Old Job, New World
house in Fayette, Veirs began construction on his own fur house in Unionville in 1966.
Business has changed quite a bit in the past 50 years. In 1954, Veirs piled pelts into his Plymouth to sell to his father. Opossum hides were worth about 10 cents, and raccoons only 50 cents, he said. “Muskrats were worth about 60 or 70 cents.” Veirs now invests $1 in an opossum pelt, $7 to $8 in a raccoon and $4 to $5 for a muskrat pelt.
After nearly 50 years trading furs, Veirs has considerably more than an old car invested. “There are a lot more dollars involved today,” he said. “I spend $100,000 before I sell anything, just for processing.” The raccoon hides he scraped for 10 cents in the 1940s now cost a dollar or more for cleaning. “I’ve got about $700,000 tied up in furs,” he said. However, his investment isn’t the only change. “One of the biggest differences in the industry today is the difference between really high-quality pieces and the lower-grade furs,” he said.
While the stakes have grown higher for Veirs financially, he is reaping the benefits of his place in Unionville. “My dad, he always lived at his fur house. They’d work until midnight,” he said. “I’ve told my help to come in at 7 a.m., and we will all be out by 5 p.m.” Veirs hires young men from nearby Amish communities to work with furs during peak times. Other youth aren’t interested in that dirty, greasy work, he said. “If it weren’t for the Amish, I’d be out of business.”
Veirs even chose to test his marriage with a few furs. After the wedding in Springfield, the couple spent their first night in Branson. Then the honeymoon plans changed dramatically. “We went over to Poplar Bluff and bought a few furs,” he said. “We put those in the trunk of the car, and, yes, there were some skunks involved.”
His wife, Mary Lou, a retired speech therapist, now grows flowers within arm’s reach of the fur house and goes with him on the trade routes. “I just wouldn’t have time to buy the furs without her,” he said. “She keeps up the record books while I handle the furs.” Veirs has expanded his trade route far beyond the initial drive between Fayette and Versailles. He now covers ground from Albany west to St. Joseph and south to Arkansas.