Auction school students take a chance on chants

CLEAR LAKE, Iowa - If the walls could talk at the Best Western hotel, they couldn't get a word in edgewise.

The World Wide College of Auctioneering is back in session.

"Rubber baby buggy bumpers," the class recites, fast and in unison. "How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood."

"It definitely takes a lot to try to get your tongue wrapped around it," laughs Chantz Davidson, a 17-year-old aspiring auctioneer from Orient, Iowa.

"Tommy Attatimus took two T's tied them to the top of two tall trees," the class continues.

If you've ever wondered how auctioneers learn to talk so fast, this is where it starts.

"It's just the fundamentals of becoming an auctioneer," says Paul C. Behr, president of the Mason City based school founded 81 years ago.

Among the 53 students in the current class are 17-year-old Emily Yoap and her 15-year-old sister Valerie. The girls are part of a fourth-generation family of auctioneers in Wisconsin.

"I don't think I've seen my dad more proud," says Emily, "than expecting us to come back and sell something for him."

World Wide offers its nine-day course three times a year in Clear Lake and once in Denver. Tuition costs $1,395.

Yet, in some ways, the auctioneer's chant has never been more endangered.

The internet has been a game-changer for the auction business. Jack Hines has been teaching at the auction school for nearly 50 years. He once scoffed at the notion of people bidding for valuable merchandise online.

Not anymore.

"This one here is baseball cards," say Hines, as he shows off the website for his auction service in Ellsworth, Wis. He clicks through pages of appliances, real estate and farm equipment.

Thirty years ago Hines' polished chant echoed across the corn fields at 150 farm sales a year.

"Last year we had about, I'd say 15 or 20 maybe, on site sales. The rest of them, out of the 300 and some we did, the rest of them were all online."

Yet Hines is far from ready to declare the auctioneer's chant a dying art – and neither is Behr.

"It's just Americana at its best," says the president of the auction school. "People still want to hear the auctioneer. They want to hear the chant."

That said, World Wide has added coursework to help students prepare for online auctions, too.

But Chantz Davidson came to the school for the genuine article. Indeed, he's already working part-time at a livestock sales barn near his home and learning the roll auctioneers play in entertaining an audience.

"Just being on your computer, you don't get any entertainment out of that," he says.

Another of the students, Misty Schmidling, has a job waiting in the expanding field of benefit auctions.

"I saw these cowboys and I was like, 'What the heck am I doing here?'" laughs the petite brunette.

Two days into the class the Portland, Oregon resident has already picked up her speaking pace.

"And I do think I've picked up a little bit of a twang here," she laughs.

Simon Robson's accent sets him apart as well. Robson came to Iowa from Great Britain, intending to take some of the faster American style of auctioneering back to an automobile auction where he works.

"And hopefully people back in the UK will remember me," smiles Robson, one of a handful of international students at the school.

Unlike some of the others, Brad Uttermark did not come to auction school with a job in his pocket.

"I've been wanting to do this for 50 years; should have done it 40 years ago," says the tall Texan with a full gray moustache, boots and a black cowboy hat.

A visitor suggests to him that if the training goes south, at least he'll be able to impress his friends with his chant.

"I don't want to impress 'em," he retorts, "I want some of their money."

Good luck on eBay finding characters like that.


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