MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, December 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It, the latest in our occasional series: What Do People Do All Day?
Maybe you’ve attended an auction, and I did just a couple of weeks ago, a fundraising auction for a ministry that does some work in the Dominican Republic. I’ll tell you, auctioneers are a special breed. If you’ve seen them work, I think you have to be struck by the sheer theater of it.
The odd way the auctioneer speaks, people raising their hands trying to outbid one another. It can be intimidating.
REICHARD: Yeah, I keep my arms by my side. I’m afraid I’ll make an accidental gesture and end up with a Ming dynasty vase or something I can’t afford.
But from the perspective of the auctioneer, it’s much different story. WORLD Radio’s Kyle Ziemnick has our story.
KYLE ZIEMNICK, REPORTER: Will it hold up? That’s the question 22-year-old Ben Stiegelmeier is asking himself. It’s Sunday morning, and he’s headed to a special event.
STIEGELMEIER: We’re going to the Loudoun County Fairgrounds for a consignment auction with Damewood Auctioneers. We’re going to let our lights shine.”
Stiegelmeier is an auctioneer. He’s from a farm just outside of the little town of Selby, South Dakota. He went to auctioneer school when he was a teenager.
Stiegelmeier attended the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Montana. He calls his time there “the best 10 days of his life.”
That’s where he learned vocal exercises that he still runs through every week.
AUDIO: [Vocal exercises]
At school, Stiegelmeier lost his voice three times from the strain. Unfortunately, he’s suffering from the same thing this morning. He’s got a cold. His voice isn’t recovered yet. What happens if it doesn’t come back?
STIEGELMEIER: Um, I’m trying not to think about that. I could squeak, and people could laugh…
He pulls into the fairgrounds and heads to the auction hall—an almost 10,000 square foot, barn-looking building.
Inside—a vast array of almost every item imaginable. Three tables filled with guns. Rows upon rows of furniture. Wooden and wicker chairs. Shelves. A gorgeous old grandfather clock. A giant dining room set.
Near the back wall are 30 tables packed with a truly random assortment of items.
Ben’s going to have to try and sell all of this. From a bald eagle bookend to a piece of rebar—it all must go.
Finally, it’s time for the auction to start. Brian Damewood, one of Ben’s bosses, opens the floor.
DAMEWOOD: Check 1-2. Alright, everyone gather around here on the carpet. We’re gonna get started…
The 80 or so visitors gather around. Damewood starts the bidding.
DAMEWOOD: Everything is sold as-is, where-is, so please take a look at what you bid on before you bid on it. Let’s get started. Alright, first lot is gonna be number (unintelligible) lot number 5. On the large red carpet.
Stiegelmeier helps Damewood find buyers, holding the items up for all to see. He’ll occasionally call out “Here!” and point at bidders in the back. But he’s just waiting for his turn. And the moment finally arrives.
DAMEWOOD: We brought him in from South Dakota to sell today. Here’s Ben Stiegelmeier…
STIEGELMEIER: “I really like the warm weather… Okay! We’ve got a big bowl and four pitchers… Excuse me.
Stiegelmeier gets off to kind of a rough start. His voice cracks, then the speaker goes out. But soon he hits his stride.
STIEGELMEIER: [Auctioneer cadence]
After only 25-30 minutes, Stiegelmeier has to stop. His voice is worn out. But he continues to help the other auctioneers as the tables slowly clear. He’s joking with the attendees. He’s drawing people in with his smile.
Four hours later, the hall is completely empty.
But Ben isn’t walking away empty-handed. He’s leaving the auction one crisp Ben Franklin richer. And he just couldn’t pass up on some deals.
STIEGELMEIER: I did buy a few items. A crock, a highchair, and a couple other things…
After the auction, Stiegelmeier was exhausted and his voice was dead. So I caught up with him a few days later and asked why he’d put himself and his voice through something like that. Surely he didn’t just do this for a crock, a highchair, and a hundred dollars, right?
STIEGELMEIER: Growing up, the term ‘auctioneer’ was almost synonymous with ‘crook…’ And so, that is something unique about auctioneering for me, is that I have been able to be a Christian as an auctioneer. I’m a member of the Fellowship of Christian Auctioneers International.
So in a way, Stiegelmeier sees auctioneering as a calling. It’s where God has given an opportunity to let his light shine.
STIEGELMEIER: A couple months ago, I was directing cars for an auction, telling them where to park, and people would drive up and say ‘How are you doing today?’ and I would say, ‘I’m still breathing, and Jesus still loves me!’
For WORLD Radio, I’m Kyle Ziemnick.