You might think, a lady auctioneer? Really?
Don’t worry, sometimes I think the same thing! I work beside my dad, Jack “Slug” Mills, who went to Western School of Auctioneering forty years ago. I grew up going to auctions every weekend; my sister Darlynn Williams and I were the concession stand kids. Looking back, that was a pretty good job!
My dad was having trouble finding auctioneers, so I asked him how he felt about the possibility of me going to auction school. He said, "Do it if you really want to, but I’m not paying for it."
Dad’s always known how to push my buttons. With that, the deal was over! I was determined to get this done, so at twenty-two years old, I set off for auction school in Billings. In November of 1996, I graduated in a raging blizzard, then drove home on pure ice because of course, we had an auction the very next day. I was so nervous, but everyone was so excited for me, they made me feel like I belonged. My first item sold was a garden rake—in the dead of winter!
Here’s what a day in the life of a lady auctioneer looks like:
6 AM Rise and shine! It’s going to be a great day!
6:15 AM At Mills Auction Service, our color is red, my dad Slug’s favorite color…and it also helps to distinguish us in a crowd. We check the weather before getting dressed: Do we need sunscreen, muck boots, gloves, slicker, coats, wool pants? Whatever the case, we can probably fit all of it in our Suburban, along with our five kids, from eighteen on down to five. We always have a load!
7 AM We eat a quick bite at home, because we only have to drive twenty miles today. Sometimes if we’re on the road, we all meet up at a café. The auction site can be up to 150 miles away. Some auctions are so remote, in the middle of nowhere, I wonder if anyone will ever show up! But it never fails, we always have a good crowd of neighbors, and auction goers at the local community event.
8 AM I move some boxes, undoing tarps on the trailers from when I covered them the night before, getting everything presentable for its next big move. This is my time to see what all is there and get values in my head. Values depend a lot on your crowd, their desire, and whether there’s two people or ten all wanting the same item.
9 AM Set up the cashier trailer, where everyone can sign up for winning auction numbers. Everyone needs a number; it is free until you bid and win! Then you will need to settle up with the cashier later. I ask questions, check the gas and oil, make sure all the lots are in the right spot, and answer all questions to the best of my ability, or send them to Dad if I can’t. This is the time to visit with people, make them feel welcome.
10 AM Auction starts! We introduce the family or business that we are conducting the auction for that day, and then we introduce our amazing auction crew. We are all family, plus a few adopted family members. Jack “Slug” Mills and Mary Anna Mills, my sister Darlynn Williams, her son Wyre Williams, and my husband Justin Kuhbacher. Our herd all helps sometimes: Beau is a senior this year, and he plans on going to auction school. Paysen is fifteen, Baylor twelve, Courtney eight, and Denver is five. Terry Hupp, Curt Olson, and Darwin Smebakken are the adopted members.
From horses, to boxes of household furniture, equipment, antiques, artifacts, and beyond we sell until we are DONE! Everyone is looking for a deal or a treasure to cherish. The bidding cards wave up the prices.
12 PM It’s lunch time, though most of the time an auctioneer works through lunch. Today is no exception. I munch on a sandwich while I ponder what makes those preserved horse hooves in the next lot…must have been a special horse!
1 PM After the no-break “lunch break” comes the highlight of the auction items. This is when we sell equipment, guns, spur and saddle collections, vehicles—items of the greatest interest and worth.
2 PM Sell sell sell. The day starts to become a blur. Did I eat that sandwich earlier, or was that yesterday? What’s behind those boxes—oh no, are those a dozen more lots I didn’t see earlier? What’s in that jar?
3 PM Keep selling. I’m beginning to not even understand my own words. “I’m a bid twenty-five now thirty dollar, who’ll bid thirty dollar, thank you, forty dollar where? Sold for thirty dollars, to lucky number seventy-nine!”
4 PM I’m starting to be able to see where we’ve been! Finally, we are making progress on the hind side. Maybe this day will be over…some day. It can be hard for some owners; I see their faces as they let go of their items. Some go onto a new adventure. Others are at the end of their work life. Sometimes we serve families of an estate, helping to get everything dispersed. It’s an ending with a chance to be a new beginning…
5 PM Almost done! By a few minutes after five, we draw the auction to a close. Lucky winners check out at the cashier trailer, paying for their items, and we make sure they get them all loaded up.
5:30 PM Now it’s cleanup time. We sweep, mop, and vacuum the building, then load up the speakers and the “auction box.” This box holds everything needed for a successful auction day, from bidder cards to sunscreen, bills of sale, tax exempt papers, tape, stapler, markers, coloring crayons, first aid kit, and much more!
6 PM We shake hands and load up our herd of kids, then wave goodbye and drive back home. We are thankful for the opportunity to help others, and hope we made a difference.
See you at the auction!