Farm auctions have always been a big part of rural America’s social events. The bulk of them usually occur in the fall season, after a full summer’s routine work schedule is wrapping up. A few run in the spring. We most all make out a “wish list” before attending, from reading the offerings in our Farm & Ranch Guide ads.
Ranching in the remote badlands, deprived of telephone and television luxuries and the nearest neighbors many, many miles away, it was always a big social event for my dad as he loved to visit and was armed with a lifetime of experiences under his belt. To me, tagging along in my youth, it was always a highlight to listen to the auctioneers chant. It always intrigued me and does yet today.
My earliest childhood dream was to be an auctioneer, but being severely handicapped by bashfulness and shyness (yes – this not a misprint), I never accomplished it.
When I was five or six years old, my mother wrote to the Western College of Auctioneering at Billings, Mont., of a protocol on my future behalf. Their president sent me a “tin 45” single record to practice a chant. My parents had to take it to some neighbors that had a phonograph to play it. It started out by saying, “Bill, here’s a chant for you to practice.” I was so proud that the college president knew me personally. It went by two-and-a-half up to 100, then back down the same way, such as, two-and-a-half, five, seven-and-a-half, 10 and back as 97-and-a-half, 95, 92-and-a-half, and 90. I’d practice it out in the pasture while riding and could reel it off pretty good, but I’d “clam up” around others.
The auctioneers all had their own unique style and hallmark lines. One that I always got a kick out of was when an assortment of items were thrown together on the “small junk trailer,” he’d say, “Okay, here’s $10 worth of stuff, who’ll give me 50 cents for it,” then chant until he got a $2 bid to sell it.
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Impulsive buying has always been a big part of the success of a farm auction, and auctioneers know it and cunningly make it work for their clients. It’s common to hear the coffee shop chatter the morning after an auction. “I really didn’t need it, but it went so cheap I couldn’t afford not to buy it.” That phrase has been the pride of many. I was always taught that if you really don’t need it, it’s not cheap at any price.
After growing up, my “battle plan” was to buy some small item for $10, then instantly realize I don’t need it, which would then stymie my impulse to purchase the more expensive items I don’t need. Having an earth-moving construction business to support my ranching habit, auction sales and rodeo gatherings were most fruitful in obtaining clientele. I was almost assured to pick up at least one future project to build a stock water dam or other dirt work.
The camaraderie and shared stories are priceless. A couple of my all-time favorites involve some of my good friends. Medora, North Dakota’s own western/historian/author, Doug Ellison, grew up south of New Leipzig, N.D., down on the Cedar Creek drainage. He accompanied his father, Dean, to an auction in hopes of owning some horse tack that was offered. They had drifted apart, visiting with others when the tack came up. Doug said he couldn’t locate his father so he stepped up and started bidding and locked horns with another bidder. Finally he spotted his dad in the crowd who was the other bidder. I think Doug told me he let his dad have the last bid so he wouldn’t be stuck with the bill.
Gary Tescher humbly told on himself. He was in the market for a grain auger to handle incoming cattle feed supplies for the upcoming winter season. The closest auction in the near future was far off in the vast rural community of Circle, Mont. With a need to “check it out,” he chose to take the family car instead of his ranch pickup to assure he wouldn’t buy it and face the difficult chore of slowly pulling it clear home into western North Dakota, facing a trip of entire narrow, two-lane traffic.
He arrived just a matter of minutes before the auger came up and instantly bought it. He then scanned the crowd to perhaps spot an acquaintance, but this far from his home range the pickings were slim. Finally, he spotted a casual acquaintance from the Sidney, Mont., Yellowstone Valley area and approached him with an offer to pay him to pull the new purchase back to his place, which would cut the distance nearly in half, where Gary said he would pick it up at a later date.
His friend instantly informed him with a “no.” He said, “I was the guy bidding against you and the only reason I quit was that I didn’t want to pull it home.”
You can’t make up stories better than that.