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Patrick Springer, Published January 28 2011

Auctioneers gather in Fargo

Vince Babler has learned to set his cruise control when he works on polishing his auctioneer’s cadence while driving down the road.

He’s apt to become so absorbed in maintaining the right selling rhythm – “bid ’em, put ’em, buy ’em” – that he could inadvertently speed.

Babler, who owns Babler Auctions of Borup, Minn., got into the auction business as a second career, following 40 years in the military.

It was the fulfillment of a fascination sparked by a flamboyant auctioneer he observed as a boy when accompanying his father to auction sales.

He went to auctioneer’s school in his 50s with the idea it could be a part-time job. Soon, he learned the auction business was too time-consuming to take on as a sidelight.

“There’s a whole lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes,” he says.

Auctioneers have a chance to brush up on the skills of their trade when the North Dakota Auctioneers Association meets this week in Fargo for its annual convention.

A highlight of the convention, the contest to name the top auctioneers, will be open to the public tonight. Contestants will auction general merchandise and antiques.

The annual convention, at Ramada Plaza Suites this year, usually draws about 100 members, says Babler, who is on the association’s board of directors.

Contestants will get a chance to put into practice tips from one of the convention’s presenters, Kaija Kokesh, of Palisade, Minn., whose titles include winning the Minnesota Auctioneers Association championship.

One of the education seminars will feature a presentation by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms officials about laws and procedures for auctioning guns.

“It’s getting to be a bigger issue all the time, anything to do with firearms,” Babler says.

At age 73, he is one of the association’s older auctioneers. “There’s a few guys older than I am,” he adds. His two sons help run the family business.

“As long as the boys are interested,” Babler says, “we’ll keep on.”

As with most auctioneers, he sells pretty much everything: farm land and equipment, livestock, general merchandise, antiques and collectibles – even the occasional kitten or puppy.

“Real estate is getting to be a very, very big item at auction,” Babler says. “Especially farmland.”

In fact, he adds, some auctioneers have licenses as real estate agents or brokers.

Those considering starting out in the auction business will run into some well-established firms. “It’s a pretty competitive field,” Babler says.

But every auctioneer can distinguish himself or herself from developing a unique style at the microphone.

“Everybody’s a little bit different,” Babler says. “Some guys sing their chant. You develop your own style.”

It takes lots of practice. And some careful driving.

“Going once, going twice … .”

If you go

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522