Going! Going! Gone!
The Collegian at the Hillsdale County Auction
By Emma Tocci
By 8 a.m. on Saturday most students haven’t shaken off the haze of sleep, and the September sun still has yet to burn through the early morning fog. But at the Hillsdale County Fairgrounds the site is already awake and active.
In the busiest area of the Hillsdale County Auction, held weekly at the fairgrounds, the field is striped with aisles of vendors and their goods.
The company that runs the auction, Ken Frecker Auctioneers, estimates between 1,500–2,000 people come from the tri-state area to sell scrap and buy bargains at the fairgrounds.
One seller, Tom Robinson, leaves his home in Shipshewana, Ind., before 2 a.m. to get a good space on the day of the auction.
“People are here all night. You go with a floodlight, lookin’ and walkin’ and there are 20 people here at 3 a.m.,” Robinson said.
Robinson calls himself a fixture, saying that though he and his son Bill Robinson work “the circuit” at auctions all over Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, they spend a lot of time in Hillsdale.
“People like it,” Robinson said. “It’s old-time—it’s old fashioned…all wide open like the Wild West.”
According to Frecker, the auction was established in 1907 by Andy Adams, a horse dealer interested in auctioning livestock. The event gradually grew to incorporate machinery, furniture, produce, a flea market, and as Hillsdale resident Dick Stack said, “a whole lot of real wonder-what-it-is.”
Because Michigan is a state with fewer license regulations, the enterprising spirit is well rewarded.
One entrepreneur, 16-year-old Craig Burger, has been tuning up and reselling bicycles at the auction for a year and a half. And while the auction is a great opportunity for sellers such as Burger, working long hours exposed to Michigan’s frequently inclement weather is exhausting.
Buyers and sellers alike agree that the auction is a world unto itself, peopled by a great variety of characters.
“If you have trouble, you’re on your own; don’t go to the police. The auction polices itself,” Robinson said.
Indeed, one man with rough, tanned skin and tobacco on his breath asks which newspaper I am with. He is not an auctioneer.
“I’m with Ken…actually, I’m trying to catch thieves,” he said.
He lopes off, disappearing into a spread of homewares.
“Look at your neighbor, your neighbor may be a thief,” an auctioneer’s voice warned.
Robinson smiled from the shade under his straw hat and crosses his arms in front of his clean collared white shirt.
“Hillsdale Thieves they call ‘em. Sometimes a fistfight will break out. Then you know somebody’s been stealin’ something. I remember one time a guy was punched in the nose…”
According to Robinson the thievery isn’t any worse in Hillsdale than at other auctions, “it’s just human nature.”
Though the auction has been open only for an hour this morning, Robinson listed off some of his sales: “Two cars, some woodstoves…general junk and merchandise.”
He explained that the auction business is about conversion—what you can buy and what you can sell.
“It goes round and round. Sometimes you see the same stuff [being bought and sold] six times.”
Sometimes, however, the merchandise changes form between sales.
Robinson pointed to the next aisle where an auctioneer hawks raspberry pies. The Amish man who bakes them buys his sugar—two to three hundred pounds a week—from Robinson, who will buy a pie.
“I like the blackberry ones,” Robinson said.
Helene Stefaniok works for Frecker during the auction but said she often comes away with a good deal, and “it’s always entertaining.”
Buyers barter as the auctioneers drive the sales, revving their voices like motors and nearly scat-singing the bids: “Baddabap, baddabap, baddabuck-and-a-half. Buckandahalf, buckandahalf, two! Badadup-two…”
From banana bread to banana-seat bicycles; from washing machines to washboards; from rifles named Winchester to porcelain dolls named Witney, the Hillsdale Auction offers something to everyone.
Even produce vendor William Waggle offers a yellow tomato “for tastin’” on the way out.
The Hillsdale Sale Barn
is among the oldest continuous
farm markets and auctions
in the Midwest.
Founded by noted horseman Andy Adams in 1915, the weekly auction was purchased by Ken Frecker Auctioneers in 1993. Adams also helped found the U.S. Trotting Association and was its director for many years.
ANDY ADAMS a LOCAL MICHIGAN HORSE AUCTIONEER, STARTED THIS SALE BARN IN 1915. HE AND HIS FAMILY RAN THIS SALE CONTINUOUSLY, EVERY SATURDAY, UNTIL KEN FRECKER AUCTIONEERS TOOK THE SALE OVER IN 1993, AND WITHOUT SKIPPING A BEAT, KEN AND HIS STAFF HAVE RUN THIS SALE EVERY SATURDAY, YEAR-ROUND (except FAIR weeks) EVER SINCE.
IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION OR PICTURES FROM THE HILLSDALE AUCTION OVER THE YEARS, WE WOULD BE INTERESTED IN SEEING WHAT YOU HAVE.
PICTURES, RECEIPTS, OR ANYTHING OF THAT NATURE.
AS WE APPROACH THE CENTURY MARK OF THIS AUCTION SALE WE ARE LOOKING FOR INFORMATION ON IT'S HISTORY