My research indicates that in 1960 a committee was formed to start a Junior Livestock Auction for Mendocino County. 4-H and FFA members could sell market animals that they had entered in Junior Market Animal classes at the fair through the auction to individual buyers who were mostly from Mendocino County. Major supporters and members of the committee included Rod Shippey, the livestock advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension Service, Tom Bowles, the Agricultural Education teacher in Covelo, and Jack Brown and Nancy March, both 4-H leaders from Potter Valley. Further research indicates that the first Junior Livestock Auction was held at the Mendocino County Fair in Boonville. I am further told that it was difficult to get buyers from inland Mendocino County to travel to Boonville to purchase the young exhibitors’ animals. The auction was moved to the 12th District Fair in Ukiah, as it was called then. The fair name was changed many years ago from the 12th District Fair to the Redwood Empire Fair. The Auction Committee membership has grown to include many supporters and is known today as the Redwood Empire Fair Junior Livestock Committee. The rules for selling livestock at the auction have been expanded and today a full page in the fair premium book is dedicated to the auction.
I started working at the Ukiah 12th District Fair after graduating from Ukiah High School in 1954. I assisted the livestock manager, George Wilson. The livestock show included both Senior and Junior exhibitors. There was no Junior Livestock Auction at that time. The show barns were new and had been built on the south side of the fairgrounds. The old wooden livestock barns, where I showed livestock for many years, were where the present parking lot is now located. After one year of college, I returned to the fair as the livestock department manager. I continued to work summers in 1956 and 1957.
An article in the Ukiah Daily Journal dated 1981 refers to the 20th anniversary of the Junior Livestock Auction. The article does not indicate if the date includes the one year the auction was held in Boonville. A letter to the editor of the Ukiah Daily Journal written by Robert Wilber on August 31, 1970 refers to the 9th anniversary of the Junior Livestock Auction. That would also confirm the starting date of the auction at the Ukiah Fair as 1961. Wilber identifies himself as the President of the Redwood Valley-Calpella 4-H club.
Nancy March, was a longtime employee at the Ukiah Branch of Bank of America as well as a Potter Valley 4-H leader. She tells me that in 1961 the manager of the Ukiah Bank of America, Nelms Smith, became involved in the committee supporting the auction. He traveled to Santa Rosa to attend the Junior Livestock Auction at the Sonoma County Fair to learn how to successfully promote the auction in Ukiah. For many of the early years the Bank of America participated in the auction by providing accounting services.
On the day of the auction the committee holds a luncheon for all of the buyers. The buyers are met by 4-H and FFA members all in their respective uniform. Melissa Smith served as chairman of the lunch from 1990 to 2011. Her husband Gary was the Chairman of the Auction Committee during that same time. Melissa tells me that many auction supporters also contribute to the lunch, which is really put on to thank the previous years’ supporters. Some of the contributors have been the county Safeway Stores, Gowan’s Oak Tree, and many parents that would show up at 6 am to prepare the salads. A large group of men would man the barbeque pits to cook lamb, beef, and pork. In 2008 goat was added to the menu as well as center pieces placed on the tables. At the end of the meal buyers are given a packet of homemade cookies that they can take with them to the auction. In 2012 Sheryn Hildebrand became the chairman of the lunch. Sheryn and her family are strong supporters of the 4-H program. The luncheon is held at the fairground’s picnic area, referred to as Grange Park. All of the buyers who attend the luncheon are admitted to the fairgrounds free.
The Savings Bank of Mendocino County became an important supporter of the auction in 2000 by providing accounting services for the sale. The bank supplies employees, who during the sale, keep a record of each sale. Currently Yvonne Brown from the Savings Bank indicates that she and several employees start as early as 10 am on auction day. After the sale ends, she and several employees continue the accounting well into the night. On Sunday, the day after the auction, the bank issues checks to all of the exhibitors who sell animals. The checks are handed out at the awards ceremony held on Sunday morning. The bank then handles the invoicing to all of the purchasers. Yvonne is proud that all of the buyers pay promptly. Local businesses and individual make up the list of purchasers.
On Sunday, at the awards ceremony, a representative from the bank announces the auction total dollar sales. The figure is always held in great anticipation by all of the exhibitors and parents.
The auction is held is the Racine Pavilion, named after a former fair board director. The building during the fair is used to judge animals. An auction ring is assembled at one end of the pavilion and bleachers and seats are shaped around the ring. 4-H clubs and FFA chapters hang their banners on the walls behind the bleachers.
For many years the auctioneer was Steve Dorfman. Dorfman was a former 4-H and FFA member from Sonoma County. In 1980 the Mendocino County 4-H Council honored him with a “Friend of 4-H Award” at the auction. Cancer claimed his life in 1981 at the young age of 33. Bruce Campbell started auctioneering in 1981. Bruce had been a 4-H and FFA member in Healdsburg. His family was deeply involved in Sonoma County agriculture. His father was the local veterinarian and his two sisters were involved in both 4-H and FFA. Bruce was an excellent auctioneer. Unfortunately health issues took his life in 2015.
In 2000 Rex Williams became the lead auctioneer, and he continues in that role currently. Rex indicated that in 2015 he had participated as an auctioneer at the Ukiah Fair for 30 years. Rex Williams graduated from Potter Valley High School in 1984. Williams immediately attended auctioneering school. At the Ukiah Fair in 1985 Williams’s brother and sister were exhibiting animals. Their animals were scheduled to be sold at the auction. With the help of William’s agriculture teacher Chuck Ream, auctioneer Bruce Campbell was urged to allow Williams to sell his siblings animals, but only with their permission. The following year Bruce Campbell let him sell 20 animals. By 1987 Rex assisted Bruce Campbell during the entire auction. That continued through 2000.
Several auctioneers have assisted Rex over the past years. The number of animals has grown to approximately 230 animals. In most recent years Drew McKelfish has assisted Rex. Drew is also an excellent auctioneer. As Rex says, “Every auctioneer needs a beer or whatever break.”
An important part of the auction takes place days before the fair. The young livestock exhibitors visit prospective buyers for their animals. The exhibitors wear their uniforms and distribute pictures and stories about their animals. They solicit local businesses, individuals, and most certainly grandparents and friends. Sometimes prospective buyers are mailed a picture and story along with an invitation to the lunch and auction. The Junior Livestock Auction Committee also sends out a flyer announcing the date, time and place of the auction. Past purchasers are listed as supporters for the auction.
Auction day requires many volunteers to shuttle the animals into and out of the auction ring. The stage is manned with the two auctioneers and at least one dignitary announcing the name and affiliation of the exhibitor. Assisting in the ring are more volunteers who seek out bids from potential purchasers. These individuals are referred to as ring men. I am waiting for the day a local woman steps into the ring to solicit bids. The building is filled with excitement. The clapping gets louder with each successive and increased bid on an animal.
I don’t know how many animals were sold or the revenue made during the first years of the auction. In 2014 the total revenue for the exhibitors topped $623,900 with 235 animals sold. The figure for 2015 was about the same. Chickens and rabbits have been added to the auction. In 2015 a turkey was bought by Friedman Hardware for $2500. I saw Bill Friedman and his wife shortly after the fair and thanked him for his support.
The auction is a great support for our agricultural youth in Mendocino County. I tell many of the exhibitors that selling your animal at the auction and receiving higher than market price is like winning a scholarship. And many of the youth use the money earned to help pay for college. I have a picture of myself and two daughters taken at the Ukiah Auction probably in 1966. I purchased a black angus animal from Potter Valley 4-H member John March. We elected to have the animal butchered and we dined on very special beef for many months. Truly the best part of participating in the auction is the thank you note you receive from the exhibitor. I keep them all and often look at them to remind me about the exhibitor.
Rod Shippey and Tom Bowles are gone now. But Jack Brown and Nancy March are still with us. They helped me write this article. Britney Dashiell did some research in the archives of the Ukiah Daily Journal. For all of the help, I am grateful.