Leather jackets, fine crystal, an old stoneware crock. Movie memorabilia, a watchmaker’s desk, a signed poster of the 1992 USA basketball team. A vintage orchard ladder. A collection of antique cameras.
These were among the hundreds of items sold last Saturday during a single-estate auction conducted by North Fork Auction.
Located at 39230 Stewart Mesa Road, North Fork Auction is a family business run by Luke and Kelley McCrain.
“It’s quite an interesting business,” says Luke, who is also a crew leader for Gunnison County Road & Bridge. Kelley, who grew up in Olathe, once worked for the Delta County Independent before starting the Olathe Messenger newspaper. Now she looks after their two 10-year-old boys.
The McCrains conducted their first auction in August 2012. They started the business, said Kelley, so she could work from home. “We had several crazy ideas,” she said, but the auction business chose them. They split their large metal garage located on their 55-acre property down the middle, moved Luke’s shop in one half, and they set up the auction house in the other.
“We didn’t know anything about the auction business,” she said. They quickly realized that all of their life skills — the most important among them their people skills — combine to make it work. “We work very well together,” said Kelley.
Experience has taught them that virtually everything is useful if put in the hands of the right buyer. “We are amazed at every auction,” said Kelley. “We’re amazed at what people buy, what it goes for. Always a surprise.”
“It’s just kind of a kick. Some of the stuff, we don’t even know what it is,” said auctioneer Rod Schmalz. He has been with the McCrains since day one. Schmalz said he wanted to be an auctioneer since he was a kid listening to Leroy Van Dyke’s hit song, “Auctioneer.”
Clerk Linda Wilson records all sales, including bidder number, bid amount, and item description for the sales receipt. She pays close attention. Even a brief distraction can throw her off.
They meet people from all walks of life, said Kelley. There are the sellers — those moving on and letting go, going through interesting, sometimes difficult times in their lives; and the buyers — “a whole different crowd that’s coming for a whole different reason.”
They come for the auction, but also to catch up with the neighbors and have a good time. “I think people enjoy coming out here,” she said. Like on the TV show Cheers, “We know everybody’s name.”
That bidders sit in church pews the McCrains picked up early on has meaning. “God has been good,” said Kelley. “It’s a ministry in a lot of ways. We’ve made friends and met the nicest people. We talk about God and their lives and what’s going on. It’s just good.”
Over the years, said Luke, he’s learned how to tell what his clients want. He sells some items in lots, and typically auctions off the more valuable items, often tractors, trailers and guns, individually.
Luke also decorates the auction house with interesting stuff they buy through the auction. Most of it is available for a price. Among the exempt items: a vintage Goodyear bicycle and Levis jacket that belonged to a beloved uncle who died when he was 14.
Because they often deal with large estates that include numerous collections, organization is critical. “It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate,” she said. This particular sale — a moving sale for Glenn and Sandy Williamson — represents only what was in the sellers’ garage and outbuildings. The contents of the house will be auctioned off on site at a later date, she said.
Early on they held auctions every other Thursday. But as the boys got older and busier, they began holding fewer, bigger auctions on Saturdays. “We’re still doing the same amount of business,” says Luke.
They also organize auctions throughout the Western Slope, act as commission agents, and work with other auction companies. “We’re all supportive of each other,” said Luke.
Before the auction begins, Kelley says it’s fun looking through all the boxes. “It’s like Christmas around here. We can buy anything we want, but when something comes in the house something has to come back out.” Leftovers go to charity, recycling or the landfill.
Everyone, from those seeking useful items to collectors, can find good buys at auctions, they said. Before they really knew the business, they found an unusual small item at the bottom of a box included in a barn sale. It looked like a tobacco pipe, but its silver bowl was “very intricately engraved,” and enclosed. “We just kept picking it up and saying, ‘what is this?’” said Kelley.
An antique dealer from Redstone gave the winning bid of $17, but hesitated to tell them what it was. Before he left, he told them it was a baby rattle, something his wife collects. “I think it was probably quite valuable,” said Kelley.