Lee Pitts: Getting Hammered
The soundtrack of my life has been the chant of an auctioneer.
In the past 43 years I have attended thousands of auctions and have seen auctions from every angle as a consignor, buyer, ring man, clerk, auctioneer, gate man and announcer of a video auction company for 20 years that sold nearly half a million head per year. I have helped sell everything from art to road graders and the only kind of auction I think I haven’t worked is one for hogs. And it’s not on my bucket list. As an auction junkie I formed the following opinions.
Auctioneers with the slowest chants are wine and art auctioneers while the fastest are cattle colonels. The best person to have at an auction is the bidder who raises his or her hand and keeps it in the air, while the least favorite person is a non-buying busy-body who constantly waves to friends. The most male dominated crowds are found at Safari Club, Rocky Mountain Elk and Duck’s Unlimited auctions while more females are found at quilt auctions.
The neatest trick I’ve ever seen an auctioneer do was frequently performed by Bert and Ruben Reyes in South Texas. My friends had the ability to sell in both English and Spanish and could switch back and forth on the same lot depending on who was bidding.
The least dangerous auctions are cake auctions and you’d think that gun auctions might be the most dangerous but auto auctions are. Not because they can bankrupt you but because I almost got run over by a 56 Chevy at a car auction once.
The biggest steals at auctions are found at estate sales and silent auctions. The worse deals are found at any auction where the sales crew wears tuxedos, the auction has a theme, there is valet parking, food is served on real dishes and one spouse often asks the other for their opinion. I have NEVER seen a cow buyer ask a wife, or a mistress, for permission to bid.
The shortest sales are charity auctions and the longest are cattle video auctions, often lasting a week! The highest commission rates are at bit, spur and art auctions where the sales management often charges the consignor 20 percent AND the buyer 20 percent. The cheapest commission rates are found at your local auction market.
The most fun I ever had at a sale was working a farm auction with my buddy Butch and the worst time I ever had was a 600 head bull sale where I worked the ring after a dentist had just removed a wisdom tooth from my mouth with a hammer and chisel! The best economic climate for a cattle sale was last year and the worst was in 1973 when I started my career as a ring man. Back then we often had to stop bull sales because there were no buyers and we had a sale in Arizona once where we failed to sell a single animal! The quickest auction was a real estate auction where we only sold one house. I took two bids the entire auction after traveling four hours to get there. The most savvy bidders are cow buyers and the least savvy are buyers at Jr. Livestock auctions. Bless their charitable hearts.
The dirtiest auction I ever worked was a llama sale when one spit at me. (That hardly ever happens at cow sales.) The strangest thing I’ve ever seen sold was a rabbit carrying the embryo of a Chianina and we even sold an auction market once. At auction, of course. Another unusual item I saw sold was O.J. Simpson’s Ferrari with the license plate “JUICE”. It was interesting because the insulation under the hood had been sliced and diced where the cops had been looking for the murder weapon.
One of my most unforgettable memories was the charity auction where we didn’t discover there was no clerk until after the sale was over. But I think my favorite auction memory occurred when computers were first being introduced to auction markets. Yes, I was a witness to the legendary occasion when a hot-headed auctioneer threw a brand new computer into the ring causing a very big computer crash. And I do mean crash. With it went the record of all the prices paid for the preceding three hours’ work!
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