and while we were sorting out cattle I spot this one cow and I say to Jim, “That cow looks like she’s springing. When’s she due to calve?” And Jim goes, “Hopefully not until you get to Georgia.” She and one other cow looked close to calving, so I put them both near the back. We get on the Trans-Canada heading east to Winnipeg before turning down towards the border at Minnesota. Well I stop and check in on the cows in Brandon and everything’s normal. I check in Winnipeg, and I got a calf on the ground.

By the time I get to the border, I have papers showing I have 38 head of registered Black Angus cows, health and animals papers for 38 cows, and a trailer showing 38 cows and a calf. When the vet comes over to check everything out I have to get the calf, help weigh it so we can figure out how much duty it’s going to costI think it was something like 4 cents per pound at the time because she had no papers and so was therefore seen as a commercial animaland fill out all the necessary US health and animal papers. Once that’s all done, the vet looks at me and says “Don’t you ever arrive here at customs with a calf born en route.” I say I know, and that if I knew this calf was going to be born so quickly I wouldn’t have loaded it in the first place.

But the vet shook his head. “No, no, you don’t understand. If this ever happens again, you pull up  in front of customs, you walk in and you say ‘I got 38 cows on board, give me the papers,’ and you walk outside to check the cows then you walk back in and say, ‘while I was parked here in front of customs, on American soil, a calf was born.’ There’s no duty, no health and animal papers, no nothing.”

So that was my first load going down, and I do have a picture of the calf somewhere…

So we are now at the border of Minnesota and I got a newborn calf. I let it have a good first drink from the cow, but then I took the calf up in the cab of the truck with me. After that every once in a while I’d stop, let the calf and the cow out, then load them back up again. After we got down to Kentucky I left the calf in with the mother and just one other cow I thought she’d be safe with. I took a photo of the calf somewhere in Wisconsin, sometime around the second stop.

Well after that, every trip down there I had to check on that calf. Something like that gives you a personal connection, you know?

So these cows were going down to some Billy Lee Campbell’s place, eight loads all together. When I delivered them I thought I would never hear about these cattle, or Calhoun, Georgia, or Billy Lee Campbell ever again.
Well a few years later in 1977I think it was SeptemberI was getting on an airplane and the flight attendant comes over and gives me a Newsweek magazine. As I’m thumbing through it I notice there’s this big scandal in the U.S. about Bert Lance, the Director of the Office of Management and Budgets for the Jimmy Carter administration, being investigated. I’d sort of heard a little bit about it on the news prior to this, but not much. I remember reading this story and all of a sudden here’s Billy Lee Campbell being investigated for embezzling almost a million dollars to buy purebred Angus cattle from Canada, and over 1,500 cattle in total for his farm. So now it’s got my attention.

As it turned out, Burt Lance was the chairman of the board of the corporation that owned the Calhoun First National Bank of Georgia, and when Campbell was charged with embezzlement, he said, “I’m not going down alone” and started naming names. He told everyone about the corruption all through the Georgia banking system and Jimmy Carter’s supporters started calling for Burt Lance to step down. That scandal basically led to the Carter administration going on a downward spiral, and Jimmy Carter was the first president in a long time that was not re-elected for a second term.

So there. Canadian Angus were responsible for bringing down Jimmy Carter’s administration.

Tina: There’s the headline.

John: Yep, there’s the headline. I’m pretty sure it was a Newsweek article from either September 11th or the 17th, somewhere in there. 

Tina: Now tell me, did they name that calf after you? 

John: (laughing) I’m not sure, but it was a heifer calf so I sure hope they didn’t.

John Finn's Calf born en route to Georgia
Post by Kiani Evans

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Interview with John Finn, Part I of II

On July 13th, 2017, the Canadian Angus Association’s Administration Team Leader Tina Zakowsky had the chance to sit down with John Finn, a retired livestock transporter who had some very interesting stories to tell. In Part I of II, John recounts a bull he transported whose worth was much more than he anticipated.

Tina: Today I am interviewing John Finn for the Canadian Angus History Project, and we’re discussing the bull Massive of Kaharau. John, tell me how you came to know this bull.

John: In the summer of 1974, I was hauling cattle, among other things, for the Stampede Cattle Station just east of Stavely, Alberta. I can’t remember exactly what month it was, but I had a horse van with me because I had just delivered a load of race horses down to southern California. When I phoned back to see if there was anything for me to bring back to Canada, they told me to go up to the San Francisco Airport and pick up an Angus bull. I knew I could reconfigure the horse trailer to make it a box stall so the animal wasn’t the only thing in a big van, and that way he could be comfortable and lie down or have walls to lean on if he wanted. So I headed up to San Francisco.

When I get to the airport, I ask one of the staff where their livestock handling facility is. I get a blank look, and the man says, “There isn’t one.”

“Well I’m supposed to pick up an Angus bull here,” I say.

“Oh!” The guy starts nodding his head. “He’s out there in a crate on the tarmac.”

So I look out and, sure enough, here is this great big Angus bull in a crate, sitting on the black tarmac with four foot side walls.
Tina: And what time of year was this?

John: Middle of summer. So I think, “Okay, how am I going to do this?” I look around and there are these lines of baggage carts everywhere, so I grabbed a few and made a corral around the crate with a short alleyway. I parked the van sideways because there was a side ramp that would allow me to get Massive into the area of the trailer I wanted him to be in.

The next problem was that he had a neck rope tied to an I-bolt in the floor, so I obviously have to untie that to get him out into the corral. But whenever I try and reach into the crate and jerk the rope so we can get it off, the bull starts trying to break my arm with his head, pushing it up against the crate. Well, he had just come out of quarantine in Hawaii, where every time a human got close to him they jabbed him with a needle, so he was not happy with anyone being around him just then. So I get my co-driver Terry, a French Canadian guy, to get on the other side of the crate and start getting his attention any way he can so that Massive is occupied with him and I can sneak my arm down where he won’t see it and jerk the rope. It worked, so then we had to back him out and into the little corral I’d made of baggage carts.

At this point Massive doesn’t voluntarily want to walk up into the trailer, so I had to hop into the makeshift pen with him and play rodeo clown and have him chase me up into the trailer.

Terry asks me, “Well what do I do?”

I said, “You slam that door behind me.”

“But how will you get out?”, he asked.

“Never mind that,” I said. “You just make sure that bull does not get back out of the trailer.”

The plan, as ridiculous as it sounds, worked. Once we have him loaded up, I’m given a stack of papers. I know that he’s a registered bull from New Zealand, but I really don’t have much else to go on, and I’m not about to open up a stack of sealed envelopes not meant for me. But I do know he’s valuable, so when I’m driving through the streets of San Francisco I’m leaving lots of room ahead of me through all the stop-and-go traffic. When I’m transporting horses they’re usually in a stall where they can lean up against the walls, and if it’s cattle they usually got each other to lean on, but this guy is in there by himself and he can’t tell which wall to lean on when I’m turning, so I had to be real careful. The trip was made even worse by the drivers that would sneak into the space in front of me and slam on the brakes, so by the time we were heading over Donner Pass it felt like coming out of a nightmare. Thankfully everything was fine by the time we got to the border, and I went and dropped off the papers at customs so I could head across the road to the Canadian vet who would check the bull out.

We’re there getting the animal papers all signed off, and all of a sudden a bunch of these guys from customs come over. I know the port director from past trips, so I ask if there’s a problem. He says, “We’ve just never seen a bull this expensive.”

“Really?”, I ask. “How expensive is he?”

The port director pauses. “According to the commercial invoice we have to process, it says he’s a million and a quarter dollars.”

Tina: In 1974.

John: In 1974. Apparently he was the highest priced bull ever sold in Austral-Asia at the time. Needless to say I was relieved that there were only 100 and some odd miles up to Stavely from there before I could unload him. If I had known the value of that bull when I was unloading him in San Francisco using baggage cars for a corral system…

Tina: (laughing) Would you have done anything different?

John: Probably not, I just would’ve been a nervous wreck.

Massive of Kaharau

Post by Kiani Evans