Auction Anguish


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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.
~~

29 Comments

I’ve not attended many auctions, but here in Western Mass we’ve gone tag saling every weekend during the season for the last 25 years. It’s with mixed feelings that I circle ones titled “Estate Sale”. One can often get really nice old things very inexpensively (if the dealers haven’t been there first). But often one also gets to witness the younger folk, of the family holding the sale, in all their greed. They have no appreciation for the life of the person whose estate it is. It’s really sad to be there, when this is the case.

But sometimes, it’s not so sad. Couple weekends back we went to a tag sale, run by 2 older women. Outside there were 2 huge wash tubs. Once was really nice, with welded stationary handles and in very good condition. But it was marked $50. Currently I use washtubs to cool newly butchered chickens, and that was far too steep for me.

I got the woman talking about the tubs and learned 2 things. She had priced them high so if a dealer really wanted them, they would PAY! And secondly, that the really nice tub had belonged to HER grandmother and she was valuing it accordingly. I suspect she didn’t sell either one, and maybe, that was sort of the plan…

I don’t think I could bear to go to a farm auction, when all of the family’s things were being sold, most especially if they were there. It would be too heartrending.

I live in Northeast Ohio where any decent farm auction is attended by urbanites, big farmers, Amish, and “scrappers”. Nothing is sadder to see than an old piece of equipment being bought for decoration, scrap, or by the big farmer for just one part that is needed/difficult to find. Regardless most things are bought for more than I can afford.

My wife and I have often commented on how sad these farm auctions are for all the reasons previously stated. I however feel these auctions are a “symptom” of our society. If the farm and everything on the farm were to be passed down to the next generation, there would be no need for these auctions. As an example Amish usually tend auctions, not have the auctions. I can only hope that at least one of my two children will be interested in taking over our little contrary farm. A wonderful and thought provoking post as always Gene.

makes me tear up a bit and not want to go to any farm auction now, these lifetimes represented by their tools, the old-world of farming, all on display to make cash. I know my grandpa-in-law’s farm equipment was all auctioned off after he passed and I can’t imagine how his children must have felt.

“There are tears for what was
and for what might have been
but as they fall they become the friend
who speaks the words for which no words can be spoken
– who speak for the heart that is broken.” anonymous

We laugh as much as we can but sometimes we can’t. Beautifully done Gene.

    p.s. Writing about the auction reminded me of the 1995 documentary film Troublesome Creek and the auction footage of a family selling their belongings and chattel to try to keep the home farm. I highly recommend it to anyone not familiar with it.

Gene you have written in your books about lots of interesting people like your cousin Dave who farms,The Frey who built his own tractor,the neighbor who made a killing with his car load of cattle who fed them on the shocked corn. The amish man who made a living on just twenty something acres. Sounds like a future book!Telling more stories about them and how they lived,The little farmer trips they used to do things, what has happened to them.after the original stories were written. I realize most have passed but would be a fascinating book!

Thank you for writing about! We need to reach out to those around us more!!

Gene,

Your story about the old farmer watching his farm memories being sold touched my heart. I can barely tolerate walking through my late neighbors barn, missing his warm smile and soft greeting that I knew for 45 years. He was the true definition of the word neighbor, willing to help another, younger farmer however he could. Fortunately, he passed on before his farm and equipment were sold.

I used to attend farm auctions to find a bargain, but I can’t stand to attend them anymore. They are just too sad for me. That must happen as the calendar continues to shed the years, faster and faster, it seems.

Amen to that Beth Greenwood

A farmer’s last days….sounds like a very special book written by Gene Logsdon.

“Media vita in morte sumus: In the midst of life we are in death.” All death, all loss, is part of life and rebirth, whether for the tools someone once cherished that I now use and hope to pass to my grandchildren or the eternal land upon which we build our lives. Gene, I understand the cowardly impulse and I think many of us feel it when faced with loss. It’s taken me many years to learn to simply say, “I’m so sorry,” and share a hug or listen if someone wants to tell me a story about what they lost. I do think it’s better that these cherished belongings go to someone else who will cherish them rather than becoming lawn ornaments!

Dear Mr. Logsdon, Your feelings, and mine too, for that old farmer are especially difficult because we or at least I see myself in him. I can’t let that happen, I’m 55 I have no children. I’ve put most of my 43 acres in permanent conservation. I plan on building an apartment to “age in place” and carefully with legal advice turn the farm over at a reasonable price to a young family who can provide the stewardship that the farm deserves and still allow me a place on the farm. Not so close as to be in the way and not so distant as to lose all connection.

A year or so ago I heard one of the last dairies in our county sold out. That evening I couldn’t remember the family’s name, though I’d met him a time or six, and wanted to get it right when I told my wife. Grasping for the name I Googled “dairy herd sold in …” and linked to a local paper’s video, Moments into it I watched the farmer, then his wife and then his son trying to talk through tears as their cows walked up the ramp into a trailer. I clicked it off.

I’m an auction addict don’t go to as many as I used to still probably hit around 20 a year in a 150 mile radius have driven 500 miles to go to an auction before.I love them gets my blood flowing.Many of the things I use I bought at auctions sometimes at unbelievable cheap prices.Also have hundreds of things I bought because they were cheap and wonder what I’ll ever do with them(LOL)Told the wife when I pass on just call an auctioneer and let them have at it.Things can get a little strange at auctions even went to a consignment auction in PA where two of the auctioneers got into a fight with each other.I guess some are sad but at least most of the things at auctions get a new lease on life at their new home rather than ending up at a landfill,I’ve bought equipment to keep it from the junkman.

AMEN !While i wish i had been smart enough to take pictures of my late friends back then i tried to buy something of theirs at their sales so a little bit of them and their stories would go on with each piece.Unfortuntley from what i’ve seen of the next generation they only are interested in aquiring the old stuff so they can sell it and buy guns or fancy pickups or maybe a tractor of the “right” color so they can stand around and pretend to be country and play big shot with their friends.When i think of how I worked since i was 10 years old so i could farm and see the next generation just give lip service to farming and asking me ,”Will I get that too when you die!”I realize that the number of those who really care about this life is dwindling fast and So is the land they will be able to use their skills and tools on. and to who asked seed cleaners still are around just not as common as they use to be. I’m surprise monsanto doesnt have people at sales buying them up!1 lol

What a poignant last paragraph!

Our numbers have become so vast, and our resources so dwindling, that civilization is quickly becoming a zero-sum game.

Each person’s good fortune is someone else’s misfortune.

Oh, dear Mr. Logsdon. I’m sorry to hear about that old farmer. He might even have had a stroke and that made him even more emotional. The auction represented the end of a life and I wish there had been someone who could have talked to him and got him to tell stories about the items as they went. And maybe, with his permission, to film him.
I am 60 and that’s relatively young, but I’ve been here on the homestead I built and or paid to have built inch by inch, for almost 30 years. Tho’ I live 12 miles from the nearest gas station and people live fairly close (about a quarter mile), precious few live a ‘country’ life. No gardens. No firewood cutting, splitting. No canning, sewing or patching of clothes. I’d love to hear what your thoughts are about that kind of thing.
I know what you mean by items nobody wants. My dear hubby said something about a tool we left out not too long ago and I said “Well, I doubt anyone will steal it. It looks like work.”
I wonder what will happen to my corn sheller, my hand tools, my Wall-o-waters, canning jars and pressure canners when I’m gone. No matter, tho. I’ll sure be done with them🙂
Hope does spring eternal, tho. I just gifted myself, finally, with a STAINLESS STEEL Foley food mill after years of fighting my rusty hand me down galvanized one. Oh, tell anyone who cares that I found everything I needed for my canners and the people are really nice at the Red Hill General Store. (All manner of canner supplies, and all kinds of stuff. Great service). I don’t mean to plug them if that’s not allowed but they treated me really nice.
I gotta get back outside and gimp down to the garden. All my best to you, Gene and keep the good stuff coming.
Marsha Greeejeans

As usual, you touched a soft spot. I always liked to salve my conscience by telling myself that a little of the former owner’s skills might be left in the tools I bought, and that through me some of it might live on. Now I am getting on toward letting my kids take the same interest in these tools. Maybe I just have my fingers crossed.

Treasures do still await the patient and the disciplined when it comes to farm auctions. The family pain is still there, as well. Just this past weekend, a work colleague of mine gave me an auction sale bill and told me they were selling his parents’ farm. There were some things I was interested in, so I attended despite the two-hour drive. Though the parents were now gone, you could see the three surviving children were struggling with selling some of the things off. I sat with my work friend on a bench as much of the auction went on and asked about his growing up on the farm and he related many stories as we sat on that bench while hundreds passed to and fro. There were moments that I could see pangs as something sold, and the surviving children themselves bidding on things they wanted. Though I came away with two tool boxes of mechanics tools I badly needed, I also came away with the same thoughts Gene expressed … one day this will be me. I’ve begun to plan a bit differently now.

…cow leg hold chains. What a memory. Wish I could hold one of those in my hands right now. And I, too, suffer sadness at old farm auctions. All that work of a lifetime…

You are no coward Gene. You just had an innate understanding that you would have became just as emotional as your neighbor and applied that subtle knowledge for your own sanity. Most of us who have invested our entire lives in a place and culture would have had the same sense of emotional self preservation. Cowards don’t take on dragons with a stick. Your voice and writing is the epitome of bravery for the true agrarians in your readership. Maybe the next owners of your neighbors farm will be readers of your wisdom too. It would be brave to donate them one of your books, once they settle in – if the place doesn’t become a subdivision. The brave just simply choose to weep privately my friend, when they have a choice. A coward would have never wrote and shared this story, this way.

Reminds me of a problem my friend has. He farms with horses and likes to go to auctions to find equipment to work with but often has to bid against people who want the equipment for a lawn/flower bed decoration. They generally have more money to spend than he has.

Gene, I am so very glad that you shared your poignant experience, feelings and thoughts about this ‘progressive’ world we float in.
It seems that everyone wants to profit from another’s hard work, investment and ownership. I find this mindset repellent. I, too, enjoy browsing for well made objects from before the ‘throw away’ one we live in now and, as you have, have noticed a trend in scavenging…behavior not unlike any lowly buzzard.
Just recently I was putting an offer on a house and both the realtor and home inspector were already calling ‘dibs’ on some of the antique furniture and cars….all the while the owner was languishing in a hospital bed. He passed away during the home appraisal.
The entire time I was trying to purchase this lovely homestead all that I could think of was how much love went into keeping this home in mint condition ( it was a Sears and Roebuck kit home built in the early 1900’s ) and I could feel the vibrant love of this home in the many rooms that were made into an artist’s studio. This husband and wife obviously loved their family and this it what made it a ‘home’. I was feeling deeply for this family and what they were going through all the while trying to be respectful during the buying process. I made no inquiries into the availability of the furnishings or any other object that might soon be featured in an ‘estate sale’.I am not a buzzard….I don’t circle the objects that once belonged to a person. I don’t circle their memories because every object has attached to it a story…an event that is personal to the owner of that object. It seems no one cares about those things….the sentimental value of that object they are coveting.

I, like you, buy things because I need to use them…not to make a profit….and have found that it is difficult to buy used objects anymore at a reasonable price….based on wage earnings. Everything…new and old…..causes me sticker shock. It speaks volumes of the degraded state we live in currently.
Truth be told, I am not made for profit. The good soul that made me had no such design on the drawing board when he/she made me. They obviously thought about life and love in a much grander way…one that encompassed the feelings of ‘other’. I am glad for that because I live without a lust for another person’s treasures. It makes me feel more human to live like this.
I wonder what the world would be like if people thought about each other the way that they would like to be treated? I wonder if we have moved so far away from that Universal Law that we might never find our way back to it?

In a lot of ways I see that capitalism is the root of all evil…the desire to capitalize(profit) from another man/woman/child’s labor of love…and raising up a family ( with all of the necessary accoutrements required ) and keeping them safe is indeed a labor of love. And we all know what they say about people who sell love…whether theirs or someone else’s.

I hope that more people hold each other’s hands as we all go down this slippery profit slope to hell.

    That’s the most inaccurate definition of capitalism I’ve ever heard. Capitalism is not the root of all evil. The love of money is the root of all evil. Capitalists give more of their own money to the poor than any other group on earth. Socialists and Communists are evil and love money and for that reason they are very generous with OTHER PEOPLE’S MONEY. Capitalism is not the desire to capitalize from another person’s labor that would be Socialism and Communism. Capitalism is the desire to capitalize on one’s own labor. Capitalist corporations must make a profit so that the employees can profit from their own labor. If the capitalist corporation makes no profit the company goes bankrupt and the employees make no profit from their own labor.

      Dear Don….you obviously suffer from a condition called cognitive dissonance. Capitalists do profit from the labor of their ’employees’…..especially in third world countries where their factories are ‘conveniently’ located. Wanting to use people to make a profit is evil.
      If capitalism were good and right in theory then we would not have the problem of so many capitalists profiting from the abject misery of those they keep in poverty by paying degrading wages.
      Which came first, Don, the capitalist or the poor? Could it be possible that capitalists create poverty? Is it possible that only a greedy person could think up such a system and not the other way around? I think we need to examine many of our core ‘value systems’ to discover their true worth to all and not just a few.
      ” Capitalists give more of their own money to the poor than any other group on earth. ” Capitalists give more of other earned income to the disenfranchised because they need to salve their guilty conscience. Throwing fiat currency at social ills does nothing to eradicate the root of said illness. In all the decades that I have been donating ‘money’ to social causes nothing has changed…so, how is that possible?
      Capitalists are poor beyond measure because they lack heart…they lack spiritual and emotional health. Their poverty is the root of all physical poverty.

I too love old stuff, farm stuff, kitchen stuff and the connection it brings to the ways of a bygone era. The pain is palpable in your last paragraph, “a farmer’s last days.” Along with the old stuff, we need to remember to collect the old stories of these hardworking people. I believe that is where the treasure truly lies.
Thank You Mr. Logsdon for touching my heart this morning.

Oh what I wouldn’t give to find an old seed cleaner. I have a feeling they’re probably illegal or soon will be.

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