MERCER, Pa. – They had their eyes on a bronze-colored figure, a cow head with a gavel in the mouth.
It was sort of an odd-looking creature, they agreed. Still, each wanted to wrap his hands around it.
Their minds wandered elsewhere, calculating mileage, weighing words, trying to keep calm and collected.
They perspired through their button-down shirts, smoothed their ties and dabbed sweat from their straw and felt hat-guarded brows.
They came from as far away as North Carolina, Maine, Illinois and Kentucky, but in the end it was a good ol’ Ohio boy who carried away the bronze cow and one year’s worth of bragging rights as the East Coast Livestock Auctioneer grand champion.
Thirteen men from across the country vied for the title Sept. 9 at the Mercer Livestock Auction.
Stepped in. Three days a week, Ron Kreis spends hours perched on a stool with a microphone to his mouth.
His eyes dart between bidders, each with their own signals, until one gives up or exceeds the depths of his pocketbook.
His hands fly, signaling and pointing to bidders, and the show rolls on.
He’s comfortable in front of his regular crowds at the Muskingum Livestock Auction or Producers Livestock Auction in Caldwell, he said, but was sure to be on his best behavior for the contest in Mercer, Pa.
“You just have to make sure you don’t miss anybody,” he said of a pool of regular bidders mixed among the contest audience.
His technique, cadence and appearance did him well. Kreis walked away with the champion trophy, $1,000 cash and the bragging rights that go along with it.
First things first. Earlier in the day, Kreis and the other 12 entrants each sold 10 feeder calves consigned for the event.
Ten of the men advanced to the finals, where they sold 10 fat cattle, including steers, heifers and bulls.
“The competition was very tight. It was a real good competition – I’m glad I didn’t enter,” joked C. Sherman Allen, a seasoned auctioneer from Conneaut Lake, Pa., and one of the eight event judges.
The panel included other auctioneers, livestock buyers, cattle farmers, and a livestock sale barn owner.
Judges evaluated each contestant on their appearance – no sloppy jeans or filthy ball caps here – overall ability, clarity, the smoothness of their chant and the way each conducted the auction.
In addition, each was judged on his product knowledge, including snap-decision grading when the cattle came into the sale ring.
“These guys have to instantly judge quality when the cattle come into the ring, whether it’s a 40-cent steer or a $1 steer,” Allen said.
“They have to know where to start the bids,” he said.
The last score area on each man’s card was a simple question: “Would you hire this auctioneer?”
“These are seasoned, first-class professional guys,” said Rod Loomis, co-owner of the Mercer sale.
Nothing new. Auctions and competitions like the one here were nothing new to the winner.
Kreis’ father, Roger, is also an auctioneer, and the younger man was the 2002 Ohio state auctioneer champion. He also finished in the top 10 at this year’s world and international competitions.
Eli Detweiler Jr., the reserve champion and winner of $500, was also driven to pound the gavel by his father, who attended auctions of all sorts and took his young son along.
Detweiler, who logged 530 miles one-way to get to the contest from his home in North Carolina, said being an auctioneer was his destiny. It was the only job he ever knew he wanted to do, he said.
A competitive nature pushed him to take two days off from his six-a-week auction schedule – he calls the trip his vacation – to drive to Pennsylvania to mingle with other callers he’d never met.
Even without the prize, he said it would have been worth the time.
“This was really a great, great opportunity to meet other auctioneers from all across the country. You get to hear guys that truly are good,” he attested.
Doubts. Both Detweiler and Kreis waited with the other finalists while the trophies were handed out, both with doubts about their placing.
“I’m my own worst critic, but I wouldn’t have put myself in the top five,” Detweiler said, comparing himself to other auctioneers with 20, 30 or 50 years of experience behind them.
“My goal was to be in the top 10, and hopefully in the top five. Winning was just a plus,” Kreis said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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