Lee Pitts: Round mounds of sound
July 3, 2014
Many of the great cattle auctioneers and ringmen of yesteryear were "fully figured" men. Most of the road agents today seem to be in better shape but a lot of the men I traveled with were well-marbled big men with booming voices and little chance of ever becoming thoroughbred jockeys. One of the greatest was a man the ringmen affectionately called behind his back the "Round Mound of Sound." I won't tell you his real name because I liked him too much, but I will say this: he blew a button off his shirt once and it darn near killed the clerk. It was later found imbedded in a wall.
Being a purebred livestock auctioneer or ringman has never been a wise choice from a health standpoint. Because a fellow needed his energy for a long grueling day, theirs would start with a buffet breakfast in a chain motel with croissants, bagels with cream cheese, a self-cooked waffle and three glasses of sweet tea. One Texas ringman friend of mine started each day off with a big can of caffeinated cola. I suppose today he's drinking 5 Hour Energy instead.
After breakfast you'd travel to the sale site and eat a free donut, or three, while looking at the cattle. Because purebred breeders are so competitive, they all try to provide the best lunch which always included a big chunk of barbecued beef, some beans, salad, and a scrumptious dessert. Then, after working a six hour sale without a break, you'd drive four hours to get to a pre-sale party where another breeder would serve a big meal which included beans, salad, a scrumptious dessert and a healthy heaping of barbecued beef. In 40 years on the road I never saw chicken or a vegetarian entree served at a bull sale. It would have been occupational suicide.
The next day the cycle would be repeated. Keep that up for 30 years and it's no wonder some of my friends developed love handles, muffin tops, beer bellies, man boobs, pot bellies and sagging underarms. Some auctioneers had more backfat than a Duroc, could barely squeeze behind the microphone on the auction block. When they backed up they went "beep, beep, beep."
Many purebred auctioneers also owned an auction market, which has to be one of the most stressful jobs there is. That's why many developed ulcers, type 2 diabetes, clogged arteries and had to buy group insurance just for themselves. Dunlap Disease was rampant and easy to spot because their bellies done-lapped their belts. Some also had the much dreaded Furniture Syndrome where their chests fell into their drawers.
There were exceptions: Skinner Hardy, one of the greats, kept himself lean by running every morning, until a man-killing dog chased him out of Ontario, Ore.
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Look in the back seat of a road agent's car and you'd find empty KFC cartons, fast food sacks, French fry wrappers, the obligatory charity chocolate bar or a box of Girl Scout cookies. That's because we were always in a hurry and had to eat on the run. I think my buddy Butch invented the drive-through concept. He had one of the earliest cell phones and I'll never forget the time he called up ahead to Baker, Oregon, placed an order for a pepperoni pizza, which we grabbed as we flew through town.
We often traveled in bunches and when we had the time, we all had our favorite places to stop for gastronomic delights, such as the berry cobbler and ice cream at Famoso, breakfasts at Momma's, chicken fried steak in San Angelo and alligator chili anywhere in the South. We'd ask for a table for four and food for twelve.
This explains why an elevator full of ringmen and auctioneers at John Ascuaga's Nugget once failed to budge and why when we get our annual boot polishing at Denver or Houston we have to take the shoeshine man's word for it that they look good.
When auctioneers and ring men begrudgingly get off the road, many finally start "watching" their weight. How convenient then that it's right out front and so easy to see.