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In the Country : At Kruse Feed & Supply, Minutes From Downtown, You Can Find Cowbells, Turkey Food and 50-Pound Salt Blocks

October 27, 1985|MIV SCHAAF

You can get crimped oats here, or recleaned oats, rolled oats, extra-heavy recleaned or extra-heavy crimped oats in 75- or 80-pound bags. You can also get turkey-grow crumble, catfish pellets, a 33-pound cow bloat-block, five gallons of molasses or a 50-pound sack of carrots.

Or you can pick up as much loose alfalfa out at the barn as you can stuff into a 50-pound sack for 50 cents--which is why I am here, getting this large treat for Hazel, the house rabbit. Yes, I am in a livestock feed store not 20 minutes from the center of Los Angeles--corrugated tin roof, worn wooden floor and all, unchanged from the '20s.

Otto H. Kruse, born just down the street in 1907, started working here in the 1920s when it was a cattle sales yard with nothing but farms and fields all around. With his savings, he bought it in 1935. He, and now his son Richard, have been running Kruse Feed & Supply ever since. They recently celebrated 50 years of family business with a big party for all the employees.

But in the middle of a city, South El Monte, who buys all this country stuff? "People go out in the country and say: 'Here's where all the horses and cows and sheeps are, but that's not true," Richard Kruse says. "Where you find more people, you find more animals. There are more animals around here than in the whole county." Every year, usually the last Sunday of January, Kruse Feed & Supply puts on the Monte Farmers 4H Fair, which draws 2,000 or more people. "It's kind of a junior show for kids just starting out. It gets them ready to show animals, a preliminary before the big shows at the Orange County Fair, the Los Angeles County Fair, the Great Western Show," Kruse says. At home in Chino he raises rabbits, horses, sheep and chickens. His son, Aaron, 12, raises rabbits and is interested in livestock and the family business.

An attractive woman who looks as though she were on her way to or from an afternoon bridge club puts a gallon can of Super Dairy and Stock Spray on the counter. "Oh, we have horses and sheep," she smiles. Her son is studying livestock care at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

It is delightful, standing in the middle of a feed store. Glenn Davidson, who has worked here 39 years, looks like the farmers who sat on wooden crates at the country gas station, drinking Orange Crush and exchanging slow talk. Ed Braunwalder--a lean, sunburned cowboy, here 40 years--takes a Lucky Strike from his shirt pocket. Both men were born on farms "not a couple miles" from the store.

Horse-ear trimmers, cowbells, crocks that you want to buy a dozen of for no known reason, 50-pound salt blocks. Wait a minute--here are umbrellas, calico purses, soup and soap, tea--how come? "Just good deals we get. People come and buy because it's a bargain," Kruse says.

Not everyone is as charmed as I am by a feed store in the middle of town. Some South El Monte city councilmen want to enforce an ordinance on the books to remove the store. Local people have started a petition, hoping to get Kruse Feed & Supply designated a landmark to keep it where it is. The city hall, oddly, is right next door; Otto sold the city the land and the house where Richard grew up in the '50s.

The feed store is just part of the Kruse family business. Ronald, the eldest son, runs the three milling plants, one a few blocks away in El Monte, another in Colton, and the newest in Ontario. They produce every kind of bulk feed imaginable, selling specialty feeds to the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park, exporting to Hawaii and Hong Kong ("a lot of chicken breeders there") and to Busch Gardens in Florida (flamingo feed).

I went over to El Monte, but everyone was at a meeting. William Ochoa, a young warehouseman maneuvering a yellow forklift, was glad to talk about the mill. He'd been there for six years and couldn't get over the fact that Adolf Kruse, Otto's uncle, who came over from Germany to work, comes in every day at 6 in the morning. "Every day. He's never late. Every day."

Ochoa wrote and sang a song for the 50th-anniversary dinner. It went:

We started in El Monte in 1935,

Otto Kruse and Adolf had a dream that would survive.

With questions in their hearts they took a great big chance.

Little did they know today their dream would be three plants.

I wondered whether I should go back to the feed store and buy more packets of that tea. Also, there was a fly guard, made of stiff screening with upstanding ear pockets, that fits over a horse's head. Seems as though a fellow could find some use for that.

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