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Farm auctions dwindle, but still a slice of Americana
By Barry Schrader.................................March
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,"
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
." 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
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