Elaine Strucko had her eye on a desk for her son to take to college. Edward Ayers hunted for tools and other equipment for his farm. Ken Rosenblatt wanted used military clothing and other items for his surplus store.
They were among about 200 people from varied backgrounds looking for bargains from Uncle Sam. Computers, laboratory equipment, fatigues, animal cages, boots, boats and you-name-it were auctioned yesterday at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
The auctions, put on by the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office, are held periodically at the Harford County Army post and many other federal installations around the country.
"It's a fast way of getting rid of a lot of property," said Nettie E. Insley, an official who helps organize the auctions at the proving ground.
"I'm just amazed at the some of the stuff they have here," said Ayers, a maintenance supervisor at a Baltimore nursing home. Some of the electronic gear looked barely used, he said.
Many of the items must be sold because the military or other government agencies have deemed them obsolete, said Tim Pocock, chief of the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office operation at the proving ground.
Nationwide, the agency re-issues or sells through auction billions of dollars worth of surplus equipment.
Most of the items sold yesterday were used at the proving ground, a major Army weapons-testing site and research center for nearly all equipment used by soldiers -- from boots to battle tanks. The National Security Agency also supplied some items auctioned yesterday.
Rosenblatt, who owns H&H Surplus and Campers' Haven in Baltimore, was studying used military clothing in a warehouse before yesterday's auction.
"Some deals are good and some deals are bad," he said.
Jerry Stephens, on a break from the auction, said he was astounded at some of the high prices bid for computer equipment. There's not much opportunity to test the equipment before buying it, he said, so some people don't know whether what they're buying works.
"When it comes to computers, people tend to get excited," Stephens said, as he studied a catalog of items for sale. Stephens was searching for laboratory equipment for his Baltimore company, which analyzes soil and water samples.
Insley acknowledged that some bidders may be buying gear they're not really sure is in working order. Equipment can be inspected for several days before each auction.
"We try not to put total junk on sale," Insley said.
Few people would seem to have a use for some of the items. But all were moving quickly at auctioneer John Burton's pace. Prices ranged from less than $50 for miscellaneous office and electronic equipment to more than $400 for some computer gear.
Burton struggled to pronounce one item, listed in a catalog as a "hyhrothermograph."
"One of those big words," Burton told the bidders. "I know you got one already," he joked. Still, one bidder agreed to pay $150.
Proceeds from the auctions go to the U.S. Treasury. Recent auctions have raised as much as $40,000. Yesterday's take was nearly that high: $37,328.
Though such auctions have been held for more than 20 years, the government has been promoting them more in recent years. The auctions at the proving ground now attract 200 to 300 people, Insley said.
The next auction at the proving ground is scheduled for April 25 in the Post Theatre. Property may be inspected beginning April 22.