In the spring of his senior year at Quimby High School, Frank Escue had a chance to go to an auction and work with veteran auctioneer Jim Bown. Thus began what is now a 50-year career for Escue. He started his own business after graduation and continues working today.
In December of that year, he and 152 others from "all over the United States and Canada" attended a two-week course of day-long classes at the school. As Frank talked about the class of 152 practicing their chants together, a picture of the Biblical Tower of Babel story ran through my mind ...
Following the conclusion of the course, which included students doing an actual auction, Frank was certified to be an auctioneer.
Escue farmed for many years, and auctioneering was kind of a "weekend hobby" initially. He operated the business out of his farm home for many years, and even did farm machinery sales in his farm yard, but he moved into his current office at 215 East Main Street in 1992. He usually uses the Cherokee County Fairgrounds for machinery sales these days, and, in fact, did one this past weekend.
Frank has two sons - Duke, who is now 44 and practicing law in Indiana, and Jess 42, who is an architect and real estate salesman in New York. The boys both helped him at auctions when they were in school, and he said he hoped one or both would be interested in continuing in the family business. One of his sons, however, told him,"Sorry Dad, I don't want to be freezing my _ _ _ off for hours."
He might have a point. It does get cold sometimes in NW Iowa. Frank said the coldest sale he remembers working was a four-hour sale in Arthur, Iowa, when the thermometer read a bone-chilling 27 degrees below zero.
Escue estimates that these days he spends roughly 75% of his time with the auction business, 15% with real estate and 10% with appraisals, but auctioneering remains his obvious favorite because he enjoys the contact with people and the rapid action. The veteran auctioneer says it takes an average time of about two minutes to auction off a piece of big farm equipment and 33 seconds for a box of miscellaneous items.
Though he certainly does enjoy auctioneering, it does bring in some money, too. Escue receives a commission from 3% to 15% on sales, depending upon the value of the sale. As he says, " Paydays can be anywhere from zero dollars to $38,000." He said the biggest sale he ever did was that of Raymond Miller of Larrabee, in 1993. There were over 7000 items sold, including antiques and glassware, and there were buyers from 21 states at the sale, which lasted seven days.
Escue said there were a lot of farm sales when he started in the business, and that his busiest time was in the "hard times" of the 1980s. During one year in that period, he says, he did 117 appraisals and 119 sales.
In all, Escue Auctions has done over 3000 sales over the past 50 years, including working the annual Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever Banquets ever since they began. For local sales, advertising is done in the local paper and radio, but for farm sales, they send out around 300 sale bills as far away as South Dakota and Minnesota. For furniture sales, they have advertised as far away as Missouri Valley,Iowa.
Though it's been a full-time business for many years now, Escue said he still enjoys what he does. "I don't fish, hunt, or play golf," he said, and he sees auctioneering as an activity which gives him the same joy as others get from those activities.
I didn't even ask Frank about any retirement plans. He is obviously having too much fun doing what he enjoys.