Hanging it up after 62 years
By KAREN SCHWALLER
MILFORD – “Oh my, it’s do or die, I’ve got to learn that auction cry, gotta make my mark and be an auctioneer.”
Those lyrics, from the song “The Auctioneer,” could describe the life of Dick Long, who got his start as an auctioneer with two weeks of formal training in a career that would last a lifetime.
Now, Long, 82, is retiring 62 years after attending auctioneering school in Mason City.
He got his start in 1955.
“I used to go on sales with my brother, Francis,” Long said. “I was at a sale over by Terril one day when I thought I’d like to be on the other end of the business and sell things.”
He liked the idea of working “from the inside out and to the outside in,” and said he thought it looked like it would be a “fascinating life.”
Long said it didn’t take much time to learn an auctioneering chant that worked for him, and said an auctioneer can cry a long sale by controlling the “altitude” of the voice.
“The good Lord put a good voice box in me,” he said, adding that factors like temperature can affect the quality of the auctioneer’s cry.
Long said people who don’t know him in person, know him from the sound of his voice.
“I remember a sale over by Terril when it was 25 degrees below zero,” he said. “We sold the hay and cattle last … I couldn’t even feel my lips very well by then and they weren’t moving as fast as they should have been.”
He recalled another bitter cold winter sale day near Everly when the sale items were set up on the southeast side of an evergreen grove to ensure a warmer sale experience. That day, the winds came, unexpectedly, out of the southeast, and they had to place two or three Nipco heaters underneath a John Deere 4230 just to get it started.
The first sale he remembers was a farm machinery sale west of Milford.
He worked with others when he was starting out, and he said he had a lot to learn. After one or two years of working with other auctioneers and learning the value of things, he was able to go on his own. He worked over his career with his auctioneering instructor, who he referred to as “Mr. Rue,” along with Leonard Eischeid, Philmore Stoermer, Norvin Olson and Kevin Black.
There were times when he would have two or three sales a day, and Long said he would often conduct between 40 and 60 farm sales each year in the 1960s. Long said when he worked with Stoermer, they would often conduct up to nine sales per week.
“It takes a lot of vigor,” said Long, who added he understands now how much work a farm sale is, now that he is preparing for his own. “Some auctioneers don’t help set up, but I do – I want to know what things look like so I know where to put things and how to sell them.”
It took him three or four years to really know the value of things and feel comfortable knowing where to start bids. He said if someone gave him a private bid, he always treated that bid as if the person who gave it was standing at the sale.
As he improved in his ability to conduct sales, Long learned to tell the ways in which people would bid and how fast they would bid.
He also learned something else.
“People are going to test you to see if you know what something is worth,” he said.
Long said one of the biggest changes in valuations during his time has been in collectible household items.
“Things like glassware and collectible bowls … people may have paid (up to) $200 for a collectible bowl, but I’ve had to tell people they’re going to have to take off $100 or $125 on some of them,” said Long. “The younger generation just isn’t interested in things like that.”
He also said Haviland china has come down in price dramatically over the years, and sometimes organs don’t even sell.
Changes in farm sales came mostly in the size of tractors and equipment.
“I remember when farm sales would bring in a total of $15, 000 to $22,000 and it was a lot of money then,” Long said. “Now you can’t even buy a tractor for that.”
He still remembers a statement one client told him many years ago.
“He said to me, ‘Dick, I just saw you do something I never thought I’d see you do. You sold that tractor and plow for $34,000, and that’s more than I got for my 80 (acres),'” Long said. “The guy got $24,000 for the 80 acres that day. That’s how times have changed.”
The most a piece of land brought at one of his auctions was $2,200 per acre.
He also said today people will drive 100 miles to attend a sale.
Long is proud of the repeat business he received over the years from a Terril family, conducting household sales for three generations of family members. He also remembers a Le Mars family for whom he did five different sales.
The auctioneer said every sale was unique.
“It was like a deck of cards,” he said. “Each hand is different.”
Long got advice from other auctioneers as he started out, with one of them telling him to only say good things about people, and to always tell the truth when people ask things – unless he had good memory.
One of his mentors once told him, “You know, Dick, butter belongs on only one side of the bread.”
“All of those things really helped,” Long said.
Although it’s never felt like work to him, Long said 62 years is long enough to be an auctioneer, adding his mind is telling him to go on, but his body is saying it’s time to stop.
“If I can’t do it right, I don’t want to do it at all.”
Long was drafted into the United States Army in 1957, serving until 1959.
He and his wife, Sandra, farmed near Milford and had a farrow to finish hog operation. They also had Belgian horses, a hobby that lasted 40 years. He would use them to clean out the hog houses and mow ditches.
The Longs will retire to Spencer once their own farm sale is completed in August.
When asked about her husband, Sandra Long said, “Everyone knows Dick. He’s never met a stranger. Over the years he has learned that most people are good people.”
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