The cars and trucks were lined up a quarter mile in every direction from the junction of U.S. Highway 12 & 18 and County BN/Nora Road about halfway between Madison and Deerfield last Saturday (April 7).
Several temporary "slow down" signs on the side of Highway 12 & 18 (a much-traveled and fast road) warned motorists that something was going on up ahead. And, there most certainly was
I'm not sure what the casual traveler thought as they passed the two big crowds just south of the highway: One filling the parking lot behind the country tavern; the other across the road in a farm field.
Well - it was what many in attendance called "the social highlight of the year at Nora - the annual "Nora's Community Consignment Auction."
Although the 1500 or so people saw it as a social event, the dress was very casual: jeans and overalls, T-shirts and jackets, most with the name of a business embroidered on the back and of course baseball-type caps all sporting writing on the front. (I wore my new green WPS Farm Show cap that I was given a week ago).
The only requirement to be a member of the "in crowd" at this event was a checkbook or wallet with some ready cash in it. After all, even though you might absolutely have no plans to buy anything at this type of auction, you need to be ready in case something comes up that you really, really need.
What's for sale?
"Everything and anything" a regular auction goer explains. "This is not a traditional farm auction where you can just about figure what will be sold, it's a consignment auction where you can find the most oddball things you can imagine."
A short walk around the parking lot gave me a look at some of those oddball, unusual and strange items awaiting their turn to be sold.
There were a dozen or so huge light fixtures grouped together that puzzled me. "Oh, those are lights that are used in high school gyms or warehouses," a nearby onlooker said in response to my muttered question. "You know, they are the kind that take a couple of minutes to light up after you put the switch on. "
The lawn mowers, snow blowers four-wheelers and boats were an easy sale, I guessed, as were the tires, gas cans and tools of every sort.
But, who would want the six tobacco racks lined up in the middle row of the three long rows of farm implements?
The strange thing about most any reasonably big auction, is how many folks never take a look at what's being sold and obviously have little interest in any specific item. But, they do like to look, talk and second guess.
"It's a nice, sunny, warm day, this means a lot of "lookers" show up, Marvin Schwenn, Verona, said in a partial explanation. "I remember, the famous auctioneer Bert Pfister from Mt. Horeb, always said that bad weather drew the buyers because they had to justify coming to an auction on such a lousy day."
A retired farmer from Deerfield chimed in with: "I don't seem to get out much anymore - this is a big social event for me."
Mel Becker from Edgerton and Daryl Klug, Waterloo, who were sitting on one of two wooden benches with a backrest that was obviously someone's handiwork, said they didn't have any thing in mind to buy but you never know, they might run into a bargain.
I asked how would they know if one came up - they were sitting with their backs to the auctioneer? "Oh well," they said. "It's nice just sitting in the sun and talking. Besides, something else might come up later."
(Note - the benches, probably fashioned from a wooden four poster bed, sold for $95 each.)
Most of the farm machinery had seen better days but auctioneer Bill Stade, Sharon worked hard to squeeze out top dollar from each piece.
In spite of his supreme effort he could not arouse much interest in the six tobacco racks lined up side by side. They went for $40 to $80 dollars apiece, which included the wagon, four rubber tires and the rack.
My thoughts were on the people who had stood on the wide center plank and hung the loaded lathes on the two 2 x 6 boards that kept the tobacco straight on its trip to the tobacco shed.
They worked long and hard and I'll bet those racks hauled hundreds and thousands of dollars worth of tobacco over their long lives.
But, my guess is that the owner got out of raising tobacco, as have most farmers in that former center of Wisconsin's tobacco country, and has no use for those specialized wagons.
I'll also guess that the owner had a tinge of remorse to see the tobacco era come to an end.
The biggest and top selling piece of equipment offered for sale was the 38-foot wide field cultivator, which had just had $1,200 of new springs and shovels installed. It brought $5,250, which was a bit disappointing to it's former owner Tom Sayre of Edgerton.
"I wanted to get $5,800," he said. "It was really in good shape."
"How long have you owned it?" I asked.
"I bought it new in 1986 for about $11,000," he answered. "Well - that is 26 years of use, I guess that's not so bad. But, I just bought a new one for $51,000 - times have changed."
Sayre explained that he and his sons farm some 7,000 acres of corn, beans, wheat and peas and needed good equipment but still wished he'd gotten another $500 for the old machine.
There were a half dozen antique tractors sold with prices ranging from $500 for a really beat up Allis Chalmers C to $4,200 for an early 1950 John Deere Model 50.
"Too cheap," auctioneer Stade told the crowd. "You could double your money next week at the right kind of antique tractor sale."
But he and the audience know that the price is what it is on that given day; you can't have second thoughts.
About those 15 huge flood lights: they brought $17.50 total. Buyer Greg Zander, Deerfield said he only wanted two of them for his shop and would try to sell or give away the remaining dozen or so. "But, the price was right," he says.
You won't find Nora on a map and at it's peak it had only two stores, a grade school, a general store/tavern that burned decades ago and the remaining Nora Tavern that is located in a building that at one time housed a gas station, barber shop and tavern, then an auto auction and later again the current tavern and banquet hall.
"The car hoist is still under the floor of the bar," owner Jim Kluever says. "And the operating controls are still in the wall."
"This auction goes back over 30 years and they say this year's crowd probably hit 1,500, Kluever says. "We provide the location, the Utica Snowmobile Club sells food, Jim and Nola Skaar, who farm up the road provide the land for the machinery sale and Jim Seamonson, and his Auction Specialists at Stoughton do most of the work."
Yes, this was the social highlight of the year at Nora, most would agree and it's only 52 weeks until the next one.
The question on the minds of many men who may have bought on impulse is "What happens when my wife sees this? I may have to run it through the auction next year. I dunno."
John F Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at email@example.com.