I have had the privilege of being present at three of my uncle’s auctions of their stuff. Unfortunately they died beforehand, which I guess is the reason why the stuff was being sold. So far very few people have made it out of here alive. Anyway, I had tools from two of my uncles, Pete and Rudy. I grind my tools with a hand cranked grinder I got at Rudy’s auction. It is really amazing how the memories of him come back when I put my hand on that crank. The cantankerous old fart will be with me the rest of my life, or as long as the grinder lasts.
Anyway a while back in the fall of 2012 I heard that my uncle Ben’s possessions were all going to be auctioned off. He lived in Pennsylvania, and a group of us made arrangements to drive out together. Ben was Amish his whole life, a member of a very backwards sect, poor to an extreme. A lot of their food was salvaged from dumpsters; true story. He repaired washing machines and was a true dumpster diver, collecting all sorts of stuff you would never use. It was against the rules of the church to play with face cards and I remember the euchre games that would ensue for whole days when they came to visit. He grew his hair long and reddish, a full beard, and a belly the size of an old fashioned keg of beer. There was no smoking in our house and he wasn’t to be bothered with putting his shoes on to go outside to smoke. I can remember him going out to smoke barefoot in 10° weather in the winter. The auction bill listed several planes with no description.
We went out to my cousin’s house in Ohio on a Thursday afternoon. Our host Thursday night is an extreme extrovert with an infectious laugh. There were six of us all together and when we got there the party started. We spent the night there and drove out to Pennsylvania in the Valley on Friday, six of us in a full size van with the back seat out for cargo. We signed into our hotel (we never told them the six of us were staying in the one room). After checking in we drove out to uncle Ben’s place to see what we would find at the auction. I began looking over the wagons and before long found a couple planes, a junk block plane and a pretty nice but nothing special #6. I kept looking and two wagons down found what I wanted; a nice plane in good condition but not so valuable that it would be out of reach. It was a Stanley 4-1/2 with very nice wood on it, rusted but not too bad; it will clean up very nice. I decided that if I had to I would go up to a hundred dollars on it and borrow the money I would need to get back home.
I am bipolar and so much excitement with the gang, the anticipation of the auction on Saturday, had me in a very manic state. I only slept about 2 hours that night, listening to the rest of the group snore. Saturday came and we ate breakfast then headed for the auction. The hardest thing at an auction is to wait for your item to come up and the fear that you will miss it in the midst of all that action. Two rings going, a crowd, a bottomless cup of coffee. They sold at the main ring for an hour or so then said they would start another ring on the wagons so I headed out. The first wagon was all junk and they got rid of it pretty fast. The #6 was on the second wagon. I decided to buy it in case I didn’t get the one I wanted; another plane guy was there and I ended up having to pay $15 for it. I let him have the #220 block plane missing the front knob. A long series of stuff was sold next; I waited several hours for the #4-1/2 to come up, at one point thinking I had missed it when I went for some lunch. I panicked and started looking around and realized it was one wagon over, still there. It finally came up. I started bidding at $5. Here was the moment of truth; I had driven 400 miles for this and it all depended on whether someone else wanted it worse than I did. I just about fainted when the hammer fell at $35 and it was mine. I could not believe it.
So here it is; it cost me about $280 if you include the trip expense. I wonder what it’s worth? Every time I pick it up, even if I just see it, I will remember my jolly uncle Ben, my mom’s brother. The arguments over euchre, the memory of him rolling a cigarette and standing in the snow barefoot to smoke it, his 400 pound wife, and throwing the rocks at the hornet’s nest at their place when we were little kids, and the trip to go get it. I think if you offered me $5000 for it I would tell you to keep looking.