"SALE-O...SALE-O...Starting NOW! SALE-O...SALE-O..."
At last, it's the moment when three or four men in matching shirts and jeans and R.M. Williams boots, all sporting their shady Akubra hats - suddenly jump up on the long tray-top of the 'Sundries' truck...and the Auction begins.
The first order of business is to welcome all buyers and wish them success - then to name and often introduce the present property owner, and to tell the reason for this sale, on this day. Maybe this owner has sold his farm and is retiring...or moving to another home, another type of farming... or sometimes, right out of farming altogether, for one reason or another.
Then the auctioneer details the terms of the sale (e.g. payment to be made in full prior to removal of goods - except in the case of alternative financial arrangements having been made prior to the sale - usually for larger items, for instance). He also stresses the need to have a registered number - obtained from the temporary 'office' usually set up in one of the farm sheds. Only bids from registered buyers with their card displaying a large number will be recognised and accepted.
This preamble ends with a brief run-through of the order of the sale, with much arm waving and pointing to the rows of goods for sale. And now the auctioneer declares the sale open and begins his chant, describing the item (or box of items) and suggesting -
"Well, this one must be worth - ah-h-h, what would we say? $100? Do I hear 100?" (waits, looks around in all directions... no response, so he continues) "75 maybe? Oh, come on fellows - there MUST be a 50 out there somewhere...surely? This is a top quality (whatever)- worth every bit of $100. Come on! Don't be shy." (waits briefly again) "OK, 20 then. $20 only...YES! Thank you sir. I have a bid of $20 to get us started ladies and gentlemen. Do I hear $25?"
And so it progresses. The auctioneer and his assistants have their heads swiveling constantly, scanning the crowd for the anticipated bids; shouting loudly as they lunge forward, pointing in the general direction of the current bid, "YES!...on the right", or "Here's a third (or fourth) punter."
And, in the meantime, the auctioneer continues his spiel, repeating the increasing amount, interspersed with cajoling or challenging statements, one after another, to the participants. "It's back to you sir...yes, you over there, at the back. Surely you won't let this one slip through your fingers...just for a paltry $5 more??"
Until suddenly, no more bids are apparent - and then the auctioneer says, "OK folks...at $... No more bids? Are you sure? This will be the bargain of the sale! Sure? Going once...(pauses, looking in each direction) Going twice...(and then he claps his hands loudly). All done at the bargain price of $... to No... " - and he moves on to the next item as an assistant records the number on one of the many pages of a typed list on his clipboard. Periodically, as a sheet is filled, a 'runner' delivers it to the 'office' so the girls there can begin preparation of the individual dockets, ready for totaling when each buyer is finished.
How do so many auctioneers become such amazing entertainers - on top of all the practical demands of the job? It's a mystery, when you consider the scope of knowledge they require - firstly of the goods themselves, and to be able to recognise weird and wonderful and quite obscure 'parts' of tools or machinery dating from maybe decades ago. And then to be able to guess a reasonable price to start the bidding. How often does the final price end up SO close to the first opener offered by our auctioneer - despite dipping to alarmingly low levels before once again lifting to the heights? It happens far more often than you would believe.
And in between all of this - and his 'machine gun' delivery, he'll acknowledge people he knows - MANY of them - and by name as well! "Aw come on George. Let the moths out...they need some air!" - or, "Hey Fred...thought you were looking for one of these the other week. Here's a beauty for you...", and on and on he goes. Seriously awesome!
As well, the auctioneer and his assistants must be able to recognise the many and varied ways that bidders...bid! Ordinary people just lift their numbered card, or maybe point a finger skywards, whilst others hold their hand against their face and lift a finger - and either shake their head to stop bidding...or simply turn away.
Amongst the buyers, however, will be many who for one reason or another, don't want to be identified as an interested party. This can be the case when its maybe a scrap-metal buyer looking for ultimate bargains to melt down. The same is also true of the entrepreneur-type who will purchase something and 'do it up' and resell for a healthy profit. Now he would rather not be identified with this purchase price. Or maybe it's some wealthy local farmer who may have the price artificially boosted by other 'mock' buyers, just to see him pay more because - "he can afford it - old moneybags!" But then we have the 'regulars', sometimes other agents buying on behalf of individual farmers from their own area (which could well be quite some distance away).
Now we see the wink; the hand holding the chin, or a solid stare that means the bidder is still bidding; the eyebrow lift; the mouth or nose twitch - here a scratch, there a rub - truly, the choices are endless. An abrupt stop to any of these means the bidding is over for that individual - OR - he has been secretly successful.
Many fascinating aspects of human nature are demonstrated at a Farm Clearing Sale. One in particular, is a phenomenon that may involve a strange type of seemingly 'wannabe' status that all this selling can engender. What happens is that the usually sage and sensible men of the land suddenly throw caution to the wind in their sudden, overwhelming desire to 'own' a particular item - and the bidding goes higher...and higher. And you see ordinary people paying extraordinary prices - obviously far above their plans (or budget) - and sometimes even above new prices! Truly!
No warranties or guarantees - often, not even an Operating Manual! Must be tricky when they get it home. At such times, the seller first scratches his head in disbelief, and then rubs his hands with glee. And those 'in the know' of the appropriate price raise their eyebrows, exchange dubious glances, and sometimes share a snigger. "What was he thinking of?" their expressions obviously ask.
So the sale continues, usually for four or more hours, with the auctioneer cheerfully shouting his way through sundries and tools and fencing; stock feed and water troughs and crop seed; farm implements and machinery and vehicles - and somewhere in between - pens of stock - maybe cattle or sheep - or both. And he never misses a beat - and he almost always knows the going price of the day. If not, it's a modest, "OK fellers - set me right on these, will you? What do you reckon they're worth?
But that is a rare occurrence if it's stock or fodder or the farm 'gear'. He almost always seems to know these prices. No, this is most often heard towards the end of the sale, as he tackles a multitude of household goods - furniture, bedding, crockery and cutlery, ornaments, etc. etc. His requests for help on pricing - and his voice (finally starting to get just a little hoarse) - clearly show the end of the sale is near, and he couldn't be happier.
All that's left is to thank all the buyers for attending - and then take care of the minor detail of somehow getting his voice...and his enthusiasm, back in gear, ready to do it all again next week!
What a man! What a show!
© 2011 Christine Larsen All Rights Reserved Worldwide
If this story has whet your appetite for more information and atmosphere of the Farm Clearing Sale, please enjoy my other articles starting with the prefix - 'Going, Going...Gone - '
And if you want to get the true 'flavour and atmosphere' of the whole Farm Clearing Sale picture, have a look at my Squidoo lens - The Farmer Needs a Wife
I particularly love the fantastic YouTube video of an auction in the USA - not Australian - but so true to reality...just listen to that auctioneer! I have also written a section about the long-suffering Farmer's Wife's extra duties involved in these sales - whether 'Home or Away'. Enjoy!