"Pop, let's get it going again."
It was in the late 1940s in Middleport, where Bernhard Weil had just moved his family from Long Island, that teen-ager William F. Weil urged his father to resume cattle dealing. The elder Weil had prospered in that business in Bavaria before Nazi Germany turned on its Jewish residents, first taking their property and then their lives.
The Weil family fled to England, then to the United States, "always a step ahead of hell," said Bill Weil. For eight years, they had lived in Valley Stream, Long Island, where Bill Weil graduated from high school.
"Then my father, who had been a meat cutter, and my mother, a glass washer in a restaurant, looked for another place to live," Bill Weil said. "He rode around, came to Niagara County and said, 'This is a good place.' He rented a house in Middleport. We stayed there a year or so before moving to our current home."
After young Bill's urging, Bernhard Weil rented a barn on Route 104 that had room for 10 animals and bought a truck.
The Weils took a direct approach to resuming cattle dealing. Even though in Germany Bernhard Weil dealt mostly with oxen and horses, the same business principles guide the dairy and beef cattle markets. "I went knocking on doors: 'Hello, my name is Bill Weil. Do you have any cattle for sale? Do you want to buy any cattle?'"
Farmers did. They always do.
That's how B. Weil & Son Inc., cattle dealers, began. The signs still hang before the family home on County Line Road, Town of Somerset, and the dairy farm on Route 18, Town of Yates, Orleans County.
Now it's a half-century later. B. Weil & Son has moved "Thousands and thousands" of beef and dairy animals, some for cash, some in trades. Mostly, the trade is with New Yorkers, but some animals are sold as far away as Florida and once, even to Plains, Ga., where Billy Carter, the late "First Brother," had become a customer via word-of-mouth advertising.
Bill Weil, now nearing 67, sees a narrowing of the window on life that was wide open when he began dealing cattle. "I will remain a cattle dealer as long as I stay healthy, but I would like to cut back on other things" and spend more time with his family, his wife, Carolyn, and sons, Steven, 32, and Andrew, 28. They also have five grandchildren.
B. Weil & Son, successful in the cattle market, acquired farms and land until they controlled more than 1,000 acres in the two counties. Their 125-cow dairy herd, 90 of them milkers, was one of the early Dairy of Distinction winners.
As successful as the late Bernhard and now Bill Weil have been in buying, selling and trading cattle, Bill's sons have shown no interest in becoming third-generation Weil cattle dealers. But they took something else away from the farm, a work ethic. "My boys grew up on the farm," Bill Weil said, his soft voice taking on a hard edge. "They saw their grandfather and father in action and learned what work means and can accomplish."
That thought led Bill Weil to a worry -- the disappearance of family farms. "By destroying the family farm, which is what is happening as farms are becoming fewer and larger, we are losing a great part of the American way of life. Kids raised on a family farm learn to work. And they don't grow up to be bums."
Bill Weil shares another concern common to dairy farmers. "We are looking for a good farm hand to milk and do other work."
He reports good corn, hay and wheat crops, but his prime interest is cattle dealing. "I will do it until I die," he once said. "We get six to eight calls a day and move from 50 to 70 animals a week. People call. Some want heifers, some want replacement cows. Some want to sell cows that won't breed. And others have beef animals ready for market. Yes, I work six and seven days a week, not all day, but every day."
To meet these daily demands, Weil has 600 dairy and beef animals on call. Some are raised on his own farms and some are custom-fed on other farms -- good business for both sides. In either case, the animals are ready to go.
And through his years of growth and success, Bill Weil has watched the Buffalo region's large commercial slaughterhouses dwindle from 28 to just one, Ford Brothers of Ashford in Cattaraugus County.
Weil has warm feeling for operators of small dairy farms. Even though much of his business is with the increasing number of farms with hundreds of milking cows, he still believes that the small farm has its merits.
"You do not have to do everything the new way to make money," he said. "I know farmers with 40, 50 or 60 cows that are making out well and have money in the bank."
Early on, Bill Weil learned a lesson that dominates his life and has contributed to the success of B. Weil & Son: "Every person, whether rich or poor, wants to be treated nicely and with dignity," he said. And in the family business, "We try."