While touring Fertile, Iowa, Laetitia had seen a notice for a public auction over in Floyd, Iowa, so she decided to go there today with her group. She guessed that many of the kind of people who join her tours had never been to an auction and would enjoy the experience. Floyd is a town of around 350 residents in northwest Iowa. There is a certain amount of confusion about how it got its name. According to some sources it was named after Sergeant Charles Floyd of the Lewis and Clark expedition; others say it was named after William Floyd, who was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
As they approached the farm where the auction was being held, they marveled at all the parked cars on both sides of the road extending a great distance in both directions. The farmyard was teeming with people looking at tractors and other farm equipment and at long tables filled with all manner of household items. There were food booths staffed by women from churches and other local clubs and organizations offering, among other things, sloppy Joes (ground beef in barbecue sauce on a bun), homemade potato salad, and homemade fruit pies.
The center of the show was a pickup truck with a small edifice resembling a roofed pulpit in the back of the truck’s bed. The “pulpit” was equipped with a microphone and sound system, and two auctioneers took turns standing in it and broadcasting their spiels. Laetitia asked one of them how he had learned to talk so fast, and learned that there are schools that teach the spiel technique as well as how to manage an auction service business, which includes an extensive knowledge of antiques and other used items and what people will pay for them.
Laetitia found it not intuitively obvious which things were sought after and which were not. Cookware in excellent shape brought almost nothing, making the auction a great place for newlyweds on a tight budget to outfit their kitchens. On the other hand, someone paid $50 for a mechanical train set from the 1940s—actually a train wreck, after more than one generation of children had played with it. Other unexpectedly high-priced items included wooden boxes that originally contained shotgun shells and a yellowed calendar from a local business from 1935. The latter item brought $35. An old wood-burning kitchen range (stove) brought $1,000. Almost everything in the yard and on the tables went. Someone even tried to buy the lightning rods off the house and barn.
At happy hour in Floyd, Laetitia told the bartender about the auction, and he told her an auction story: “An elderly couple here in town died, and their children, who had all moved elsewhere, came back to town and held an estate sale. Their grandfather had been a doctor in town until he died in the 1930s, and the old couple had lived in his house. His former office was in the basement, and when he died it was never cleaned out. When the auctioneers were going through the house to get ready for the auction, they found two foil-packs of condoms from the 1930s. There probably weren’t many sources for such items in a small town back then, and the doctor apparently sold them. It was decided to sell the two packs at the auction, and they brought $25 each. After bidding closed on the second pack, the auctioneer called out, ‘Sold as is; no guarantees.’ The day after the auction, Bob, the town busybody, who had sidled up to one of my friends to express shock and complain about the sale of the condoms, left in a hurry when my friend said, “I heard you bought ‘em, Bob.’”
Laetitia thanked the bartender for his story. It was getting close to time to meet her group at dinner, and she was having trouble thinking of how to turn the story into a limerick. The story was too complicated for one verse, and she didn’t have time to write more than one. Then she overheard a local woman at a nearby table complaining to anyone who would listen about her husband, and that story became the limerick of the day.
The wife of a fellow from Floyd
With her husband was always annoyed
For he had wild dreams
And get-rich-quick schemes
But he never could quite get employed.