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OHS Alum Finds Success Through ‘Western Prime’

The livestock business started early for Oakdale’s Travis Johnson.

The well-known auctioneer and Oakdale High School 2004 alum shared the business is in his blood.

“We started buying and selling cattle, started a little service out in Valley Home for people who didn’t have trailers or facilities to work cattle,” Johnson said of his early start with his mom at the age of 12. “So we started a little livestock service.”

That was 22 years ago.

Johnson now, along with business partners Jessica and Marty Gisler, is the owner of the only livestock office in Oakdale.

“My grandfather used to have a livestock office here in town,” Johnson said. “There used to be eight or ten livestock offices like mine back in the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s. Now we’re the only livestock office left here.”

The business he shares with the Gislers is a three part endeavor, serving as livestock brokers, working auctions, as well as Western Prime Mercantile situated between Lana’s Spur of the Moment and H-B Saloon on East F Street.

“The store was actually the third part. That wasn’t a thought when we got in there,” he said of acquiring the space over a year ago when working from their trucks became too hard to manage.

The mercantile part of the business hosts products from local talent as well as local businesses and ranch supplies.

“We decided to be like an old western time store, where you go get your local honey,” he said of the space located in what was once the hotel lobby of the historic building.

While the storefront is a nice addition to the space, Johnson’s passion is in the livestock and auction portion of the business.

“Being involved in the livestock market kind of got me involved with representing customers, representing cattle,” he explained.

“Buying cattle and selling cattle was actually born into me,” he added, noting both sides of the family were active in the business. “I loved going to auction yards as a young kid.”

The auctioneer part, however, he owes to his mom’s vision.

“My mom asked me one time, what’s the one thing you think you couldn’t do and I said be an auctioneer,” he shared. His mom thought he would be a good one.

In 2002, Johnson lost his mom to cancer. In 2004 he graduated from Oakdale High and in 2005 he graduated from auctioneering school.

To date Johnson had 49 auctions on the books for his services, though as a result of the pandemic only two are currently scheduled. He estimates that his total loss for conducting live auctions by the end of the year could be as high as 60.

“That’s big, that’s a big part of our business,” he said.

But like many, they are finding a way to get through and look forward to the day when things return to ‘normal’ and events begin again.

“You never know what the day is going to bring and just the people you work with,” he said about what he loves about the business. “They’re the people that get up early in the morning.”

As the official auctioneer of the Stanislaus County Fair, Johnson is concerned for the local FFA and 4-H students who depend on the auction to sell the livestock they have raised. It was announced earlier this month that the annual fair will be postponed, returning in 2021.

“The biggest fear I have right now, is with all these fairs being cancelled,” he said. “I just ask people if they’re looking to possibly by some meat, we’ve got a lot of people who can’t raise their own beef. I just kind of want to get them to hang on a bit and shift gears so we can support these FFA kids right now.”

Johnson shared he will have information on the livestock as it becomes available by the students and their advisors.

“That’s the biggest thing people can do,” he said about supporting the local students. “They’re the future of our world.

“I like to read and I kind of live life by quotes,” he continued. “One of my mom’s favorite quotes was, ‘we’re shaped and fashioned by what we love.’ I learned that sometimes your passion takes a lot of struggles ... Fredrick Douglas, actually had a good quote that, ‘without a struggle there could be not progress.’ And right now we’re really feeling that.”

The livestock broker/auctioneer shared his hope is that as the greater population comes through this time of shutdown, he hopes there is new respect and appreciation for the essential worker.

When asked his thoughts on what his mom would think of his passion and success he said, “I think she’s smiling right now, because this was her vision for me. This has become my dream. Her vision has become my dream.”

For additional help or information on the livestock or auctioneer service of Western Prime call (209) 996-8645. For information on wares available at the storefront visit Western Prime Mercantile on Facebook.