I wanted to be an auctioneer. It was amazing how the words and sounds just rolled off their tongues. You could get a good dose of the mesmerizing calls every Saturday and Wednesday afternoons out at the old Tri County Stockyards.
It seemed to my little ten year old mind to be some type of controlled pandemonium. They would be running cows, steers, bulls, sheep, hogs and/or Billy goats into that sawdust covered area just as fast as humanly possible. A short pause lasted only long enough to let the auctioneer wield his magic, a few hands to rise and the nod of a head or two to bobble in the wrap around audience. That animal was sold and you better get your eyes focused quickly on the gate to the far left—the next lot was being herded in.
I tried to “take it all in” at once! It was fun to guess how high the bid would go on certain breeds. Bulls, without question, brought the most money. And a lot more cows were sold than anything else. Hog prices, according to Dad, hinged on whether we were buying…..or selling!
I’ve seen bulls near ’bout leap into the crowd. I’ve seen hogs chase handlers around the arena. I’ve seen mules sit down right in the middle of the auction and refuse to get up. I saw a cow once start into labor right on the sales floor.
The folks in the audience were often more fun to watch than the four legged guys in the arena. Half of them showed up every time the sales doors opened and never bid on a thing. I reckon grown-ups liked to hear the auctioneer too. Or maybe, they had an old heifer or a young yearling they were trying to handicap as to value. Things moved a mite slow back in the mid fifties. Perhaps this was simply the best action in town.
The seating arrangements were kinda like church. People apparently were assigned to the same place sale after sale. The aggressive bidders usually were down on the first row. They would bid early and often but didn’t buy as much as you might think. A late nod from the back row would take a steer home quicker than you could say, “What are you going to give for it….”
Some guys waved frantically like they were proud to be bidding. Or they didn’t want the auctioneer, or you, to miss the fact that they had cash money and were ready to deal. Some did it with a slight raise of one finger. Another might drop his head slightly. And still another might move his head up just enough to make direct eye contact with the auctioneer.
The guy behind the mike didn’t miss a one. Without question, he was in charge. And he seldom slowed the tempo. I just could not believe that anyone could talk so rapidly without seemingly ever taking a breath. And he did it all in some type of rhythm that kept perfect time with the braying of the livestock, the ruckus of the handlers prodding and turning the sales objects, the calls for popcorn and cold drinks ringside and the general din that accompanied any place that had a large audience actively participating in the ongoing proceedings.
The auctioneer would only slow the pace if the price wasn’t to his liking. “Come’on now, you’re not looking at this one. Take a good long gander at her flanks, the straight back, the general size of her, she’ll throw calves half grown! We’re at sixty two, fifty, who’ll give me seventy-five, I need seventy-five……”
It wasn’t quite as good as the circus but it didn’t miss it by much. And it didn’t cost nothing, unless you ran your fingers through your hair at exactly the wrong moment!
I asked Dad once why they only held these wonderful sales on Saturdays and Wednesdays. I was expecting him to explain it took a while to round up the appropriate animals to sell. “Son,” he didn’t hesitate, “two days a week is about all they can stand.”
On “what do you want to be” day in elementary school I never picked doctor, lawyer or fireman. I proudly proclaimed that I was going into the auctioneering business. I’d fall asleep on Saturday nights rehearsing, “Well, I’m at twenty-five here, who’ll give me thirty, I got thirty, who’ll make forty, who’ll give forty, I’ve got thirty now, who’ll bid……”
I took a job with Colonel James T. “Birddog” Reed as a recorder when I was in high school. He auctioned off house and farm estates. I’d write down “Zenith table model” as he began to tell how this particular radio could “bring in the Grand Ole Opry a week ahead of time” and then he’d go into that familiar chant. I’d put down “Mr. Chadwick” and the amount he paid when the gavel fell.
Wouldn’t it be great to come back from auctioneer school and take Mr. Martin’s place at the Tri County Stockyards! Or I could go into business with Birddog hawking those old lamps, wringer washers and China cabinets.
My parents insisted on college. They preferred English and biology over hogs and Dutch ovens. It was probably just as well. Tri County Stockyards went out of business years ago……and people don’t do much auctioning at yard sales now-a-days.
But late at night, when everyone is asleep, or when I’m alone in the car, I’ll “sell” a Brahma bull, a lot of Black Angus or an old 175 International tractor. Old dreams die hard…….