Bill Klassen Auctions after 40 Years

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July 23, 1968, it’s a lovely Saturday morning in south central Manitoba. It’s the day of my first farm auction. I’m 20 and have done a few charity auctions but this is a farm auction. Our neighbor, 2 miles west, has a health problem and has difficulty walking. He is a small, 80 acre, farmer, with 12 Jersey cows and some small older machinery. He has sold his best tractor and a few other pieces with the farm. I heard about his real estate sale and went to ask him if I could conduct his auction. He seemed interested and I did not want to blow it. He asked me,“ How much?” Well,” I replied, “I want the auction! How’s 10 bucks and advertising?” He smiled and made some comment, “So it’s not the money? You want the auction?” “Your right Albert, I want the auction. I’ll discuss it with my family and let you know.”
That was late April. Some weeks later my Grandpa stopped by and asked,“ How are negotiations going with Albert ?” “Well,” I sighed, “I was very optimistic but I’m beginning to doubt it.” My Grandpa and Albert were good friends. Grandpa told me, “You’ll get the auction. Just be patient,” as he turned the key on his Chevy ½ ton and left. Sure enough, 3 or 4 days later, Albert called and told me, “It’s your auction, Bill.” Well, that sent my heart throbbing but I managed to keep it in the cage.
Auction Day was that warm July afternoon when I arrived at the Warms farm. Albert was trying to get his cows into the barn, so that people could see them, check records, etc. Well, a few people had been by in the morning and the cows were on cloud nine and had no intentions of heading into that barn. So I went into the pasture and help herd the cows into the stanchion barn.
The auction started on time, as planned, and went well with a good crowd. The cows sold light. In our area, we had a lot of small diary farms with Holsteins in those days. Albert shipped cream, not milk, so the Jersey cows were good for him.
Albert is now 90, in a wheel chair, and in the Rehab ward at Boundary Trails Hospital. My dad spends the odd week there, so while seeing Dad, I meet Albert. He told the guys around, that I did not make much money off him at his farm auction. I assured him, that he could have got me to go down, and I still would have tried to get it. After all how far down can you go from 10 bucks? During one visit, I told him that I was planning to be in the Winkler parade on August 9, and that I would like him to come along. I received a grin from ear to ear and a big “Yes.” We put him into the ¾ ton, towing a trailer, with my collector John Deere 50 Tractor taking the ride. On Albert’s door, we had a sign “Albert Warms, our First Client, July 23, 1968” At his age, I was actually amazed at how many people recognized him along the parade route. A good time was had by all.
Later that Fall I sold the dairy cows for Jake Wolfe, the dad of our present auctioneer, Vic Wolfe. On December 1, 1968, I flew to Kansas City for the two week Missouri auction school course and graduated on December 13. The next day, December 14, at 1 pm. I conducted a small farm sale for Herman Letkeman, south of Morden. I sent the auction poster to Missouri and in the next month’s news letter I received the honor of having booked and conducted an auction within 24 hours of graduating,
Well, then the struggle started. This area had some fine auctioneers, serving their clientele real well. I did not have money to buy publicity. My big dream was to farm and pick up enough auctions on the side to have some cash flow. This was tough. I heard about a farmer selling his farm and I drove out there. Asking people to give their merchandise over to a green horn to sell their life’s savings was hard for me. I would have wanted them to contact me but of course I knew we were far from it, if ever. Well, to my surprise this guy had a plan. He told me Mr. Jake Enns, local auctioneer, was his neighbor and friend. However, he said he would like to see a young guy get started. So I could conduct the auction with and under the supervision of Mr. Enns. I agreed, so he set up a meeting between the 3 of us, and for the next two years, that’s how it was, and it went pretty well. We did not get the bigger auctions but we got some decent ones. By the way, Mr. Enns was the Grandpa of our Jeff Enns member of Manitoba Auctioneers Association.
The 3rd year, I was on my own and found it hard to book auctions. We were now 3 auctioneers locally, and I was the young green horn. For some reason, I did a lot of charity auctions, which lead to household and small Ag. sales. With doing 10 and 12 auctions a year, never mind the small amount of money this raised, it was difficult to have staff on auction day, which I realized was a good impression maker. In 1983, Erna Klassen, my neighbor, asked if she could be my cashier. I jumped at the opportunity and she is still with us today 2008. Erna had a very young family, the same age as ours, and little Kimmi came to her first auction in her carry basket, 3 weeks old. Kimmi today works along side her mom and those two can balance any size auction within minutes of last payment. Kimmi is now married and she and her husband Benj manage one office during days when we run two auctions. To be truthful Kim is the manager and benj is a great “gofer”.
Vicki, Kim’s older sister, has been our clerk for many years. She was a natural. We used to have a game to see who would be bidding on this combine or what ever. While the machine was being demonstrated she would tell me who she thought
to be a bidder, and by George, she was often right.
In 1990, I listed an auction south of Morden, MB. The farmer told me his neighbor, Morris Olafson, had just returned from auction school, and wondered if I would allow Morris to do some selling , I said, “ Of course,” he did, and has only missed a few auctions since. Morris farms, therefore, knows farm equipment, which is our “bread and butter” in this auction business.
Darrel Wheeler began his auction career with our company in 1997 , he brings energy to the auction floor whether he’s on the Mic our on the Floor, a pleasing personalty.
In 2002 Vic Wolfe came to work for us , Vic has come along to a professional Bid caller, Vic has the current Manitoba public insurance contract to sell written off vehicles for the company.
Over the years many real nice people have been a real asset into making what we are today, and of course it’s the people who do the work that make this auction co function to the satisfaction and often the praise from our clientele
In the last years we have started internet bidding, my nephew James a electronic buff , took on the challenge of bringing this service to our bidders; because of him we were the first Manitoba company to bring live video from a farm auction site to the worlds kitchens and home computers, unfortunately we can only offer this service with strong cell tower service, and need to settle for audio in many cases.
I better close off here this is getting way to long, we are glad to have connections with our association members, in Manitoba , Minnesota and NAA, and the opportunities it brings helping our clients move into the next stage of life. I have enjoyed being on the board of the new Manitoba Auctioneers Association, at the ground level and serving as its president for 3 early years. I’m excited about the auction business, having completed the first 40 years the day will come to move on as have thousands of our clients. Since Dwight had to go home at 17 and the other boys have settled in there chosen careers.
So who knows we may have to have an Auction , My loving Wife Karen has been my strong support for 37 of those years, and for the past 5 years has been our Auction clerk .
On behalf of our staff and the people we serve , Praise God for 40 years
Bill Klassen

Manitoba Auctioneers