The Farm Chronicles: The infamous $20,000 bid

In the early 1970’s, we were going pretty heavy in the horse business. Dad wanted to see what was beyond our Western source of stock in Missouri. He began exploring other venues and landed on Tattersalls quarter horse auction in Lexington, Kentucky. Why not a road trip to Kentucky? Sounded like a good idea. Mel and Lucille Linton and their daughter Lorraine and son Bret were good friends. Lorraine and I were the same age and we showed horses together in 4-H. Lorraine was among the best, first with her pony Star riding western and later with Mariah, showing flat seat. Dad asked the Linton’s to go with us to the horse sale. We all packed up and hit the road, not knowing what we would find.

Now my Dad and Lucille were two peas in a pod. They were always carrying on with stories and jokes and laughing. That’s not to say that Mel and my mom were antisocial, they certainly were not. But when Dad and Lucille got together, you just never knew what would happen. We got a couple of adjoining rooms at a motel in Lexington and found our way to the Tattersalls complex. It was pretty obvious from the start that us folks from the country were way over our heads and out of the range of our wallets with this crowd. We were thinking a horse auction like Chalkers in Southington, Ohio, where back then, you would look at the horses in a couple of old corals, get a number, sit in an old horse barn on some makeshift bleachers and hope for the best. Not Tattersalls.

Tattersalls was sophisticated. Horses had their own stalls with signs and pedigrees. There was a finely printed program listing all the horses with information about them. This was big time. Dad pulled up his jeans pant leg and slipped an envelope with about $5,000 into his boot, just in case he could find a bargain or two. Keep in mind that we bought most of our horses at Oscar McWilliam’s ranch in Camdenton, Missouri—usually for about $300 each. I think the most we ever paid for a horse up to that point was $825. So at this auction, Dad’s $5,000 was little more than a down payment. Mel, Dad, Brett, Lorraine and I headed to the auction. No bleachers. Folding chairs in a nice auditorium with a sound system. Horses started moving through, bids were high. We were saving Lucille and Mom their seats as they were coming later.

Lorraine recently wrote me: “My recollection of the horse auction was that our dads and us kids were watching the auction. Our moms come into the building and were looking for us. Upon seeing us, my mom is waving her hand to get my dad’s attention.” The auctioneer wasted no time in acknowledging Lucille’s bid at $20,000. We all looked at each other like, “Oh NO!” And the anxiety didn’t stop there. Nobody else was bidding. The auctioneer calling out “do I hear $23,000…no takers…he calls 22,000…crickets…21,000…nothing. Going once. Going twice.” And then we heard $20,500. The sudden breeze that whisked through the auditorium was our collective breath released at that next bid. Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” Maybe all those things happened that day, but not quite in the same order as the Apostle Paul enumerated them.

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Bill Wilson