Sunday, October 7, 2012

Amish Auction by Bruce Mero for Story Telling Sunday

Posting this story for my Dad as part of Sian's Story Telling Sunday post. It's fun, pop over and read some stories with a cup of coffee!

          It was raining very hard when I pulled my car into the small parking lot next to the entrance to the NYS Thruway. My friend, Tim had called the night before and asked if I wanted to go to an produce auction with him the next day. Tim's wife Lisa wasn't coming, neither was my wife Gretchen, who had a previous obligation. (I later learned from Lisa that she doesn't go to auctions with Tim, or likes to shop with him at the grocery store. It make her too nervous). I agreed to go and we'd arranged to meet halfway to save him some time and the extra miles he'd need to drive to our place to pick me up.

          The parking lot was filled, the only empty space was a handicapped spot, which I pulled into. I left the engine running in case I needed to vacate the space quickly. Tim pulled in a couple of minutes later. We decided to park my car elsewhere. I knew of a shopping plaza a short distance away where I could leave my car and he followed me there. We carefully stacked the four flats of plants I'd brought for a job Tim was doing on the back seat of the truck and we were quickly headed down the Thruway. We wanted to get to the auction with time to spare to look over the stuff and decide which lots to bid on. Tim was primarily interested in pumpkins to sell at his and Lisa's Garden Center. They'd looked for them locally and pumpkins were scarce. Those that were available were priced too high to make a profit reselling them. The summer's drought had taken a toll on many crops in our area, pumpkins included. Tim thought his chances were good that he be able to buy a few in an area that had received more favorable weather this summer.
          The rain did not let up the entire ride. Tim explained during the trip that the auction was run by Amish farmers. Neither of us knew what to expect..

          Tim pulled his pickup into the lot at the auction site and we both stepped out of the truck into puddles. Neither of us had seen mud in months. The parking lot was a mixture of pickup trucks, stake racks, panel trucks and Amish wagons and carriages. There were two large, very new buildings. Into one of the buildings were two lines of parked wagons and trucks piled high with tri-wall boxes of pumpkins and squash and bushel boxes of all sorts of produce. Between the two rows of vehicles was a raised platform where the auctioneer and potential bidders stood to oversee the lots of produce being offered for sale.

          In the second building was a dozen, double rows of every kind of produce imaginable, each double row more than a hundred feet long. There were tri-wall boxes of pumpkins of every size and color, including white ones and green warty ones that Tim called "Knuckleheads". On several pallets were huge white and orange pumpkins which weighed over a hundred pounds each. Besides the pumpkins were boxes of squashes, onions, beets, potatoes, carrots, celery, parsnips, plums, beans, peppers, cabbage, apples, pears, broccoli, garlic, peaches, Swiss chard, gourds, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers and sweet corn. Interspersed in the rows were mini-bales of oat and barley straw, bundles of corn stalks, wreaths of dried flowers, Amish handicrafts, nursery stock and a huge selection of chrysanthemums. 

          At one end of the building were tables of fresh pies and baked goods, quarts of strawberries and raspberries, cheeses, cans of pickles, jellies and preserves, knitted goods and more Amish handicrafts. Behind the tables sat neatly dressed Amish girls and women. Next to the outside wall was a table heaped with boxes of donuts and several coffee urns. (Later we discovered that the coffee and donuts were free.) Near an outside overhang stood a barefoot girl of about 16 years in a faded gingham dress, cooking hamburgers (also free) on a gas grill.  Folks were already lined up and waiting for the burgers to finish, even though it was only 9:45 in the morning. Uncooked hamburger patties in plastic bags were stacked, unrefrigerated at the girl's feet under the grill. Tim and I both ate a hotdog for lunch.

          There were at least a couple hundred folks milling around checking out the stuff being sold and waiting for things to start.

          I was able to step back from the cacophony for a few moments a couple of times to make some observations. I saw numerous, very neatly dressed (in black), pimply-faced young women with a child in arm, each holding the hand of a neatly dressed, well behaved, two year olds. The little boys were impeccable in their black trousers and shoes, black coats and golden straw hats. I watched similarly black clad ladies busily performing various duties. An older woman, perhaps a grandma, sat in an uncovered wagon in a heavy downpour with two young children, all were  laughing and seemingly oblivious to the rain. I saw bearded young men offering to help move loads, locate purchases and transfer commodities. A barefoot boy of 12 or 14 expertly drove a team of horses around one of the barns and hooked up another wagon to pull in line. I observed an organized, professionally run endeavor. These guys have their act together, I thought, with one notable exception. A single rent-a-john served the masses. My first trip there when we first arrived was OK. Later trips to pee were not so pleasant and by the end of the day the place was gross. Tim refused to go in. 

          I waited as Tim registered and got his number (68). While we were in line we ran into a mutual friend, Barbara at the registration area. It had been Barbara that had informed Tim about the auction, so running into her was no surprise. It was apparent by the number of other people Barbara seemed to know there that this was not her first time.

          The three of us set about to look at the pumpkins. Each tri-wall box had a tag with the quantity of pumpkins within and a lot number. Tim scribbled notes on a scrap of paper. He and Barbara agreed to split particular lots if they were successful, only one of them would do the bidding.

          After Tim was confident that he knew which lots he and Barbara were after within the building, we went outside into the rain to look at the goods piled on the wagons and flatbeds that would pass through the open barn with the bidder's platform. There were 25 to 30 vehicles in each row. Tim scribbled more notes on his now soggy scrap of paper.

          At ten o'clock sharp the auctioneer announced that the auction was beginning. He would start in the pass-through barn then proceed into the second barn once the goods on all of the trucks and wagons were sold. 

          Two guys in suspendered trousers and straw hats, each with a head-set microphone, announced the first commodity to be sold...56 medium pumpkins, lot 2314. The auctioneer, a 30-something Amish man in suspendered khaki pants, neatly pressed shirt and straw hat spoke into his head-set microphone.

          "You're buying 56 units in this lot, 56 times the price of each," he said.

           That was the last thing I understood for twenty minutes. 

(here is where I'm a bad person and suggest you watch this Amish Auction video. It had me cracking up)

           He started the bidding. I had absolutely no idea of what he was saying. He was speaking so fast and with such a staccato that my ears could not catch individual words. It was akin to hearing a foreign language. A dozen or so lots were sold before I was able to understand what the guy was saying and how much stuff was going for. Tim seemed to get it right away.  I couldn't understand the auctioneer, but I could understand Tim. He was dead serious. If he was bidding, he positioned himself so the auctioneer could see him. A very slight nod of his head and Tim upped the bid. If he closed his eyes and no longer made eye contact with the auctioneer, he was done, the price was too high. I heard his number 68 mentioned at least once and Barbara's 209 twice, I thought, in the first dozen or so lots. Once a wagon load of stuff had sold, a team of horses was backed into the barn and the wagon pulled out. Another team of horses pulled the next wagon into place and the auctioneer started again. It took an hour or so before the line of wagons and trucks had passed through the open barn and the auctioneer moved to the second barn. By then Tim had purchased a couple of lots himself and he and Barbara were splitting at least one lot.

          It was a good thing that we'd checked out the second barn before the bidding started there. It was so crowded we had no idea of what was being sold, except for Tim's notes on the lot numbers he was interested in purchasing. The contents of the second barn took two and a half hours to completely sell. Tim was intense. I lost his whereabouts a couple of times. I heard his number called several times, so I knew he was buying. Once he asked me to take a kitschy lacquered pumpkin thingy back to the truck, mumbling as he walked away "Lisa is going to kill me." 

          "Sold to bidder 68", I heard the auctioneer say again.

          Tim squeezed through the crowd with three huge hanging baskets of chrysanthemums dangling from his hands, the sodden note paper and a pen clenched in his teeth. Rather than go back to the truck, I found a vacant spot in the corner of the barn and stashed the mums. Barbara emerged from the crowd a couple of minutes later and told me that she and Tim were splitting a lot of dried flower wreaths and that we needed to get them off the floor before someone stole them. I stashed ten wreaths with the mums.

          "Lisa is going to kill me," he said again as he dug back into the crowd.

          Next he purchased a dozen or more mini-bales of straw, 75 cents each. Then ten bundles of Indian corn stalks, $3.00 each. Six boxes of sedum for $5.00. Eighteen large Butternut squash for $1.05 (he and I split those). A tri-wall box of smaller Jack-o-lantern pumpkins for I don't know how much each, but "Lisa was really going to like that one".  I do know there were over a hundred of them in the box. A couple of crates of gourds was next to be taken to the corner of the barn.

          Finally, the auctioneer was finished. He looked totally wasted. During the course of the action we were able to have the guy on the forklift set two of the tri-wall boxes of the larger pumpkins next to the truck. Barbara showed me where Tim's half-box of Knuckleheads were. She was loading her half of a tri-wall box of white pumpkins into the back seat of her Toyota...the rest were Tim's.

          Tim looked as though he'd been put through a wringer. He kept repeating the mantra "Lisa is gonna kill me", as we walked to the truck in the pouring rain. He climbed into the back and I started handing him the large pumpkins he'd bought first. Then the contents of the mid-sized pumpkin box. We drove around the open barn and collected the Knuckleheads, then to the front where Barbara was loading her car and we collected the half-box of white pumpkins. Next was the tri-wall of little Jack-o-lantern pumpkins, all one hundred of them. By now, Tim was standing on pumpkins, reaching into the nooks and crannies between the larger ones in the load to put the little ones.  The gourds came out of the two crates and Tim found more crevices to stash them.

          We moved the truck next to a the rear loading door of the barn to collect the stuff we'd stashed in the corner. The mini-bales of straw went into the back seat area...where we'd carefully placed the four flats of plants I'd brought Tim for a job. Those went onto the ground temporarily. Next the wreaths, the mums and the Butternut squashes...the box for the squashes was discarded and the 18 squashes put into nooks. Tim then took the pots of plants I'd brought and found nooks for those in the back seat as well, the flats went into the garbage can next to the truck. Tim pushed hard on the door and it closed. We still had a dozen bundles of Indian corn stalks and the sedum to find a place for, and a five-foot potted Viburnum I'd not seen before.

          "Got it for eight bucks," he said.

          I noticed a couple of guys in a Big M panel truck watching us loading as they waited their turn at the loading door. The driver rolled down his window and yelled through the downpour

          "There might be some space under the hood".

          Tim laughed and fired back, "Look at all of the room your truck is wasting, there is probably a couple of feet at the top I'd be able to stuff something into."

          The corn stalks went atop the load, the sedum pots settled in between stuff and the Viburnum set perilously atop the tailgate of the truck, slightly leaning toward the load. Tim carefully inched the pickup forward to let the Big M guy into the loading door. When he got out of the cab we both surveyed the load. Everything he'd purchased was on the truck. Everything.

          I asked Tim where his tarp and ropes were located. He thought for a few moments and then pointed to the back of the truck. His tarp and ropes were underneath the hundreds of pumpkins we'd spent the last hour loading.   

          While Tim searched the back seat area of his truck for something to tie down the load, I went inside out of the rain and asked one of the guys in straw hats if they might have some bailing twine we could have. He dashed out into the deluge to look for some. I then spotted the auctioneer and told him how much I'd I enjoyed the day, how impressed I was with their organization and how much he looked liked he needed a beer. I really didn't say beer, but he seemed to get my gist. He told me that this had been their biggest effort in the last couple of years. He was pooped.

          While I was out of the rain in the barn, an announcement over the PA system asked that bidder number 68 please come to the office and pay his bill.   

          The other guy returned with the twine and I dashed out into the rain. Tim, in the meanwhile and miraculously given the circumstances, had found ropes in the back seat area in the truck and started to secure the load. The bundles of corn stalks substituted for the tarp. The twine finished the job.

          Tim went inside and paid his bill, still murmuring "Lisa is going to kill me, I know I am way over my budget."
          When I opened the passenger door to get into the truck, the lacquered pumpkin thingy was on my seat and an oversized potted mum on the floor where my feet would go. The shiny pumpkin thing went onto my lap and the mum between by muddy boots. A flat of something rested on my shoulder the entire trip.

          We left the auction looking like the Beverly Hillbilly truck, Jed Clampett in the driver's seat. The back of the truck was heaped a couple of feet over the cab, corn stalks flapping in the breeze. We drove the back roads for the trip back to my car, there seemed to us that there was no way that the Thruway authorities would allow us to get on their road looking as we did. We were on a high, though once in a while Tim would revert to his mantra.

          After he left me off, Tim drove the back roads back to the store.
Not a gourd was lost on his way home, he later reported.

           I've talked to him several times since, Lisa hasn't killed him yet. It remains to be seen if that eventually happens, seems he has survived this event.



  1. That is a brilliant story, you told it so well. I so want to go to an auction just to see that produce like that. I fear Lisa would have killed me too.

  2. Ohh that brings back memories of farmers markets and roadside stalls selling pumpkins, gourds and apples :sigh: Beautifully told and thank you for the extra memories you inspired too.

  3. Hahahahha...that video really put you in the scene and what a hoot that must have been. Mitra, your dad wrote another doozy and I had the best laughs! I 'bout bust a gut when the tarp was under the massive mound o' "Lisa's gonna kill me."
    Still loving Sunday Story Time :)
    Lisa (the not to be feared one)

  4. This was a special Sunday afternoon treat of a story. I so wished I had seen all that produce and then you guys loading it up and staggering back home under the weight of it all. Thank you so much to your dad for sharing this. I have really enjoyed reading it.

  5. What a wonderful story, I really enjoyed it :-)

  6. It's a wonderful story - such a different kind of an outing to anything we'd do round here and that made for a fascinating read. You have me thinking about watching "Witness" again :) Thank you

  7. Your dad always paints such a wonderful picture with his storytelling....I was right there with him!
    Alison xx

  8. What a great story Mitra, I have this awful imagine of only one loo I hope that wasn't males and females... The pumpkin called a knucklehead, never knew that call our kids that when they are being silly. I bed your dad felt like a hill billy. Thanks for sharing.

  9. That sounds like quite the event. I'm glad Tim survived his arrival to home and I hope everything sells for a good profit. It sounds like he deserves it!

  10. What a fabulous story, I could imagine how hard it must have been to understand the auctioneer, they talk in their own language!! It would have been quite a fun day, and he didn't get killed after all!!

  11. Loved this story! I can just see that truck! My Dad and brother attend an auction very similar to this several times a year. We never know what they will be bringing back home...


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