WESTBOROUGH, Mass. - The outdoor auction is, to the frugal Yankee, the ultimate outdoor shopping mall. It’s where junk dealers, the 99 percent, and the one percent, join in one place to find deals for pennies (or even half-pennies) on the dollar.
One rainy Saturday morning, on a grassy field near the Westborough State Hospital, a fleet of mostly beat up and hard-driven government vehicles plus assorted trash are put on the block. About once a month, or until there is enough stock to warrant it, Jack Blackmer of Jack B Auto Auction shows up in his white cowboy hat and wooden gavel.
Beginning promptly at 10 a.m., Blackmer pounded the gavel over 74 times, once per minute, until they were all gone.
“Let’s start with a $500 bill,” he said each time standing behind a lectern on the back of a pickup that moved slowly from one vehicle to the next.
Come on down and bid on a 2003 Ford 4x4 with only 224,000 miles, a 2001 Ford Explorer with no key, or a small convoy of retired police cruisers with bald tires, their blue lights stripped off. If you don’t bid, you can’t win, and if no one bids, they’re headed to the scrap yard.
Some of that day’s items have been driven there and some have been towed (OK, many have been towed). But in less than two hours, these heavily used, mostly damaged items are gone.
“People want just about anything,” said Blackmer, who has been auctioning old surplus municipal owned cars, trucks and anything else defined as “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” since Jimmy Carter was in the White House.
Do you need a rusty cement mixer? How about a 2001 Infiniti sedan with a missing front grill, or a laundry basket, or a pot belly stove? Every piece had been owned by a town, city, state municipality, police unit, or even the fish and game division. Some look like they have been sitting outside for years.
No matter. These auctions move faster than speed dating, so inspect before you bid. The sign on Blackmer’s lectern said: "All items are sold as is, where is, without guarantees of any kind; be sure to bring cash, check, or a money order."
And everything is sold, regardless of the condition. People will buy anything, if it’s a good deal.
About 50 bidders showed up that morning, lighter than normal, said Blackmer. Usually, 100 to 150 show up; the rain might have discouraged the rest. Regardless of the weather, Blackmer sees familiar faces, usually men who run salvage businesses and taxi fleets.
Other bidders are looking for a bargain. A man in a Red Sox jersey, seeking “something to drive”, held the winning $3,000 bid on a 2008 Ford Hybrid Escape with 199,000 miles. It was one of the better looking cars that day, at least from the outside. He was pleased, then with a look of buyer’s remorse sighed, “Oh well, we’ll see.”
Remember, all sales are final.
In the 36 years as an auctioneer, Blackmer has seen it all. In the past, he has sold autopsy tables, x-ray machines, and fire trucks. One of his biggest ticket items was a helicopter that sold for over $200,000.
But in an age largely transformed by EBay, the old fashioned, bid ‘em then haul ‘em continues to thrive. How one puts a value on a black 2001 Crown Victoria with so much body rot it looks like it will break in two, is hard to fathom. But judging by the look on the winners face, it too was bought for pennies on the dollar.
Richard Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org