Rise and Fall of the Turkey Empire

W. Paul Reeve
History Blazer, August 1996

Names of losing candidates, particularly in local and state elections, are often quickly forgotten after election year hoopla subsides. One such name, William Arthur Barlocker, came within 20,000 votes of winning Utah’s governor’s office in 1960 but was defeated by incumbent Republican George Dewey Clyde. To residents of the small southwestern Utah agricultural community of Enterprise, Bill Barlocker was important for reasons apart from his lost bid for the statehouse. Barlocker’s turkey farm, though tragically ephemeral, proved an economic boon to residents of the region. His feed mill still towers over Enterprise as a reminder of his once thriving turkey business there.

Bill Barlocker was born July 26, 1921, and grew up on his father’s Enterprise potato farm. At age six he was hoeing potatoes for his father, but by age sixteen he knew a life of spuds was not for him. He talked to Seth M. Jones, Enterprise’s local turkey grower, about going into that business. Jones commented that there was money to be made in turkeys but warned that “they weren’t a bit easy to raise.”

Undaunted, Bill persuaded his father to give the birds a try. The father and son team had “bad luck” their first two years, but Bill persisted. In 1939, at age 18, he got married and shortly thereafter obtained a $900 loan from the government. With that money he purchased 600 turkeys and began raising them on a relative’s Enterprise city lot. He netted $1,200 from those birds and his new business began to boom. He bought a 100-acre ranch and more birds and by 1941 was running 5,000 poults at Enterprise. He added 1,100 acres to his farm and, after being discharged from the army in 1946, began netting around $150,000 annually. He soon expanded into the feed business. With ingredients from as far away as South America, his feed mills began churning out enough turkey mash in an eight-hour shift to nourish 100,000 birds.

In 1959 Bill implemented $750,000 worth of expansions at his business and formed three separate corporations. He created Barlocker Farms, which sold turkey eggs in 33 states; Bill’s Best, Inc., which processed three million pounds of turkey meat annually; and Barlocker Hatchery Co., which produced 300,000 turkey poults a year. By that time he had moved his family and much of his company to St. George where he became a three-term mayor and bought controlling stock in the Bank of St. George. He did, however, maintain ties to Enterprise and in 1961 built “Turkey Town” there. This carefully structured farm sectioned more than 3,000 birds into smaller groups to prevent them from stampeding and smothering young poults.

It seemed that there was no end to Barlocker’s upward climb. His companies employed over 100 Washington County residents and together formed one of the largest integrated turkey producing industries in the world. He twice won the National Turkey Federation’s governor’s challenge trophy by raising America’s largest turkey—his winning bird in 1961 weighed an incredible 58.2 pounds. From his small start at Enterprise he literally rose to No. 1 in the entire world—“Nobody sold more turkeys than Bill Barlocker.”

Life was not just one big Thanksgiving dinner for Barlocker, however. He went through a few difficult financial times over the years, losing $50,000 on his farms in 1954. Still, he managed to survive while the 12 other turkey farms that formed on the heels of his success came and went. All of that changed, however, in 1963 when someone shot John F. Kennedy. On November 22 the president was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Across the nation Americans went on a fast for their fallen leader. It was right before Thanksgiving and turkey sales plummeted. Barlocker had 350,000 turkeys in cold storage waiting for a holiday rush that never came. Creditors began calling in his loans, but he could not pay, even after selling all his assets, including the turkey farm and bank. “I lost $500,000 a year, average, for four consecutive years,” he said. “My creditors were hounding me. Marital problems followed my financial losses. The world looked pretty bleak.”

Things became so bleak that by 1965 Barlocker found himself on the rugged slopes of Cedar Mountain, herding sheep for a living. Nevertheless, he refused to declare bankruptcy. He had wisely held onto thousands of acres of land that gradually increased in value, making it possible to retire all his debts. Following his comeback he served an impressive ten-year stint as Dixie College campus developer and business manager; he died in 1982.

Source: W. Paul Reeve, A Century of Enterprise: The History of Enterprise, Utah, 1896–1996 (Enterprise, Utah: The City of Enterprise, 1996)