Going Once, Going Twice, Gone

Stuff. We all have it. Some is good, some is bad. It’s just stuff. The old saying that one man’s junk is another man’s treasures certainly rings true, and at no place moreso than at farm auctions.

Farmers work hard and they try to save a nickel just like the rest of us. There is nothing wrong with buying used items because sometimes a lot of money can be saved going this route as opposed to always buying new. What amazes me is an item can go home with a farmer and in a few months that same item will be back on the auction block on a different sale.

Here in the Midwest we have many Amish communities, many of which hold auctions on a regular basis. About an hour away from me there are regular Amish auctions throughout the year in Shipshewana and Topeka, Indiana. It is a good way for the Amish to trade horses, tack, horse-drawn farm equipment and many other items they use every day. It is also a good place for folks to come and find these items who either collect or use them for home décor.

These Amish auctions are a spinoff of the Amish mud sales that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Mud sales, named for the condition of the thawing ground in late winter and early spring when they are held, are major fundraisers for the volunteer fire companies throughout the Amish communities. These are huge events, sometimes drawing 20,000 or more people who come to bid on everything from hand-stitched quilts and locally made crafts to livestock, furniture, produce, baked goods, antiques, housewares and sometimes even the kitchen sink … literally! Usually, six or seven separate auctions are going on at the same time and the Amish and the “English” mingle together in this organized chaos.

I got educated first-hand at these auctions. Jim loved antiques and, of course, there was more than one auction ring going at the same time. He couldn’t be two places at once so my job was to stand by an item that he wanted while he was bidding somewhere else. When they got close to selling my item I would get him because there is no way he wanted me to bid. My bidding would have resulted in being the lucky purchaser of just about everything sold. Usually I didn’t have to worry because the items he really wanted would, invariably, be the last ones in line.

I have never gotten the knack of understanding an auctioneer. I wonder just how long they have to go to school to learn how not to speak clearly. Case in point: It was at my folks’ estate sale and there were two auctioneers “crying” the auctions, one for the barn items and one for the household stuff. All I wanted was my mother’s good silverware. My cousin Vicky’s husband Dick was standing next to me. Why I just didn’t ask him to bid for me I will never figure out. Instead, I tried to do it myself when they got to the silverware. When it was finally sold I looked at Dick and asked him two questions, “Did I get it?” and when he shook his head yes I asked “How much did I pay?” No amount of time will let me live that one down.

Actually, auctioneers are required to have 80 hours of classroom instruction before they can take the licensing exam. Most of them develop their own version of an auction chant or bid call which is really a rhythm for the words they are using and getting the numbers in there. It’s been said that, “If you can count to 10, you can be an auctioneer.”

We knew an elderly couple who did quite well with their second-hand business from auctions. Both of their sons were auctioneers. “Bob and Dorothy” would always take the items that didn’t sell at an auction or buy something that was unique and bring home to their place. After a lifetime of doing this, they had their barns, basement and garage stacked to the gills with just about anything you could possibly want. Fishing lures, rake teeth, old tin signs, nuts and bolts, flower carts, bull blinders … the list never ended. However, I do believe there was an ulterior motive to this little business. People would come and look for one item and spend an afternoon going through the rest of the “stuff”. We did that countless times, so they made a lot of new friends along the way. You may wonder how we met this couple in the first place. At an auction, of course!

Besides the buying and selling, farm auctions offer farmers a chance for a social outing. Just notice next time you go to one how many neighbors and acquaintances are standing around “shooting the breeze.” Of course when a group of people get together for any reason there has to be food. I honestly believe that food is some people’s main agenda, especially when it is an Amish event. Chicken corn soup, country ham sandwiches and homemade cinnamon rolls and ice cream help to make the day “tolerable.”

Farm auctions aren’t for everyone or for every situation. If you are selling, you take the risk that things may go cheaper than if you would just sell them without an auction, or they may go higher. The weather plays an important role here. If it is inclement, more farmers will come because they cannot work in the fields and prices may go higher. You have to be willing to take the chance when you set an auction date.

Some folks make a living out of buying at an auction and reselling the wares later. This just is not my cup of tea. I have never had the patience it takes waiting for items to be sold at auction but, I still have to admit, they are a colorful way to buy and sell items.

  • Published on Feb 9, 2016
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