The Farm Auction is as much a part of the heritage of the Eastern Townships as farming itself and continues to draw a good crowd when the weather is right, and I don’t mean sunny.
Scott Graham, who raises beef in the Sawyerville area, has been an auctioneer in the Townships since the 1990’s when he joined his father Harry’s auction business. “My dad started in 1961 or ’62, first just auctioning cattle, then getting into farm sales and antiques. He had a beef farm and even back then you needed a second job and he was sick of cutting wood,” explained Mr. Graham in an interview with the Stanstead Journal.
“I started with my dad in 1996. I never wanted to be an auctioneer but I was in farming and my father kept driving into my head that I needed a sideline. But once I started doing it, I enjoyed it,” he continued. He and his father, who died last year at the age of 82, worked together for ten years, taking turns on the auction stand. “It was nice to get a break during a sale. Now it’s just me!”
Although a farm auction, during which tens of thousands of dollars worth of machinery is sold, usually lasts only two to three hours, the preparation starts weeks ahead. “You take inventory, get everything washed or pressure washed, anything that has dirt on it. Sometimes you have to look into prices,” said Mr. Graham. Advertising in local newspapers, for which the auctioneer is responsi- ble, begins a few weeks in advance.
There was excitement in the air at Mr. Graham’s farm auction last Saturday, in Bulwer. Farm trucks, ready to haul something away, and cars were lined up and down the country road; the weather was cold and wet so a good-sized crowd was in attendance. “Good weather for an auction is when it’s too nasty for farmers to do anything else outside,” said Scott.
The bidding began right on schedule with the smaller items, tools, chests, horse and cattle equipment. The pace was lively and quick, with Scott repeating the bids rapidly in that signature way of the auctioneer. A third generation of Graham, Scott’s son Ryan, and his nephew, Brad Lassenba, were the ‘ringmen’, holding up the items for the people at the back to see, helping to keep track of the bidding, and even encouraging the bidding with the occasional, exuberant “Yeah!”.
“Everything has to be well-organized, all lined up and ready to sell. We have to keep the sale moving, can’t have a lull,” Mr. Graham explained. The farm auction isn’t just a sale; it’s a social event and you can lose the interest of the crowd quickly if the action slows down. “You have to keep the people interested; it’s like a show. Some people are just there to watch.”
The pace at last Saturday’s auction only slowed once, and just for an instant when a bidder offered a low $100 for a hay rake. The auctioneer looked at the bidder and said clearly: “That’s what you’d get if you sold it for scrap.”
After the last drop of the hammer, Mr. Graham and the two clerks, who had been recording every sale by hand, got right to the bookkeeping. “All the numbers have to balance, then we pay the people.”
There aren’t as many farm or furniture auctions, Mr. Graham does both, as there once was. “The busi- ness was really good in the 1990’s; things were selling amazingly well and there seemed to be a never-ending supply of antiques. Then when the economy changed, things cooled off quite a bit. There aren’t many old homes, full of antiques, and there are less farms because you have a lot of big outfits now.”
On a thoughtful note, Mr. Graham commented: “It’s a big responsibility, dealing with people’s things. It’s someone’s investment. You have to be serious and do the best job. This kind of sale is different from a furniture sale and it’s not easy. Dad taught me to think about if this was my stuff, how