Auction Road

We go to quite a few auctions. If you’ve never experienced one, I highly recommend it. I’m talking about auctions that are held on someone’s front lawn or barn, sometimes referred to as estate sales or farm auctions. We leave our house at the crack of dawn, pick up something greasy and fast to munch on, and drive until the sun has risen and we find a parking space among rows of other early risers. I hustle to the goods and my husband registers and gets our number.


Here in the Midwest we are lucky to still have some of these farm and estate auctions, where you might be as likely to find an old wringer washing machine as you would collectible pottery or beautiful primitive tools. But they are dwindling. The auction concept will never go away, but it is getting harder to sift through the pages of tractor and surplus auctions and find the events that I consider treasure hunts.


If you do manage to find yourself at a good old auction you’ll still have to do a lot of digging. That’s what treasure hunting is all about! You’ll dig through boxes of rotten blankets, piles of forgotten china, and occasionally find something that no one else has noticed, or something that no one else seems to care about but you.

Then the bidding begins. I was shy at my first auction, as if anyone needs help to yelp out their interest in something one of a kind passing before their eyes. But I learned quickly, and we started coming home with truckloads of stuff.

It isn’t all treasure. At our favored auctions you are sometimes forced to purchase an enormous quantity of unwanted goods in order to get that one tiny thing you saw in the bottom of a box. It’s called “putting it together.” But sometimes, in these gigantic lots of little this and thats you will once again stumble upon something that you had no idea you liked, or that someone else might. Or you find you’ve unwittingly purchased four or five neat old wooden crates for the $10 you spent trying to get a pair of wool carders. We have learned so much this way.


Recently we have been attending horse tack auctions or auctions where there would like be a large quantity of bridle and harness material. It is mind boggling what some of yesteryear’s farmers kept hidden in their barns. By the way we have all those barn red yokes in our garage now and if any of you would like one for your living room feel free to contact me.


It is also frustrating and sad how little interest there is in some precious antiques. I know not everyone has a barn or space in a garage to store an old buggy, for example, but it’s pretty obvious from attending dozens of farm auctions that there is a gross underappreciation of the handmade things that made early American life possible, or to reuse the materials they yield even in todays “maker” and “repurposing” atmosphere.

With that in mind I want to encourage all you readers to go to an auction! Discover a slice of American life you maybe knew nothing about, spend some money and take home something very special and unique. Looking back I wish I would have started going to auctions when I was in my early twenties.

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your first auction.

1: Do your research and only go to an auction that truly interests you.

2: Have a budget.

3: Bring a friend. This tip isn’t because two is twice as much fun (though it can be), but because you’ll need to help one another guard your purchases, carry things, and look at sale rings going on simultaneously.

4: Bring snacks. There is usually a snack truck but they can get ridiculously overpriced.

5: Bring water.

6: Empty your vehicle before you get to the auction.

7: Dress appropriately. You will probably get dirty.

8: Be bold and have fun.



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