Almost 50 years to the day, Larry Oxtoby has been a reliable “penner” at Innisfail Auction Mart.
On Wednesday, he rode into the retirement sunset, leaving a job he first picked up as a 23-year-old looking to make a few bucks on the side.
Oxtoby grew up in a farm just east of Innisfail and in high school was a stand-out fullback on the school’s football team. He was good enough to get a scholarship to play at Wenatche Valley College in Washington and tried out for the Calgary Stampeders.
Innisfail Auction Mart owner Ivan Daines remembers Oxtoby as the fastest player in the league.
“And he was always bigger than anybody. It was like grabbing a horse by the hind legs to try to tackle him.”
Oxtoby eventually passed on his football and college plans to return to the family farm and get married. Around that time joined his childhood friends, the Daines boys, at the family’s auction mart.
“It was something to do. It wasn’t a well-paying job. It was just something off the farm,” he says. “It was a little added spending money.
“Then I just stayed on,” he says, taking a break from his retirement party, where he was given a plaque and a one-ounce gold coin in recognition of his dedication.
He always had other work to keep him busy, either on the family farm or at the farm equipment sales business he started up 30 years ago and still runs.
Asked if he is retiring with a job title, Oxtoby smiles, “I doubt it.
“I’m head penner man right now. Most people won’t know what that is.
“I receive the cattle the night before the sale and designate pens. You gotta make sure the guys getting paid for his cattle. So you’ve got to keep them all that straight.
“The same with what goes through the ring,” he says. “You gotta be quite alert when you’re doing it.”
Working alongside thousands of kilograms of jostling, irritable animals came with a few bumps and bruises along the way.
“I’ve been run over by horses and cattle have run into me.”
One of his worst experiences came just a couple of years ago.
He went to close a gate left open on a stock trailer at the same time the cattle decided to go sightseeing.
“They hit the gate. I was pushing on one side and they were hitting it from the other side.”
The cattle won, and a concussion and a few days of hospital came out of that unequal showdown.
Oxtoby is matter of fact about his last day on the job, where he spent a full shift in the pens and on the auction stand.
“You’re busy up there. You don’t have time to think about it.
“It wasn’t a big deal.”
He’s not sure what he will do in retirement. Golf will fill the summer. But the rest of the year? He’s not sure.
He won’t particularly miss being penner, but the job added a certain intensity to his day.
“I’ve got to be really in control when I’m here,” he says.
“I’m thinking I’ll have too much slack time.”
But he has no regrets about calling it a day.
“I think 50 years is enough.”