COLUMN: Vale auction serves up treasures, entertainment

Those water pumps will haunt me.

I’d gone to the Allen White estate auction in Vale recently because, well, auctions are a form of recreation for me.

And I never go home empty-handed. I mean, a guy who can’t find something he needs at a good ranch auction just isn’t looking hard enough.

The three electric water pumps were being sold as a bunch. Auctioneer Sam Baker of Baker Auction Co. was doing the best he could to draw out top dollar. I strolled over from another auction ring to see what was for sale.

Pumps? What rancher doesn’t need more pumps. At my place, I have three ponds, irrigation ditches and a big creek and can never seem to move enough water.

I heard a bid of $20. I did the math – $60 for all three. Then Baker explained to reluctant bidders that that $20 would get you all three. As he urged on the bidding, I calculated what I could do with the pumps. But I hesitated just a fraction of a second too long. Before I could pipe up, Baker brought down the figurative gavel at $30 for the lot – one of the best deals of the day.

Granted, one guy’s deal at an auction is a mystery to another. As in: “Why in the world would someone pay THAT?”

The Baker outfit had a busy day at the Vale auction with what seemed to be a good crowd. The closed dairy ranch and farm was giving up countless treasures. Weed sprayers of every size. Heavy chains. Steel fence posts. Saddles. Fishing rods and reels. Tractors. Manure spreaders. Enough socket sets to open a mechanic shop.

I turned to auctions after I bought my ranch a few years ago. I’m 45 miles from a decent hardware store and that’s a long way to go to get one cotter pin. So, I roamed eastern Oregon for ranch auctions, and slowly my shop and main barn began to look like a hardware store. You need a lag bolt? What size and how many? Need 16d nails? Galvanized? Want to borrow a hammer? Sure. Need more than one?

Auctions are about more than buying, though. They can be educational. Sam and his crew always seem to describe the name and use of the oddest looking tool. Maybe they make it up to get it sold, but too many old-timers are there to keep them in check if they just guess. And the side benefit is you learn that a tool exists you never knew about and handles a chore you never knew you had.

The crowds are entertaining. There are the working stiffs, men and women looking to buy just what they need to fill out one blank spot on the shop shelf. There are the collectors. At the Vale auction, an older gent clearly was focused on antique horse gear. And there are resellers – folks I’m sure are loading up to stock a second-hand store somewhere. Two gals went at it in a mini-price war over a set of old chaps, likely now hanging in an antique store somewhere.

I did manage to flash my bidder number a time or two. I just can’t resist a good roundup – a whole collection of odds and ends sold as a unit. This time, it was a pallet of coffee cans and juice jars filled with bolts, nuts, washers and more. The real value is the containers were labeled, so when I’m in a hurry I know exactly where to get that 3/8-inch, 4-inch long carriage bolt.

Still, I wonder what became of those $10 water pumps.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Enterprise.