By Patrick Meagher
FINCH — It wasn’t just the suit that made the man. Twenty-year-old Ab Carroll was best dressed for sure, looking Bay Street in a dark blue suit with a pink tie, but he was as cool as the Coors Light in my Frigidaire. The boy who grew up on a Peterborough-area beef farm was the impressive front runner in a field of 17 auctioneers to win the $1,000 top prize at the International Plowing Match (IPM) at Finch on Sept. 24. It was the first IPM auctioneers’ challenge and it drew hundreds of people who crowded into the steel-framed canvas building that wasn’t there a few weeks before.
The calming Carroll commanded the room, slicing the air in front of him as he turned purposefully from side to side and collected bids (Watch Carroll in action at www.farmersforum.com). He’s only been selling for three years, works at the Ontario Stockyards at Cookstown, and “caught the auction fever” working out back at the Kawartha Lakes sales barn. There’s no secret to a prize performance, he said. “You just have to stay calm, relaxed and keep breathing.”
One contestant was calling for bids like a man with hiccups (I was one of the judges so I can say that) but for entertainment value was top shelf. He had grown men shaking their heads, yanking off their caps and laughing until they were teary eyed. Grown woman shrieked and covered their mouths. A few of his one liners just wouldn’t go over well in print and I don’t want my mother calling me if I repeat them here but I’ve repeated them in the office a few times and got some laughs of my own. Thank you Vankleek Hill dairy farmer Keith McRae, who put in a plug to sell some of his cows while on stage and told the crowd that as caller for square dancing, it doesn’t qualify him for auctioneering but it’s halfway there. “I’m a virgin at this,” he said. “So we’ll go slow.”
Auctioning a weathervane, he promoted its versatility by suggesting, “you can get drunk in the beer tent and this thing will find your way home.”
Three Americans, graciously hosted by Alexandria’s D&A Tractor Sales owner Don Routhier, also competed but were warned by emcee Chris Emard that due to gas costs, the toll bridge and the Canadian dollar, “Even if you win, you’re looking at a $200 loss.”
One of the three New York contestants was only 14. His father, Jay Martin, finished second, earning $750. A cousin finished in the top five.
The biggest excitement of the day was the pride of Finch. Towering 19-year-old Chad Simmons in the white cowboy hat lives a five-minute walk from the plowing match. With a booming Ronnie Milsap baritone and twang I thought he was from Nashville. He’s a car auctioneer at Odessa’s on Hwy 417, east of Ottawa, and to the crowd, he was their winner. You could tell by the applause. You could feel it in the air. He waved his big hat to the cheering crowd and later seemed momentarily downcast when he heard the announcement: Third place $500.
Sale items ranged from soccer shoes, wine bottles and milk cans to knick-knacks, for which no one grasped their utility. No auction is without a glitch. A volunteer rushed to the microphone to announce: “Please don’t sit on our items. Someone was sitting on our items and we couldn’t find it.”
Creative Avonmore auctioneer Jennifer Manley-Blair brought in a live goat that sold for $45, as people looked at each other as if to ask, “How am I going to get that home?”
“Who has more fun than people?” Manley-Blair asked. “You don’t see dogs doing this.”
Prior to the show, all 17 auctioneers met in a back room to meet the judges. Auctioneer and judge Teresa Taylor told them: “I know exactly how you feel: Butterflies. You’re wondering are they going to love me? You are a prize competitor to the people out there. They are going to eat you up.”
And they did.