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Guthrie County family finds their calling

By Joseph L. Murphy

A solitary voice echoed through the dust-filled rafters of an auction barn only overshadowed by intermittent grunts of cows and whines of calves.

It was a Thursday at the Guthrie Livestock Auction – situated several blocks south of the main street in Guthrie Center – and that meant auction day. Auction day is a weekly tradition stretching back to 1928 for both the auction and the Laughery family.

The gravel parking lot outside was filled with farm trucks, many with livestock trailers in tow. Buyers filtered into the parlor, coffee in hand, and found seats on one of five crescent-shaped levels of wooden benches facing the show ring. The auctioneer sat perched above the ring surrounded by staff, monitors, and a lone microphone. The microphone was the vehicle the auctioneer used to make commerce ring with the buying and selling of cattle and the trading of dollars.

Dan Laughery calls out numbers and seeks bids during the auction.

"These are purebred Angus folks. Angus to the heart," Dan Laughery said through the microphone before igniting a cadence of numbers to start the auction.

Dan handled the calling duties for the sale on this day but he had a number of other family members working the auction from the back of the barn. The Guthrie County Livestock Auction is a family affair led by Jim Laughery who purchased the business in 1966.

Jim Laughery has owned the auction house since 1966.

"My dad bought it in 1951," Jim said. "I was just a kid standing next to him when he bought it."

Today Jim’s nephews and son work together to make sure the auction proceeds without a hitch, while his wife handles the books in the front office. All told, there are four generations of the family involved in the operation.

Jim is proud of the economic activity his sale barn has brought to the county over the years. Farmers and ranchers visit the auction and spend money at local restaurants, hardware stores and car dealerships when they are in town.

"These people are bringing their livestock and they are selling one time a year. So, you have their livelihoods in your hands," Dan said. "I'm proud that I have producers who trust us with that and how we handle it."

Jim Downs waits for a bull to bid on during the Thursday auction.

Dan has been calling auctions since 1989—the same year that he won the state auctioneer championship held at the Iowa State Fair.

American auctions date back to the arrival of the Pilgrims on America’s eastern shores in the 1600s, according to the National Auctioneers Association. It is estimated nearly a quarter-trillion dollars in goods and services are sold by professional auctioneers every year. April 21 is recognized as National Auctioneers Day and National Auctioneers Week is recognized April 30 to May 5 this year.

Over the years, an evolution has been taking place in the livestock industry. Just as the Internet has been utilized for buying and selling of household goods, it has also started to be utilized for livestock auctions. Remote auctions are now common, allowing buyers from across the state and around the world can take part in sales.

That trend has put pressure on their local business, according to Jim.

"It is a cutthroat business now. We used to have honor amongst us thieves but now we don't have that. Now we just have thieves," Jim said with a chuckle.

He went on to say that the auction market continues to change saying that there were 166 auctions in the state in 1968 now there are 32 active weekly markets.

"When we bought this I was just a kid with my father. I'll pass it down to these boys when I'm done," Jim said.

Dan can't remember a time that he wasn't involved in the auction business.

"I went from scooping poop in the back on up to this," Dan said while sitting in the auctioneer's chair at the sale.

Chad Green watches the auction as his dog pepper relaxes next to him.

For the Laughery family, the Guthrie Livestock Auction has provided a way of life and has built strong bonds with the community over the years.

"We're extremely close to a lot of these guys," Dan said after finishing the sale. "A lot of these guys have known us since we were knee-high."

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Joseph Murphy
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Photos by Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

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