Hearing call of the sale

Auction: A one-day event in Howard County gives home-improvers a chance to buy materials at dirt-cheap prices or to unload others.

March 19, 2000|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

The weather was just about frigid enough to freeze grass, but Chris Chaney of Glen Burnie was on the prowl for a lawn mower bargain yesterday.

Hundreds of other people were looking for deep discounts, too -- on everything from tires and tractors to carpet and cabinets.

It might seem like an odd combination. But at the Howard County Machinery Auction, almost everything is fair game.

The one-day consignment sale -- held every spring and fall at the county fairgrounds in West Friendship -- draws several thousand people, mainly men, who have a hankering for machines, tools, spare parts, building material or a combination thereof.

They come looking for lumber dropped off by contractors who find their warehouse space is more precious than the wood. Or the potential buyers might want farm equipment, which can be found in one piece and in pieces. Or perhaps they need a mower. (Chaney got a self-propelled, 5-horsepower model for $46.)

"It's usually a madhouse," said Phill Gregory, one of three people who own Gregory & Warfield Auctions, which runs the sale. "It's spring, and it's time to buy equipment."

Auctioneer Paul Sobwick was in the middle of it all, surrounded by bidders and watchers as he sing- songed through enough building materials to put up a house.

"Nice door here for a couple bucks, two dollars, anyone want it for two dollars?" he asked, standing in front of a scuffed white number.

Some of the doors were new. This one obviously wasn't. Baltimore resident Myrl Shore's bid of $1 was enough to take it home.

"This is a crazy sale, I'll tell you," said Bobbi Sobwick, the auctioneer's wife, who bought a door for their shed. "Most of the stuff is leftovers from the builders. So for people who need a few things, they can get a great deal."

The auction started in the late '60s as a farm equipment sale. Nowadays, with fewer farms around, the auctioneers sell a lot of building-related materials: windows, pipes, ladders, paint.

Yes, and even the proverbial kitchen sink.

Vehicles auctioned, too

But bicycles also can be found -- all kinds, some with training wheels and some with baby seats -- not to mention life jackets, rocking chairs, file cabinets and flowering trees.

Among the more unusual goods this year: two sets of bee-hive equipment and a pinball game that looked as old as the auction.

For the people who supply the several thousand items on the block at each machinery auction, the reason is simple:

"Spring cleaning," explained Jim Rossignuolo, a Montgomery County carpenter who hoped to sell some axles, tires and a few machines. "It's stuff I don't need anymore, don't use. This came at the right time."

Rossignuolo is a regular -- he's bought some hand tools at the auction before -- plus he likes the atmosphere.

It's a social event: People mill around, chatting and eating. Some bring their kids; some bring their dogs. Plenty of them plan to spend the day, not any money.

"You haven't seen people, all winter long," said Steve Sealing, a Columbia resident who tried out a Wheel Horse riding mower for size but figured he wouldn't bid on anything.

Others are all business.

Robert Preston came looking for good used trucks for his dealership in Barton.

"I pretty much know what they're worth," he said, standing near a white Toyota, which was somewhat rusty. "If the price is right."

Dianne Eilers bought a new door for $75 and looked for windows to go in a turret she's putting on her Mount Airy home.

She collected a few items for the addition at last year's auction -- including a spiral staircase.

Some attend annually

Sterling Mullinix, 74, a former Howard County resident, remodeled much of his West Virginia house with items he bought at the biannual sale.

"It's amazing what you'll find," he said, strolling through aisles of odds-and-ends a few days before the merchandise went on the block. Sellers brought the items in last week, allowing potential buyers to view them early.

"Some of it goes for, you might say, nothing," he added.

Mullinix's been coming to the auction for years, almost since it began. Sometimes he'd buy; sometimes he'd sell.

Sometimes he'd buy items and sell them back a few years later.

His home's paneling, windows, doors -- even the half-inch, heavy- duty tile on the covered porch -- are from the auction.

He didn't need anything this year. But he was at the auction again, checking out the goods.

"I have to be careful," he said, laughing. "I have a garage full."

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