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Barry Schrader


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  • Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life

The Articles started December 2007.


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Farm auctions dwindle, but still a slice of Americana

By Barry Schrader.................................March 26, 2008

Farm auctions in DeKalb County were once so numerous they were held three times a week all during March, when farms changed hands. Now there may be only a couple in the county each Spring.
John Almburg, the senior member of the Almburg Auctioneering family at age 79, was practicing his trade as he has the past 45 years at the Jack Watson farm south of DeKalb one raw, cold Saturday earlier this month. John had all three generations of the family working this day-son Steve and grandson Andrew. They are not only super salesmen, but also part showmen and experts on the merchandise they are offering. This day there were 175 bidders, farmers from several counties turned out, plus another 50 family members and friends who braved the 20 degree weather to take part in a Midwestern ritual that hasn't changed much over the last century. John had a special interest in working this time, as a lifelong friend, Jack Watson, also 79, was holding this sale. John explained to the crowd that he and Watson had known each other through 4-H since they were kids. "I played softball against him-John was one of the Afton farm boys and I was with the Malta Plow Boys-they always seemed to beat us," he chuckled.
Then getting down to business he began the sale with a pair of safety stands that protect the farmer when he is underneath repairing machinery. They went for a reasonable $90 to bidder number eight, A few items later a "slightly rusty" milk can was sold for $24. And so it went for nearly three hours as some 175 items, some grouped in bunches, were auctioned in rapid-fire fashion. The top sellers were four John Deere tractors-the newest a Model 4250 bringing better than $30,000 and the Model 7520 four wheel drive for $15,000.
Afterwards Watson said, "Overall, I was very pleased with the auction and thought it was very well attended." He got his check, minus commission and expenses from the Almburgs a half hour after the sale ended. Unlike many farmers who sell and move to town, Watson plans to stay in his farm home, "until they take me off to the Afton cemetery," he kidded. Back home for the weekend were his daughters Gayle from Wisconsin, Nancy from Nebraska, and son John from nearby Cortland. They were there to offer support on this bittersweet occasion.
Watson mentioned that one bidder who was interested in a single tractor tire for a tractor in his collection stayed in Dubuque, Iowa and bid by cell phone. He was high bidder so drove all the way from Iowa the next day to pick up his purchase. According to Almburg that is not unusual these days to have buyers arrange to do their bidding by phone so the auctioneer has one of his staff call the bidder just prior to the item coming up at the auction and keeps him on the line during that item's bidding.
Interested in learning more about the mysteries of auctioneering, I talked with a friend at Oak Crest retirement center in DeKalb, Clarence Floit, who was in the auction business for 48 years with his partner Rex Nelson. Floit said his dad took him to his first auction at age 8. "I was so fascinated with the auctioneer I went home and started practicing. I just had to do it and practiced for years…." He never went to auctioneer's school, but handled hundreds of farm sales, using a cane in those days to get people's attention. Recalling the way people bid, and still do, he said "certain guys would stand close and just nudge you when they wanted to bid. Others might wink, touch the bill of their cap or nod their head. Some didn't want others to know they were bidding, so you had to know what to watch for."
Floit, now 84, recalled one outdoor auction he conducted in 20 degrees below zero weather. "The next day I didn't have a voice left, so couldn't have done another one."
Farm machinery and household auctions are a slice of Americana that are well worth the experience of attending-but try to pick a day when it is above freezing. Even if you don't bid on anything, the one dollar coffee and $2.50 hot dogs are a bargain at the food trailer.

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115

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