Mike Anderson’s American Iron: Auction action lives on

By Mike Anderson

The bumpy ride in a big ol’ yellow bus couldn’t have provided a more fitting mode of arrival the first time I ventured to a Ritchie Bros. auction. It was, in so many ways, the first day at a new school.

And, man, was everyone there! I don’t think there was an equipment owner, user, buyer or fixer from within a day’s drive who wasn’t on site that day – along with, of course, seemingly every single iron peddler ever born, either standing against the fence or lurking behind the excavators, surely making note of who was bidding on what (and, of course, hoping “his” bidder failed, thus creating a huge sales-call opportunity). It was not a scene of the industry; it was The Scene. Just like the kid who shows up for his first day at a cool new high school, I couldn’t imagine there being a more important place to be that day. Drama, joy, bitterness, joy, gossip, winning, losing – this place had it all, and more.

Fourteen years later, whether it’s enjoyed from the comforts of a modern auction theatre, kicking dirt or snow around a contractor’s hardscrabble yard, or planted in front of a computer back at the office, Auction Day remains the single biggest affirmation to me that the equipment industry is alright. There is no other day quite as exciting, educational, intrigue-filled or, honestly, just plain ol’ fun.

Last month, Better Roads featured a cover story on equipment auctions, specifically how, when it comes to asset management, this once “rogue” business has evolved into a key, sophisticated, value-added, highly-professional tool – heck even a “partner” – for the best-managed fleets, both large and small. Actually, it’s debatable whether it’s a case of the actual auction business evolving, or rather the image held by others evolving, or both. For my two cents, the auction business has been, in most cases, on top of the game for some time, whether other industry stakeholders always recognized that or not. Regardless, helping prepare the Better Roads coverage only provided me with the perfect opportunity to not only connect with some smart, savvy people who likewise love the equipment auction business, but to spend more than a fair share of time right back on the playground. And now, again, I just can’t leave.

There I was, on a Thursday afternoon many weeks later, glued to my computer screen. Thursday, of course, being IronPlanet’s weekly live auction day, I just had to postpone other things, including lunch, to see what was going to happen to the 2006 Komatsu PC400LC-7L excavator and the 2004 Caterpillar D6R dozer. And, true to form, the scene didn’t fail to entertain. The Colorado-based Komatsu, on the clock for 13 minutes, drew 39 bids and moved from a starting point of $75,000 to a winning bid for $109,000 out of California. The Kansas-based Cat tractor pulled 56 bids, moving from $51,000 to $90,000 offered by a bidder from the United Arab Emirates.

But, as always, there was a show stealer – a piece that doesn’t catch my attention going in, but inevitably creates a true buzz as the scene unfolds. In this case, it was a 1996 Tamrock Ranger 500 track drill. It drew 191 bids and stayed on the clock for a remarkable 37 minutes! Creeping up at $250 a pop, it finally went off the board at $34,000. The kicker was seeing the Tamrock, long after the big iron was off the screen, still drawing bids amidst the quick-fire miscellaneous items that always conclude an auction. At one point, riding right up against the Tamrock on my computer screen was a set of 48-inch forks that was trying to pull bids for $5. It sold for $10.

Hey, just like school, everyone’s got a place here.v