As a young boy, I loved to go with my father to the old farm auctions. I was always amazed at how fast the auctioneer could talk and rattle off his spiel.
Most of the auctions were held in the spring. That was when most farmers made a move if they were going to. The prospective buyers were his neighboring farmers, and it was before fieldwork and planting began.
After the farmer had his chores done, it was off to the auction, even if he had not planned to buy anything. He would see the rest of the neighbors and maybe an old friend that he had not seen since the last auction. It was almost like a family reunion, Dad had read the farm bill, maybe a couple of times, but you never know, maybe something you could use someday would go very cheap.
The only thing about spring was the parking. The yard and fields were so soft that when the farmstead and driveway were full, that left the little country road. If it was a county road, there could be parking on both sides. No one had four-wheel-drive back then, so you never ventured very far off the road. To walk a mile or so was common to get to the auction.
The first thing was to get a bidding number. Before the days when every farm had a milkhouse, you may find the fellow giving out the numbers in a shed, on the porch, or even in the kitchen if the weather was bad, but most of the time the kitchen was already taken. The local church ladies’ aid had the old cookstove making coffee and the table full of goodies to sell.
This was the same fellow you paid for your purchase if you were the high bidder. He had a copy of the item sold and price and bidder’s number.
There was the auctioneer, standing on a flatbed hay rack, piled high with stuff, some say junk. It could be anything from a half bag of grass seed to a push lawn mower. Sometimes I think the farmer went out to his rock pile where he had discarded a length of pipe, part of a roll of wire and a pail that leaked and put them on the wagon.
The auctioneer would give a little speech about the farmer — he was retiring, had sold the farm and was moving to town. All items had to be paid for before they left the place, cash or a good check. Then the fellow with him would write down the item, the price it sold for and the ticket number. When the sheet was full someone would take it to the fellow that we got the bidding ticket from. He was now the banker.
Many times the auctioneer would make a pile of stuff and try to get a bid, but no one bid. Then he would take a shovel that had seen its better days, put it on the pile, and say now who will give a dollar, 50 cents, two bits. Ya. Two bits. Thank you. That was two-bit Harry’s bid. The auctioneer knew Harry well. If he had 10 auctions, Harry would most likely be standing next to the hay rack at every one. Harry was most likely the first to arrive, got the best parking spot, and spent time looking over the wagonload of stuff. He knew the value of things. Many times a valuable item would get pushed into a pile. Harry had watched what went into the pile, but that never made him in a hurry to bid. He would wait, then offer two bits or 50 cents. He had the biggest pile of junk that he had bought and thrown under the hay rack. His bidding was over for the day.
One time an old hand-crank ice cream maker was up for bid, and after fighting to get 75 cents, the auctioneer said sold. Two men claimed he was the one who made that bid. After some arguing, the auctioneer said let’s open the bid again.
I knew the one fellow, a stubborn, bullheaded Swede, a neighbor. The other fellow had to have been of the same caliber. No one was going to let anyone pull the wool over his eyes.
The auctioneer loved a challenge like this, raising the bid as fast as he could spit it out and pointing first to the one fellow and then the other, and they nodding their head yes, he had them up in the $5 range, when the one fellow woke up.
The neighbor was the winner, or was he? Wonder if he told his wife.
This crazy incident made for a jovial crowd, and a happy crowd seemed to bid faster and easier. Many times the auctioneer would tell a joke or make some comment about an item.
Picking up the fish spear he would say, “Now we are going to sell the key to the county jail, what am I bid?” Fish spearing was outlawed years ago. Today it would be sold as an antique.
There was an auctioneer who had an expression he would use when he was selling a milk cow. Buy this cow, and you’re buying milk. A fellow next to me said, buy that cow and you will be buying milk at the local grocery store.
Many times the auctioneer would have an item, and knowing its value would stop his bidding spiel, and say, folks, you have not even come near half the value of this item, do you want to go home feeling that you stole from your neighbor? If he got no better bid, he would tell the clerk, “Put it on my number and we will make it right with the farmer.”
During and after the second World War, the government put what they called a ceiling price on big items that were impossible to buy. The idea was that all had an equal chance to buy. The auctioneer would say this tractor has a ceiling price of so much. How many want it, 10 or more hands would go up. Maybe only two or three wanted it, but friends were helping out someone.
The auctioneer passed his hat around, bid numbers were put in, he chose someone in the crowd to draw out a number, and then he would announce the winner. It was illegal to buy and sell that item for more than that price.
The auctioneer was a special kind of fellow. Not only could he sing out his bidding spiel, but he could convince someone to take one or more bids after they had decided they were done. Looking the bidder in the eye and with an outstretched he hand would say, one more time, just one more time. The fellow would bid, then he would go to the next bidder and say the same thing. If he bid, then he would go back to number one, then he might say I think that fellow’s about done, just give it one more try, OK. Then back to bidder number two. He would be shaking his head no. If the bids were $10 raised each time, he would say how about $5 if the fellow said yes. Bidder number one would be shaking his head no, and would not make eye contact with the hypnotizing eyes of the auctioneer. Or maybe he was being dragged away by a disgusted wife.
The owner was happy. The auctioneer had worked to get a fair price for the item. A good auctioneer would do this because in the crowd there may be someone thinking of having an auction who wanted to see how hard the fellow worked to get a fair price.
If there were many of one item, the high bidder had the choice to take all, or whatever he wanted times the price of one. Then the remaining was offered at that price. If no takers, then the bidding started over. If there were 100 steel fence posts, and the first bidder bid $1 per post and only took 25, then they would bid again per post, but if he took 75 posts, then the auctioneer would sell the rest for the top bid.
As a young farmer, I bought my first tractor on a farm dispersal, as they called it. An F20 Farmall. I guess I valued and wanted it more than the other fellow. I have bought many things over the years, and more than once gave it one more time. But I never bought an ice cream maker.