Canadian Woodworking

On the auction block

Author: James Jackson
Illustration: Mike DelRizzo
Published: August September 2022
Beginners Journey
Beginners Journey

I went to a farm sale looking for a riding mower. I bought a beat-up old table instead.

At the start of the new year my family moved to a new home just outside of Fergus, Ontario, and that means I’m in the market for a new toy – a riding lawn mower.

For the past nine years I cut the grass at our previous home using an electric push mower and it was more than adequate, as long as I always kept an eye on where the extension cord was in relation to the spinning blade. But the new house is on about an acre of land, so I’m looking for an upgrade to save some time (and my legs).

I started browsing new mowers online, and even electric options since I’d love to avoid fuel and oil altogether, but I was a little deterred by some of the prices. So, I moved to looking at online listings and calling small engine repair shops in the area, but I mostly struck out. It seems people just aren’t getting rid of their old machines due in large part to supply chain issues for new mowers.

A few weeks ago, my dad mentioned he was heading to a farm auction just outside of Orangeville to look at a tractor and he asked if I wanted to come along. I love a good auction, but the last one I went to was my grandfather’s more than a decade ago. Plus, I figured there was a good chance the old farmer was selling a riding mower.

I’ll spoil the ending for you – I didn’t end up buying one. But I did come away with something potentially even better; a beat-up old piece of furniture in desperate need of repair.

There was the usual array of farm machinery lined up in the field behind the cattle barns – tractors, haying equipment, a manure spreader, several wagons, you name it. No lawn mowers, though. That is until we went inside one of the barns and I spotted one in the corner.

A gas push mower that looked to be older than me. I was disappointed.

But right beside the decrepit old machine was something else that piqued my interest; three pieces of wooden furniture in pretty bad condition – a small dresser, a matching side table and a console table.

The dresser and side table were in the worst shape; the paint was peeling, they were covered in a thick layer of dust, the drawers stuck, and the tops were covered in what looked to be oil or grease. They were nice pieces, but my biggest worry was the oil stains would continue to show through no matter how much I sanded them or how dark I stained the wood.

But the console table was what really interested me. It had the same thick layer of dust as the others, and the little drawer refused to open, but it didn’t have the oil stains. The beautiful curved legs were missing a few chunks here and there, but my dad reassured me they’d be pretty easy to patch.

So, I decided to bid.

It started at $5 and someone raised their hand to bid. So, I raised mine. Back and forth we went; five dollars. Seven fifty. Ten dollars. Twelve fifty.

The auctioneer finally yelled out “sold!” and pointed my way. I’d won the bid for a measly $12.50. I smiled as the auctioneer scrawled my registration number on top of the table with chalk and headed towards the next item.

My frugal day was almost completely undone, though, just an hour later during a heated bid on a discbine used to mow hay. Right around the $24,000 mark I scratched my nose with my right hand, and immediately froze when the auctioneer pointed directly at me.

I panicked and furiously shook my head no. I wanted a lawn mower, but not one that big or that expensive.

“Keep those gloves down,” the auctioneer scolded me.

James Jackson - [email protected]

James is a woodworker, a freelance writer, a former newspaper reporter and father to two amazing girls.

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