From GENE LOGSDON
I used to love to go to farm auctions. I always hoped to find a bargain that no one else recognized. There was nothing like spotting an old book that I knew was worth maybe $50, and then being able to buy it along with a box of ho-hum volumes, for a dollar. For awhile early in married life I even fantasized about making a living scouting out rare old books and selling them for a thousand percent profit. But lots of other people had the same idea, and rarely was I able to make any profit at all. But it was fun trying.
Same thing with antiques at farm sales. I’d go to one hoping that no professional antique dealers would be there. It rarely happened. They always knew which of Grandmaw’s old dishes were worth twenty dollars and which were worth twenty cents.
But it was still fun buying up old farm tools that the antique dealers did not yet have buyers for— I’m talking 1950s and 60s— like hand-cranked corn shellers, seed cleaners, broadcast seeders, barbed wire, jugs, chicken waterers, grain cradles, sickles, scythes, cow leg hold chains, milk stools, corn knives, husking pegs, potato forks, fence stretchers, fly sprayers, neck yokes, whiffle trees, and various horse-drawn implements— much of which I could still use in the way I farmed, or rather non-farmed. I got a really nice, all wooden, hand corn planter or jabber that way. But finally competiton came into play for those kinds of primitives too.
Even today, the homesteader can often find stuff that he or she really needs and which most other people don’t care about. Just hope that this is one sale that other homesteaders skipped. No telling how many rolls of slightly used fencing I bought this way for a pittance. Fence posts too. Once I bought three old hoes, an old shovel, and two pitchforks, all in good shape, for three dollars. No more. What has happened is that rag pickers— what I call them and I mean no derision— go to auctions and buy up all this stuff for a little more than I care to spend, and then put it into auctions over in the Amish country where lots of homesteaders and gardeners congregate, and sell them for just a little less than what new costs. Goodbye bargain hunting days.
Even if I found no treasures at a farm auction, it was always fun to wander around the barn, poking my head into various buildings, taking measurements with a tape I carried with me, admiring mortises in the old barn beams and sills. Just the way the stalls and lofts were laid out could give me ideas for my own barn. Often pillar supports were just straight trees cut from the woods, the bark still on them. Heck, I could do that too. Every barn door had a hole cut into it, handy to reach through and unhook an inside latch. I especially liked to study the design of old corn cribs, note how wide the spacing was between the wall boards, the angle of the walls slanting inwards so that rain water dripped away from the stored corn not into it, and the clever door openings with removable boards slanting down and in so they could be removed easily despite the pressure of the corn ears against them. Old barns contain volumes of structural wisdom that has been lost in these days of oh so much advancement.
What cured me from enjoying auctions was attending one just down the road from our place, where a good old lifelong acquaintance was doing his last farm chore. He was sitting in a wheelchair in the middle of his barnyard, watching his life being sold to the highest bidder and he was crying his eyes out. Everyone in the crowd was too embarrassed to speak to him. It was a bad time. I felt so ashamed that I was there in my usual farm sale cheeriness, hoping to buy some ancient little chick feeders and waterers that I knew he owned but which I figured no one other than myself would want. (This was before the great rush to backyard chickens.) I had never before thought about a farmer’s last days. I realized, suddenly, that I might have to watch my life’s work sold to the highest bidder too, and how full of anguish I would be. I should have gone over, knelt beside my neighbor and held his hand. If you get a chance to do that, do it. I did not. I was too cowardly.