We went to an auction yesterday on River Road, out in the almond orchards. I am an auction rookie, I feel the hooks of addiction already. All of that shouting, commotion, competition, posturing. It felt like poker tournament. Today, an auction hangover – we picked up the pieces.
It starts out innocently enough, a sign on Highway 32 on the way home from work, and a Craigslist ad. Then you notice the address – River Road. The Estate of Robert Bruce, (as in ‘Bruce Road’, and the family that owned the 1600 block of Park Ave, starting in 1860).
10 am, a respite from 4 days of North wind, and it is finally warm in the sun, but the action is inside of a cold metal building full of massive steel machines. A huge welder, ancient hoist, and V8 engines hang overhead from skinny chains. Someone next to me says “I have this same building, glad to know that I can hang 4 or 5 tons from the rafters”. As we arrive – 10:00 on the dime – they start moving through the merchandise, quickly. A $1,500 air compressor sells for $65, a 1,000 pound drill press for $35. Lots of the auction-goers are regulars, and some won’t run up the price if their buddy or neighbor is bidding.
Only a few familiar faces. 19 years in Chico, and I still don’t understand – even as we enjoy the explosion of the ‘local food movement’ – how come there is so little crossover between us townies and the old school ag. community.
‘You might not want to stand under that yellow welder, it weighs about 600 pounds’. My friend Jamie notices the two pairs of Chevy V8 headers and the bumper in the rafters and buys it all for $7.50.
We get there after the preview and it is hard to get in to see what was in each box, so there is an element of lottery to it all. For future reference, ‘The Junker’ is in dark glasses.
I’m not sure that I should buy anything heavy, but then I spot Dave Richer, and he tells me that he’ll have a trailer here to pick things up on Sunday, that he’ll help me load.
100 years of hoarding to sell in 4 hours. Wind-thrashed clattery tin outbuildings hide Model T Ford parts, pieces of a windmill (with motor, stand, blades, and a disassembled redwood tank), elegant 30′s sedan fenders, and dusty bicycles. Out in the open, piles of rusty bed frames and galvanized barrels with sloshing mystery juices, minimart coke dispensers, orchard sprayers, piles of old tires, and conveyors sink under heavy orchard dust and moss. Dave buys a big log-sized stack of rough-cut walnut slabs and rat shit. The body of an old International Scout rots into a heap of grapevines. Someone buys it for $12.50. The auctioneer’s kids are keeping track of each sale, they are busy.
Most of the stuff in the machine shop is custom – hacked together, and built with an awkward balance of extreme thrift, indestructability, and minimalism. This guy was a hell of a designer, and the things that I buy are lighter than I was afraid they might be. Mr. Bruce knew how to pick the right size materials for each job. I buy a gas welding cutting stand made from two truck brake drums for $12. The top drum still turns on bearings, so you can spin the piece that you are cutting with one hand.
I find a 4′ welding table with 1/2″ thick top. After the sale has moved on to another building, I discover that It has a tractor seat mounted on one of the legs that pivots out from underneath so you can sit and weld at the corner. Also couple of old bench grinders attached to a handmade stand of angle iron mounted on a 90 pound pump flange, a toolbox (hiding bonus prize of 10 blacksmiths tongs from Old Chico and a mess of lathe tooling and end mills), and a handmade steel-rolling machine (traded to Dave today for a handmade propane blacksmiths forge).
But by far the goofiest Auction Fever purchase is the Cyclone.
The Junker and his daughter – who have the scrapyard on 20th Street – buy everything heavy. Nobody else wants to try to move the 2,000 pound milling machines or piles of rusty metal. One of the lots of rusty metal and bedframes includes this sheetmetal ‘Cyclone’ – a dust collector from a nut dryer – The Junker buys it all ’same dollar’ (one bid for all the items) for $15.
After a few hours, I poop out. Before Erika goes home to rest, she tells me that she wants to get a box full of vintage fabric, but I am burning out, and need something more than a hotdog to keep going. She returns just in time to bid on the items herself. We grab the few lighter purchases and peel out.
Erika at 40 weeks pregnant, is bidding on a box of Indonesian sarongs from Mr. and Mrs. Robert Bruce’s 1950s trip to Asia (according to memorabilia in the box).
Today we returned to survey the damage.
Dave had thought about buying the Cyclone yesterday to make a hood over the forge in his blacksmiths shop, but he didn’t want all of the junk metal that came with it.
I thought about it last night and realized that I could use the super funky snorkel bottom to make a Dr. Seuss inspired exhaust hood over my welding table.
When we went to pick up our other items this morning, Dave asked The Junker about it, and he said ‘Fifty Bucks’.
Is that a Cyclone you are towing?
“That’s a lot of sheetmetal for not much money”, says Dave.
Dave’s daughter thought that this was pretty cool. She wanted her dad to cut a door in it for her.
My half. Stand by.