Family ‘Sold’ on Auction Trip

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prairie state perspective

My grandparents’ farm auction held its space on our family’s calendar for almost two years. Ten family members without hesitation booked the 2,000-mile trip from the West Coast to west-central Illinois. They joined the 23 of us already here, physically rooted near our multi-generational family farm.

You could say the auction anticipation mirrored that of a wedding or big family vacation.

Relatives spent weeks preparing household accommodations for company. The guys stepped away from farm work on rainy days to organize items to sell. My uncle ordered everyone matching chambray shirts with our farm name embroidered above the pocket. And on the big day, the fourth generation of great-grandkids waved balloons and cheered at the auction’s 10 a.m. opening.

Grandpa said he would fully retire from farming at age 80. And he did. The sale of my grandparents’ small herd of cows cemented the decision. Grandpa takes satisfaction in knowing his beloved cattle still graze pastures nearby. They live about five miles south on the main farmstead where my parents live. The second and third generations now own and care for the herd along with the crops.

Personally, the day felt bittersweet. The auction represented the official end of my grandparents’ lifelong farming career. Yet, we equally celebrated our heritage and their success. About a decade ago, my grandparents retired from growing corn and soybeans when my generation entered the family business. The recent auction sold my grandparents’ remaining livestock equipment, various tools and some of the farm antiques Grandpa had collected.

Around 250 people registered to bid at the auction held throughout the barnyard. Others attended to socialize and witness the event. The auctioneer’s chant set the background music for a good, old-fashioned farm sale with personal touches. My uncles and cousins “worked the racks,” or held up smaller items for sale that lined eight hayracks. Relatives and friends drove utility vehicles to transport buyers and their purchases to their vehicles. Our 4-H club sold barbecue sandwiches and home-baked goodies from the food stand in the machine shed. In that space, buyers also found temporary reprieve from the rain showers that set in around noon.

In general, fewer farm equipment auctions take place than in the past. A combination of factors influences this trend. Among them, the Internet changes the way farmers find and buy used equipment. Regardless, the auction went well, except for accidentally selling Grandma’s new clothesline posts. Grandpa replaced them just in time as her dryer quit after the overload of guest laundry.

When the auction ended, all of us hung out at my grandparents’ farmstead for hours. The guys used tractors to load cattle gates and other big items for buyers. We watched strangers drive away with the round baler and livestock trailer. The scene presented a visual reality of closing the book on more than 50 years of farming.

Still, the family herd that my grandparents started supplies either daily or sentimental commitments to our family farm. My grandparents remain committed, too. Our family’s crops still surround their farmstead. Grandpa still helps with fieldwork at planting and harvest. But now my grandparents can secure calendar days for a vacation during summer hay season. Or maybe more winter days on the West Coast. That’s tough to outbid.

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