Name a farm boy who doesn’t like an auction sale.
There were different machines to climb on, a neighbourhood buddy to meet, a barn cat to befriend (maybe her kittens too), and a haul of treasures to take home. Plus, if we behaved, Dad might treat us with homemade pie.
My older brother David and I would receive Dad’s invitation just after morning chores. We’d always happily accept. With us attending a few each summer, the memories have begun to blur. However, a couple of sales still stand out.
My parents with their six children farmed at Basswood, Manitoba, from 1967 to 1978. They had both grown up as farm children and thought it was a great way to raise a family. It was, I suppose, but hard work and tough times were part of the equation also.
Auctions were and are places to buy used machinery and tools without paying the new prices. Dad enjoyed visiting with the locals there too. He might pick up a gem of knowledge as a bonus. Action galore.
I remember a sale near Erickson in spring, 1968. I was only eight, but I was there. Unbeknownst to my brother and I, Dad had come there with a purpose: buy the baler and modernize our hay-making and cattle feeding.
David and I roamed the farmyard with Dad’s cautionary “Don’t get into trouble.”
Mom had earlier mentioned, “Don’t get your pants dirty.”
Soon we were crawling on the tractors, “driving” the grain truck, and poking through the farmer’s implement ‘boneyard” — just to report back to Dad about any undiscovered, unadvertised treasures.
As with most sales, the smaller tools and farm shop items sold first, and endlessly. David and I were quickly bored and wandered into the barn to find a kitty. While interested in us and wanting petting, the cat had “mouse patrol” duties and soon scampered away.
The dog had given up sniffing and barking at newcomers and had retreated to a bale haystack to catch the noonday sun. Rover’s role for the day would be to merely tolerate all these intruders.
My brother and I marvelled at these twine-tied bales. Our first year on the farm had meant only a few cows and so we put up loose hay. That meant we pitched it onto the hayrack and then used a “sling” to pull it up and into our red barn’s hayloft. A hay baler might spare us toil and sweat.
The crowd had already moved over to the larger farm machines, maybe the grain truck, when we caught up to Dad again.
The auctioneer didn’t waste time. Although we couldn’t understand his words, we knew he was talking fast, and for unknown reasons, that was mesmerizing. His incantations seemed to repeat numbers, and when he got tired of those numbers, he repeated higher ones, until he shouted “Sold!” Then he started all over again.
In midafternoon, the sale ended. Dad then bought three pieces of pie. He always liked cherry. We piled into the blue Chevy half-ton believing we were on our way home, a half-hour drive southwards.
Instead though, Dad drove slowly along the row of machines and backed towards the red hay baler. What? Was it ours? We were excited.
Dad had somehow deciphered the auctioneer’s chant and had bought the New Holland baler. Later he told us it cost him $500. There would be no more loose hay and broken slings at our farm.
We hooked the baler onto the Chevy. Dad wired a few pieces of red cloth onto the machine’s corners, and we began the slower drive home. Two hours later, we turned into our yard. Even Mom came out to examine the baler. She may have offered a sigh. She knew that haying season would become easier.
* * *
After spring seeding in 1972, Dad decided he needed a different tractor. His 65-hp. Deutz workhorse had advantages, like superior fuel efficiency, but the diesel-gulping green machine was air-cooled and tended to get too hot lugging long days in the Manitoba sun. That’s not good for any motor.
Dad had already spent money on an engine repair job. He didn’t want a second cash outlay. He liked the neighbour’s larger Case.
On a rainy August morning after chores, we headed off to an auction at Glenboro, two hours southeast. We could hardly spell it, let alone find it on the map.
Brother David was 13 already and had an interest in all machines, but we both loved tractors. Dad had often let us drive our smaller S Case, the farm “chore horse.” I figured that teenagers maybe got to drive the big tractors.
At the auction site, mud was everywhere. We didn’t really park in the ditch as much as we slid into it. No worries. There were men handy to push us out later.
We went with Dad as he walked to the end of the machinery line-up. There stood an 830 Case tractor, almost new and complete with a cab. Dad found the owner and asked questions: How old? How powerful? What was this ‘Case-O-Matic’ transmission feature?”
Dad asked him to start it up. The owner did that and a crowd soon gathered. The biggest tractor was always the “star” of the sale offering. Farmers love the roar of diesel power.
A beautiful tall lady sauntered by. What? Who? That was my Minnedosa Grade Six schoolteacher — and with her boyfriend. I muttered a “Hello” and scrammed. No need to deal with teachers during the summer.
Four hours later the auctioneer finally called for bids on this square-fendered Case. I could hardly breathe. I wanted Dad to buy the shiny tractor, but I knew he didn’t want to pay too much. The bids worked their way beyond $3,000. Then I heard “sold.” Sold to whom though?
We located Dad. He was the buyer. He was mildly enthused, but he had just spent $3,300. Mixed emotions for him — David and I were thrilled.
The former owner said the tractor’s highest gear was 16 mph, and so Dad chose to drive it home. With farmers pushing (two hefty ones jumped on the back bumper for extra ballast), we got the half-ton spinning out of the muddy ditch. Dad drove the 830 and David followed behind with the “flasher” lights on. Our two-vehicle parade stuck to the back roads. Dad figured the RCMP wouldn’t “pinch” experienced farm boys driving slowly.
About two-thirds of the way home, Dad pulled into a strange farmyard. The farmer said Dad could park the tractor overnight. Dad claimed it was time for chores soon, so we sped home. We talked endlessly about how good that almost-new tractor would be for us.
The next day, we got it home, and Dad soon put it to work. In retrospect, the 830 was underpowered, needed duals, and burned plenty of fuel. However, it served us well for six years.
* * *
I never attended this third memorable auction. Dad came home with a newer style of jack, called a “Jackall.”
This device had 20 different uses, like serving as a wire stretcher, but I’ll bet we found 40.
David and I even rescued the blue Chevy after I’d driven too close to a slough. We jacked up each wheel, packed slough grass underneath the tires and in the ruts, and with David pushing at the front, I zoomed backwards out of the muddy dilemma. Dad never knew.
“The handiest farm tool ever,” Dad once told his younger brother Walter.
We often used the jack to lift the baler hitch to hook it up to the 830 Case tractor — all three of Dad’s great auction sale buys came into play.