There is nothing quite like an auction, especially a livestock auction. My first exposure to livestock auctions came when I was a sophomore in high school when I began clerking the sale at Farmers Commission Co. in South Carthage for Mr. Bobby Woodard. The late Jerry Johnson was the auctioneer back in those days. Jerry Johnson was one of the best. He was smart, and he was fast. Jerry liked to sell “single shots” at the rate of four a minute. It was nothing short of madness trying to keep up with him. After college, I worked with Jerry at Mid-State Producers in Woodbury. I learned there is a lot more going on in an auction than meets the eye. A great auctioneer is part entertainer, part evangelist, part salesman and part psychologist. For me, a livestock auction is an exciting place to be.
A private annual production sale on a home farm or ranch is another matter entirely. To me, it is pure Americana – a solid family of people who love the land and the livestock they produce offering the best of their efforts to the world. It doesn’t get any better than that.
The year of our bull purchase my grandfather and I arrived early at Coley Hereford Farm to inspect the bulls one last time before the auction. My grandfather didn’t know I had already “settled” on one particular bull. I wrote last week my choice was a cow numbered “344.”
It was a “banner” day – the crowd, the smell of the barn, the cattle in “show” condition, the auction ring with knee-deep shavings, the excitement of the auction atmosphere. “Exhilarating” is the word that comes to mind.
The auctioneer that day was “Ham” Hamilton. He was one of the best in the business. He knew all the tricks. He knew when to stop and do some selling, and he knew how to keep the crowd involved in the auction. He knew when to tell a joke and when to be serious. One of my favorite “Ham” Hamilton jokes told that day goes like this:
A man, well up in years, on a visit with his doctor complains, “Doc, I’ve got a problem.”
“What’s the problem?” asks the doctor.
“Every morning at 6:30, mother nature calls,” says the man.
“Are you telling me you have a “movement” every morning at 6:30?” asks the doctor.
“That’s right,” says the man. “Every morning at 6:30, seven days week.”
“Why that’s not a problem.” exclaimed the doctor. “For a man your age to be that regular, that’s a blessing.”
“No it’s not.” lamented the man. “I don’t wake up until 7.”
The auction was in full swing when “our” bull entered the ring. My heart was pounding so hard I could hardly get my breath. In that small auction ring, I must admit, he looked bigger and better than ever. I’m not sure if the auctioneer started him at $500 or $1,000. I got in at $1,400.
My grandfather and I were sitting on the second row. When I bid $1,600, he leaned into me and whispered, “Are we in?”
“Yes sir,” I replied. Then, I bid $1,800.
“Is that us?” he inquired. There was a note of concern in his voice.
“Uh huh,” I responded, indicating we still had the bid. Then, I bid $2,000.
He leaned into me again and meekly whispered, “If we wait, we might buy one of those younger bulls for a lot less money.”
“Yes, sir,” I answered. Then I bid $2,200… and held my breath.
The auctioneer pounded his gavel.
“Sold…to the young man on the second row.”
I rose to my feet and announced, “D.T. and Jack McCall from Carthage.”
We had just purchased a lot of bull.
That auction was one of the few times in my life when I found I had “the upper hand” on my grandfather, D.T. McCall.
Jack McCall is an author and also writes a weekly column for The Lebanon Democrat.