Ready for the Farm Auction

So far as we know, the Millers, in the 137 years that our family has occupied this 132-acre farm in Gas Valley, have never held a farm auction.

I believe that’s because there was nothing they really wanted to part with. When a tool, implement, piece of furniture, or appliance was broken, or was no longer needed or wanted, it was simply “put up” in the barn or one of the farm outbuildings. Nothing had been smoked in the smokehouse or washed in the washhouse in my lifetime, and no chickens have resided in the chicken house since I was a small boy, so those buildings had room for “stuff.”

The tractor shed has continued to house tractors, but its empty spaces have been filled with things like horse-drawn plows and a wooden-wheeled seed drill that Cyrus McCormick may have helped with.

Most times a farm auction is held to settle an estate, or because the farmer is giving up the business.

We’re having an auction because we’re full. (It’s this Saturday, by the way.)

HOW DO YOU KNOW when it’s time to have an auction? Like knowing when it’s time to retire, you just know.

My two sisters, Queenie and Col. Peggy, and I own the farm jointly. The deed is a last man’s club: whoever lives longest owns the farm. Joint ownership ensures that we have to get along – which we do anyway – and have to agree on issues that affect the property.

Once we decided we wanted an auction to get rid of five generations of stuff, we needed to know whether an auction was feasible. Bill Baer, whose family has been auctioning things almost as long as we’ve been accumulating them, came over for a walk-though of the barn and outbuildings to judge whether we had enough stuff for an auction.

His opinion: “Oh, yeah.”

The next big hurdle was deciding what to keep, and what to sell.

Selling the dog churn was an easy choice. A dog churn is a steep treadmill powered by a dog to churn butter. If the dog stops walking, it chokes. This was not a family heirloom, but something that Ol’ Food picked up at an auction and stored in the chicken house years ago.

Unused and obsolete farm equipment – an old brush hog, a hay rake, plows, a sprayer – were also easy choices to sell.

When I mentioned the word “appliances” above, the reader probably thought of discarded electric stoves or clothes dryers. Hah. Think instead of cast-iron wood stoves made by the “W.Va. Fdy & Stove Co.” in Huntington. Grandpa Fred put them out in the barn a hundred years ago. Then there’s the gas kitchen stove that Grandma Edythe used for canning in the washhouse. Until we uncluttered it and looked it up on the internet, we didn’t know it was a “Good Luck” brand and “Arene” model made by the Pittsburgh Stove and Range Co. early in the last century.

Interesting stuff, but nothing that anyone in the family wanted to do something with.

HONESTLY, A HUGE number of items in the sale are things we didn’t even know we had, and therefore to which we have no sentimental attachment.

Others, like an old corn sheller, a grindstone, a workbench with a wooden vise, and a two-man lumber saw are among things we will keep to pass down in the family or with the farm.

I wanted to sell the one-horse sleigh, reasoning that none of us were ever going to restore it, but Col. Peggy wanted to keep it. She could probably part with some of the things I wanted to keep, but respecting each other’s wishes is much more important than whatever money they would bring. Not saying we don’t think the sale should generate money, but getting rid of a lot of this stuff, and sparing the children from having to do it after we die, is the primary objective of this auction.

With that objective in mind, we also decided against putting a reserve – a minimum bid – on some of the major items. That was Bill Baer’s advice. He said some people will avoid reserve auctions, and his experience is that if some things sell for less than they’re worth, other things sell for more. It all evens out.

So off we go on the new adventure of holding an auction – new to the Miller family, that’s for sure.


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