LANCASTER, Pa. — Growing up as the son of an auctioneer gave Dennis Wolgemuth a pretty good idea of what the business was all about.
He had his auctioneer’s license in his early 20s, but had bought and sold farm equipment prior to that — for years, in fact.
“My dad (Clyde) would give me prices (for farm equipment) when I was really little,” said Wolgemuth. “I was 13 when I bought my first tractor to put in our sale for resale.”
Growing up in Manheim, Lancaster County, gave Wolgemuth the chance to work at his father’s yearly farm-equipment consignment sale that had started even before Dennis was born.
Wolgemuth completed a two-year apprenticeship under his father, then got his license — the same track that Wolgemuth’s son, Elijah, is currently finishing up. Other Wolgemuth family members who are also involved in the family auction business include his daughter, Isabella, who works as a clerk, and son, Wyatt, who works with him at various sales.
Additionally, Wolgemuth’s brother, Robert, not only auctioneers alongside Dennis, but has two sons who are auctioneers. One son auctioneers at Wolgemuth Auctions LLC while the other son now runs and auctioneers the household auction that is part of the Friday Green Dragon Farmers Market & Auction in Ephrata.
The Wolgemuth family had continued to work together after Dennis got his auctioneer’s license and started the small household auction at the Green Dragon with his mother, Grace, as well as his two sisters, working as clerks. He also sold hay along with his father at the Green Dragon hay sale.
In 1996, Wolgemuth bought Good’s Auction in Leola, allowing Dennis and his brother a place to auctioneer together, selling hay once a week plus holding a farm machinery and a building supply sale, both once a month.
About five years ago he purchased the hay sale in New Holland.
These days, Dennis Wolgemuth sells hay on Mondays at the New Holland location and Wednesdays at Leola, averaging, this time of year, about 50-60 loads each sale.
However, he said, “In the winter months, once the (outdoor field) work gets done, we’re selling anywhere from 250-300 loads of hay a week at the two markets.”
Prices fluctuate, understandably, depending on weather and quality.
“Last year was a wet year, so quality is hard to come by and hay has really been high,” he said.
The hay generally sources from other states. “Most of our hay comes from Berks County and north,” he said.
Producers bring in hay from as far away as Canada, since the demographics of Lancaster County make it an ideal place to sell hay.
“Hay sales work best in certain areas,” he said. “Around here, farmers have 70 to 100 cows and only so much land, so they’ll grow corn for silage, because they can buy hay from the hay sale.”
This creates a robust hay market. In fact, he said, “there’s a hay sale every day of the week in Lancaster.”
Actually, the hay sale really complements the farm equipment sale.
“Hay farmers come on Sunday afternoon or at 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. because they want to be at special spots (to be at the beginning of the sale), so they’ll come early,” Wolgemuth said.
“The hay sale doesn’t start until 10, so they’ll go mingle through farm equipment,” he said, and see something they like, and end up coming back for the equipment sale, he added.
Wolgemuth encourages farmers to check things early, since, he said, “we’ll have 100 hay farmers walking around — you get a lot of exposure just being on the lot early.”
One of the biggest changes in the farm equipment business, said Wolgemuth, is the addition of live online bidding.
“We’re selling stuff all over the United States and other countries,” said Wolgemuth, who remembers selling a welder to Egypt, for example. Much of the exported farm machinery goes into Canada and Mexico.
There is a lot of groundwork to be done before sale day for the farm equipment. First, the farm equipment that Wolgemuth will sell is brought onto the auction location in Leola, which he believes helps the farmer get a better price because of the quantity available in one place.
Since farm equipment sales are once a month, there is time to gather a sizable amount of equipment. During sale day, nine auctioneers work together to sell the equipment, four selling simultaneously while the others take a break or catch bids.
In total, they will sell about 600 pieces of farm equipment to both farmers and dealers. Special sales include an antique farm equipment sale in August, and an antique and regular farm equipment sale in November that typically brings in about 500 tractors.
Interested buyers may come and look at the equipment at the auction center and put in a maximum bid before the sale starts. However, pictures posted on the internet allow farmers and dealers to get visual access to the equipment even if they can’t come to Leola before or during the sale.
He said one of the perks of his career is that “we’re selling different things all the time, every day.”
Wolgemuth not only enjoys traveling and auctioneering in different locations, but also likes selling varied pieces of equipment, such as cotton pickers and peanut haulers in North Carolina, for example.
Besides hay, farm equipment, and building materials, Wolgemuth also works as an auctioneer for personal property sales.
And, he holds an array of licenses for many of the states on the East Coast and beyond (each state requires an auctioneers license), acting as auctioneer for everything from farm equipment consignment sales to property sales.
Wolgemuth has been asked to auctioneer for sales as a result of his work at prior auctions. His advice? “Be fair and honest when you’re working,” he said, “because you don’t know who’s watching, it could be your next client.”