If you asked most auctioneers I think they’d agree that momentum is what makes auctions the best way to sell darn near anything.
There are a lot of things that can break the momentum and freeze an auction as if someone had fired off a stink bomb. A long-winded color commentator, rookie ring man or mechanical difficulty can all stop the flow of commerce faster than an expired credit card. I once saw the in-gate at a bull sale get so stuck that by the time they cut it loose with a cutting torch a once successful sale had been reduced to a begging affair. Bad weather will stop any auction before it gets started, as will auctioneers who forgot the sale date, and cold-hearted bankers. You’d be surprised how bank lien notices encourage prospective buyers to keep their hands in their pockets.
When the early-adopters first started trying to incorporate Internet bids into live auctions there were many disgruntled auctioneers as a result of the slow bidding. No matter how long an auctioneer waited to sell out, the person watching the computer for Internet bids would always yip that he’d got a bid about a microsecond after the auctioneer had said, “Sold.” The nerds and geeks invariably said this was because of a “slow server,” which most auctioneers thought was a lazy waitress.
Other times the computer glitches that slowed down sales were not the fault of IBM or Apple. I recall one incident when an auctioneer on the block got so frustrated with the computer that he picked it up and threw it into the sale ring. Which might have speeded up the sale if they didn’t have to resell every animal because the computer contained the only reliable evidence of who bought what earlier in the day.
Then there was the time a big mouthed blowhard had bragged to everyone that he was going to give $100,000 for a herd bull prospect at an upcoming sale. He couldn’t be at the sale so the sale manager got him on the phone on sale day and he bid right along to about $3,500, but suddenly the line went dead. They spent half an hour trying to get him on the phone again but for some reason his line was always busy. Like maybe it had been taken off the hook! Later the blowhard said that he’d been prepared to give a quarter million for the bull that eventually brought $15,000. Yeah, right.
I’ve already written a column about the time that 90% of the people at a certain big time Brangus sale in Arizona got food poisoning from eating the beans and spent the sale in the porta potties. Talk about a speed bump! Those bad beans slowed that sale down to the pace of a three legged turtle. It may sound funny now but believe this bean eater… it wasn’t very funny at the time.
Of course, nothing will stop a sale before it gets going like a bad market or an inferior product. Combine the two and you have what we in the business call a “wreck.” We were trying to sell a breed that was colder than Anchorage in January, when one of the bulls broke out of the sale ring. People on the front rows got so scared they ran to the top of the bleachers, which caused them to fall over backwards. It didn’t help when half the crowd left the sale pavilion to go watch a couple idiots, who didn’t have the brains of a dead battery, try to rope the escaped bull from the back of a pickup, first on the fairgrounds and later on the Interstate. Then the fella whose cattle we were trying to sell had a mild heart attack and had to be hauled away in an ambulance. Evidently he needed the proceeds from the sale because as he was being loaded into the meat wagon he loudly encouraged everyone to, “Bid em up high, boys.”
You can’t say we didn’t try. After we finally got restarted the next ten bulls that came into the ring never got a bid. Then the auctioneer said that if anyone in the crowd had a bull they wanted to buy to please raise their hand and we’d bring that scamp into the sale ring and then we’d have an auction. Not a single hand was raised!
That’s usually a pretty good momentum stopper right there!
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News