Volume X, No. 2, Winter 1982
WARREN DAMPIER'S FARM AUCTION
by Kirsten Ksara
Photography by Sheila Jones, Allen Gage, Deidra Morgan, Vickie Hooper, Ruth Massey
"I wonder if this works. I ain't paying nothing for something that ain't working," said a man examining an old radio which would soon be auctioned off.
"This used to be called junk. Now it's antiques," one old-timer said looking at a box of odds and ends.
A lady looking through the Victorian-style T-shape frame house just emptied of its old furniture and utensils, said, "This used to be a pretty house in its day."
A toothless, gray-haired, old man climbing the stair behind her said, "Well, I used to be a pretty feller in my day, too."
Outside in the partly overcast twenty degree temperature, a few other early arrivals were waiting for the sale to begin, tramping down the snow for a place to stand. "I should have brought my skis. This snow's too deep to walk in," a robust man dressed in insulated coveralls said. The wet snow came up over the top of the plastic bags he had tied around his feet. The melted snow left a dark, wet ring around his pant legs just above the edges of the bags.
It was a cold, crisp February morning. The clean wind-sculptured snow covering everything gave a peaceful background to the hustle and bustle of activity beginning in the farmyard. Though the sale wasn't to start for over an hour, the narrow, curving driveway leading down the hill to the valley farm was packed with cars. Though the lane had been graded, the slippery surface made it difficult to stay on the road. Not a minute went by without someone calling, "I'm stuck! Can you get me out?"
People who had already descended the steep slope that morning looked on with amused interest, and good naturedly lent a hand to those in the stuck cars. There was a feeling of gaiety and expectation in the air. Everyone was in a good mood. A six inch snow didn't dampen their spirits a bit at an all day farm auction sale. To the people in the gathering crowd, the auction was time to see friends, to gossip, to buy things, and to see how the Warren Dampier farm had changed since they had last seen it.
The farm, bordered by woods, lay in a valley bisected by tree-lined Goodwin Hollow and the winding lane which led to it. The outbuildings lay at the foot of the hill where farmers were busy inspecting the machinery and cattle. From there the drive went up to the crest of another steep hill to the abandoned farmhouse, once the home of a large and busy family, where strangers now milled about in the front yard examining items that had once belonged to family members.
This farm had belonged to Laclede County Presiding Judge Warren Dampier as it had belonged to his father before him. One of the oldest and largest farms in the community, Judge Dampier had just sold 296 acres of it to Roscoe Bishop, his neighbor on the west.
"My folks came here in 1919 when I was six months old," said Judge Dampier. "I was raised here along with two other brothers and one sister. I married my wife in ninteen and forty and we come here in forty-one. We lived and worked on this farm until nineteen and eighty-one. My wife passed away last October, and that's why I sold the farm to my neighbor, Roscoe Bishop. They live right down the road from me and we've seen their kids grow up. I was tickled to death to have the farm go to people like them."
Warren Dampier looked with pride across the snow-covered fields of his fault, back to the house and barns and then to his family standing beside him. "This is my daughter, Lisa. She'll be fifteen in March. I'm kind of proud of her. She's still at home, but I've got two boys that's married and away from home. One of them, Stanley, is here today.
"I lived here in this old house twenty-five years and then I moved up the hill across the road in 1965," he continued as a few more people interested in the history of the farm gathered around the little group. "Then I was elected
Judge in 1970. I took office in 1971 and I'm on my twelfth year as presiding judge. But you get to the point where you need to make some changes in life. Before my wife passed away we were going to semi-retire and do a little traveling. And I will definitely Since she passed away. But I've still got land across the road there, and I kept a few head of cattle. I can't quit. I'm just semi-retired. I don't want to rock yet--just want to rest a bit. My daughter and I are going to do a little traveling this summer when she gets out of school. It's what I need to do."
He looked over at the line of sale items which had been in his family for many years. There was an antique typewriter, a treadle sewing machine, bedsteads and other articles of furniture, and some farming and blacksmithing equipment dating back to the days when many farms had their own blacksmith shops.
The house and outbuildings were built sometime in the early 1900s. To save on construction costs the builders used nails only in the house and smaller outbuildings, using the old-fashioned square nails. The barn was put together entirely with wooden pegs. The barn doors were walnut and had been cut in a saw-mill--unusual for that day and time. The house itself was a fairly large two-story home, which had never been modernized with electricity or plumbing. Even though the paint was peeling off its walls, the old flowered wallpaper was faded and coming down and the narrow staircase was unsteady, it was easy to see the house had once been a beautiful home with elegant moldings and facings.
The day before the auction the family had arranged a display of the items for sale. Tables, beds and dressers stood in a row in the snow on the front lawn, loaded with smaller items for buyers to examine. Not only were there large appliances and furniture for sale, there were many odds and ends like newspapers, books, spare parts belonging to various machines and other knick-knacks collected by the family over the years.
Gerald Knight, the auctioneer, was responsible for everything--getting the furniture together, steam cleaning the machinery and displaying it for sale, testing the cattle for certain diseases, ear tagging them, doing the publicity for the sale, as well as conducting the actual auction itself. Gerald had several helpers to help with the bidding, handling the cattle, bookkeeping tasks and running the concession stand. There was also a security man for the auction although Gerald said he rarely had any trouble.
Concessions and cashier duties were handled in a van which Gerald moved from place to place with each auction. Hot-dogs, hamburgers and drinks were offered from a window counter at the back of the van, while people lined up at a side window to get their numbers for the auction. Everyone who wanted to bid at the auction had to have a number written on a large colored card, which the buyer held up to identify himself when he made a bid. If the auctioneers did not know the people, they had to show identification and sign a form before the auction started to guard against bad checks. Gerald changes the color of the number cards from sale to sale so people cannot buy things without first registering and getting a number. Later, at this same side window, people would pay for the things they bought.
"Gather around and we'll start the sale," Gerald called about eleven o'clock to the waiting crowd gathered around the row of furniture. "Gather around close and we'll all keep warm. Appreciate you all coming out today as cold as it is. We'll start right here on the hill on the furniture," he continued as people hurried to get in a good location for the bidding. "Then we'll go on down the hill to the machinery and the last thing will be the cattle by the barn. If you need to leave anything today because of the weather, leave it at your own risk, naturally. It's perfectly all right with Judge Dampier. Phil Esther, my assistant, will help me with the sale today. Glen Montgomery will be doing the clerking, so show your numbers to him. He'll keep track of what you buy and your bid. Both of the boys and myself will do our best to move the sale right along. Settle up with the girls in the van, and nothing should be removed until it's settled for. But anyway, glad to have you all, and here we go. On the rocker, all rightee. All right here we go. Who'd give me ten there? Ten let's go. Five? Five-five-five-and-a-half-now-six-now-seven-seven-let's go..."
Scenes at the sale.
The chant continued as people moved to get in closer, intent only on the item on sale. Occasionally, people would comment on the value of an item, or stomp their feet to keep warm, but for the most part the serious buyers were quiet, everyone intent on Gerald's voice.
Phil Esther helped Gerald watch for bids, and would call them out to Gerald when he saw them. Some of the people were very subtle in their bidding. Some people would tug on their ear, raise a finger, or just nod their head to bid. Gerald carried a portable loud speaker with a microphone strapped to his chest, so the crowd could hear him better. If he turned his head to look for bids, the audience couldn't hear him because the mike wouldn't pick up his voice. Therefore, Phil helped him by scanning the crowd constantly looking for bids. "Ho, ho, ho," Phil called out when someone raised the bid. Glen also helped look for bids in addition to the clerking duties. "Yep, yep!" he would call.
Gerald kept his eyes on the primary bidders, first one, then the other, encouraging them by voice, expression and actions. When obvious he had wrung out the top bid, he and Phil scanned the crowd for a new bidder before closing the bid.
"...now-ten-ten-go-ten-go-eleven-now-eleven-and-a-half-twelve-twelve, SOLD! The rocker to number six!" announced Gerald.
Some latecomers, seeing the auction had already started, rushed to get in on the bidding. "I hope he hasn't sold the old dresser," a woman commented to her husband as they hurried up the slippery hill. By this time the sun had broken through the thin cloud cover. The brightness and warmth were already softening the snow crust.
Most of the late comers were local farmers interested only in the cattle and farm machinery to be sold later. While the household items were selling, they visited with one another about the weather, cattle and current affairs. They all made it a point to greet Judge Dampier and tease his daughter a little bit.
Taking advantage of the crowd, one man set a basket of puppies bearing the sign, "Puppies for sale. $20.00," in the back of his truck. Several children, not interested in the sale, played with the puppies for most of the morning.
"Get your little deal there--a canister set and a good old covered pan'" continued Gerald. "All right, forty-fifty-the re-now- forty-now-fifty-fifty-sixty-we-got-fifty-now-sixty-sixty-seventy-five-seventy-five-seventy-five-all-right, SOLD.' Number twenty-six," he called to Glen Montgomery, who was busily recording the items, the amount of the bid and bidders numbers as number twenty-six held up his card. Many had their number displayed on hats or in jacket pockets.
"Got a saw here, and I'd say it's sure enough all right," said Phil. As Gerald progressed down the line of goods, Phil held each new item in his gloved hand above his head so the crowd pressed tightly around him could see it.
"We'll sell this saw to work," Gerald told the crowd as they moved with him to the next item. "Plug it in while you' re here. You' 11 have to go around to the generator in the back of the pickup. Sell it to work. If it don't work, you don't own it. All right, here we are looking for twenty there, seven-and-a-half-go-ten-ten-here -ten-there-ten-and-a-half-eleven then," Gerald chanted. "Oh-ten-eleven-eleven-now-eleven-now-twelve-now- fourteen- fourteen-who'll-bid-fourteen-fourteen, SOLD' Number six. Thank you sir. All right, now we have this box of primitives here. Got an old horseshoe, soldering iron, what have you. All right here, who'll give five for the boxful?"
Judge Dampier watched the sale as it progressed, particularly interested in his friends' impressions of the sale. He had known most of these people since boyhood. They' d shared some good times, and now his neighbors seemed to feel it was their duty to help him through a difficult one.
"There's a lot of memories here for me," the Judge told one friend. "My wife came here when she was pretty young. I guess she was a little over eighteen years old when we come, maybe about nineteen.
"There used to be a little old house--see that cistern over there?" he continued. "We hauled our water from it. That' s where we started out. I'd pitch hay with a fork for fifty cents a day, from the time dew got off there in the morning until dew fell that night. I don't know whether we had enough money to buy our dinner or not, by golly. It was hard times. We had a little two-room house the first year we were married, and my mother and her mother gave us some furniture--that's kind of the way we did. We was married forty-one years and a couple of months. You know something about a gal when you' re around her that long," he laughed.
The next item up for sale was an old worn, handmade quilt spread out over the springs of an iron bedstead. Though many people looked skeptically at the quilt, Gerald tried to sell it, anyway.
"There's a handmade one'" he called. "All righty, who'll give seven and a half for it? Seven-and-a-half-seven dollars?" When he didn't get a beginning bid, Gerald then decided to change his tactics, "Oh, it's got a little fray in it," he said. "I tell you what. We'll sell you the bed and give you the quilt. All right, dollar bill, one and a half..."
"That quilt's not good enough for the dogs," commented a man who wore a stocking cap down over his ears.
"Yeah," said his friend, "put it out there for the calves."
"That damn Gerald'll talk you into anything," laughed a third man.
Many people, like Ella Wrinkle, had specific items advertised on the sale bill that they wanted to bid on. At this point the antique furnishings seemed to be more in demand than the more recent refrigerators and other appliances. Ella said, "I always come for antiques and bargains, but a lot of people come for the fellowship, to get out. I have my eye on that kitchen cupboard." She walked over to the wooden cabinet and opened a little door on the left side. "See, there's this bin up here to put in a sack of flour. Then down here you can open the door and sift it out. It was nice." She pulled out the sliding counter, "Probably in the olden days this is where the woman stood to make the bread or the pies. And spices and everything was probably right up here," she said pointing to the little doors on top. "I'd like to restore this if I could get it. I'd probably have to move out half my kitchen to put it in, but I'd make room for it!"
As at almost any farm auction, the big attractions were cattle and farm equipment. While the furnishings from the house were selling, the lots with machinery and cattle were crowded with prospective buyers. Unlike the buyers of household equipment, who were interested mainly in antiques, the farmers were interested in the newer usable machinery like the hay baler and cattle feeder. The antiques such as the blacksmith blower, bench vise and end gate seeder drew little attention. However, there was a man interested in purchasing them because he owned an amusement park with an 1800's theme.
"Usually old antiques like these don't sell too high," he said, "but the good machinery like those feeders and stuff that they use today, they'll sell real good. Nobody uses the old stuff anymore. They're just antiques. People buy things like that end gate seeder just to sit them around and look at them. They' re obsolete."
By this time the sale of the household items was nearly over. One man was rather disgruntled about the fact that he missed an item he'd wanted to buy. "I wanted to buy that sewing machine, but I was standing there asleep and they was on the third item past it when I noticed," he told a friend. "I turned around and tried to buy it off the man who bought it, but he wanted thirty bucks for it. I told him to just keep it' It's only worth about thirteen dollars."
"Let's go to the machinery now," said Gerald when he sold the last piece of furniture. The crowd moved down the hill to the lot with the machines, welcoming the break in the sale. Many bought hot chocolate or coffee from the concession stand. They stomped their feet and rubbed their hands to get warm. Many of the men, including Judge Dampier, chewed tobacco and their spittle left brown stains in the snow. Some smoked or chewed on toothpicks.
"Hey, Warren, does the ram on the mower work?" asked one man.
"Yeah, sure does," replied the Judge.
"All right, we'll start at the far end and work our way around. We'll start with the hay baler over there," Gerald said. "All right one-thousand-thousand-what ' m-I-bid-go-eight-hundred-eighty-twenty-five-twenty-five..."
"What'd that baler bring?" asked Judge Dampier after it had been sold.
"Nine and a quarter," his friend replied.
"That much? I only had seven fifty in it'" exclaimed Judge Dampier. The reason the baler sold so well, Gerald said later, was that people trusted what Judge Dampier said. He said the baler worked, and people believed him.
During most of the sale Judge Dampier and Roscoe Bishop were together. "I hear you sold Roscoe your farm," an acquaintance said.
"Yeah. I don't have any children that are farmers," Dampier replied. "They've got better jobs. They got their jobs by the time they got out of college. But there's no better land than this. I wasn't ever worried about hitting a rock. It's fine."
"We' re mightly proud to get the farm," Roscoe said. "One of my boys, Darrel, is thinking of taking over the milking for me in a couple of years. He's thinking of fixing up the house to live in."
Lisa Dampier, who had been with her father for most of the morning, said, "I'll miss this old house. I always dreamed that I'd like to live way back then when they had all these big houses and things like that. I always wanted to come back over here and live in the house. Of course, you'd have to put an indoor bathroom in it'"
Ever aware of the progress of the sale Judge Dampier interrupted, "What's the post hole digger bringing?"
"Seven-o-five," someone answered. "Seven hundred and five dollars' You know what I give for that? Three hundred, I think. It's probably ten or twelve years old' I think that sprinkler over there brought a hundred and something, and I give less than a hundred for it. That' s something, ain't it?"
The story about the profit made on the post hole digger became Judge Dampier's favorite story of the day. He told everyone he met about it and they in turn were just as surprised as he.
One man was so intent on the sale he didn't see an old friend approach. "Well, Art, you old dog, how are you?" called the friend.
"Well, I'm down in the get alongs," he said.
One time Glen Montgomery wasn't where Gerald needed him because he was so busy. "It's hard to get good help anymore," laughed Gerald as Glen came running.
The sale then moved on to the cattle lot nearby. At the beginning of the sale there had been a lot of women bidding on the household items, but most of them had left. The people remaining were mostly local men wanting to buy cattle.
The final item of the day was the cattle sale, which attracted a majority of the buyers. The cattle were sold last to hold the crowd.
To facilitate the sale of the cattle the men had fixed portable pens and runs. Until sale time the cattle were in the lot by the barn. When ready to sell the specific cow and calf, the men ran them into an improvised runway leading to a temporary sale pen in front of the barn. Prospective buyers lined this pen where Phil kept the animals moving to show all sides. When sold, they ran into the holding lot until claimed by the new owners. Gates separated the pens to keep cattle in their proper places.
"Mr. Dampier has raised the majority of this herd and he has topped the local market every year with his calf crop," Gerald told the crowd from his post in the door at the front of the barn. He stood just over the sale pen framed in the open door of the rough oak barn.
"The cows have not had anything but hay and mineral. I think you can see on the calves that they do have a great deal of milk ability, so they do take care of themselves and their young. Now all the cows that have calves--believe there's seven calves on the ground right here at this time--will be sold in pairs. Then the other cows you can see are real heavy with calf and they start calving the first part of March. All right. We will load the cattle for you if you want to load today. Just let L.D. back there know and he'll sort your cattle and get them on the trailer for you. If you do want to leave them, please let him know also because he can get them turned out here in the pasture and we'll take care of them for a few days, but Judge Dampier has a phobia against wintering," he laughed. "What we're going to do now is let these cattle right out at this gate here on my right and just let them stay here on this lot. So kindly keep an eye on that gate there if you will. We'll be starting right here on the number eight cow. She's a five year old..." he continued as the fat white face cow and her calf were run into the sale ring where Phil prodded her to keep her moving.
The bidding on the first cow started, but it went slowly. Gerald suddenly stopped the bidding and spoke to the crowd. "Bear in mind one thing, and that's when you take that old big calf home you go ahead and then take her into early summer, you'll have a good young cow just ready to drop you a calf there again. C'mon we got five-sixty for her. They're good cows. The quality speaks for itself. Got five-sixty, five seventy!"
The bidding began again, and the bid for the cow and her calf was raised to $580. Unable to elicit a higher bid, Gerald stopped again. "I know interest is high. I know everybody thinks cattle prices ain't high enough. But I tell you if you can hang on and get through, you're going to see these things come back to where it will be unreal what these good kind of cattle will bring. I got five-eighty, give me five-eighty-five! Five-eighty-five-five eighty-five, SOLD! Calf for five hundred-eighty dollars a pair." When the men opened the gate into the lot, the pair darted in gladly, eager to escape the confines of the pen.
"Well, lookee here!" Gerald exclaimed as a frisky, fat calf bounded into the ring. "The longer they come the better they get!"
In the holding pen L.D. Dampier, Bob Monnahan, and a few other men were separating the cows for sale. This was no small task. Since the herd wanted to stay together, the men had to run after the individual cow and calf using themselves as a barrier to isolate them from the rest of the herd. They used expressive language, long sticks and anything else that would work to separate the frightened, bawling cows and calves from the herd.
Gerald had little trouble selling the rest of the cattle. A few of the cows balked at having to "show off" in front of so many strange people, but for the most part the sale went well. The farmers intent on bidding crowded the sale pen enclosure. Others stood back where they could still see. Some were quiet, some chewed tobacco, while others visited with one another. They speculated on the cattle bids, they discussed how they were improving their own herds, and they worried about the outlook of farming in general.
Even before the last cow was sold, buyers went to the van to settle up. Since it was nearing chore time, most people were anxious to get home.
Furniture, machinery and cattle disappeared almost magically as people paid for their purchases and loaded up. They laughed and joked as they loaded, prodded the cows to make them go into the trailer, or carried off their equipment or whatever bargain they had made at the sale. Several of the men had to combine forces to load some of the heavy machinery or some of the more cantankerous cattle. People from the auction service recorded the final sales while at the same time packed up their equipement.
Cars and trucks began to climb the lane leading from the farm. Though the temperature was still cold, by now the afternoon sun had reduced much of the formerly clean, white snow to slush, muddied up by many feet and wheels.
Some of the early morning driving difficulties still persisted. Wheels spun and skidded. Men willingly helped push the cars on their way, mindful of the mud puddles. One man was sitting innocently in his parked pickup by his open window. A truck drove through a puddle, splashing the cold water inside the truck and all over the man.
In spite of the difficulty which everyone took good naturedly, little by little the long, slow caravan made its way to the top of the hill, around the bend and out of sight.
Only the Dampier and Bishop families, Gerald and a few close friends were left in a little group by the barn. The lots were bare, all the machinery, furniture, and most of the cattle were gone. The only signs left of the day's activity were the trampled patches in the snow where people had walked or stood that day. The tracks were no longer clear because as the afternoon had become warmer, the snow had turned to slush which now froze again as the temperature dropped.
The sun setting behind the wooded western hill cast long shadows across the fields and lots. Gerald settled up with the Judge and his van and truck crawled up the hill. Warren Dampier, his son and daughter glanced around at the deserted farm lots and up the hill to the house now silhouetted in the setting sun.
"It's all yours, Roscoe," he said holding out his hand to Roscoe Bishop as he got into his pickup to leave.
"We'll take good care of it," Roscoe said, clasping his hand warmly.
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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