Auction-Packed PlaceSeptember 28, 2013
Story by Tony Raap
Photos by Ariana van den Akker
Rows of antiques — stacked several feet high, in no particular order — lined the entryway.
Workers piled barber chairs across from long, slender columns of wooden chests and heaped musty magazines dating to the 1950s near an old Schubert piano. A pair of ice skates dangled next to a set of shaving mirrors. Sewing machines were crowded in one corner, an assortment of dresser drawers in another.
The antiques, numbering in the tens of thousands, spilled into a large open area inside Dinky’s Auction Center near Montgomery, nestled in the heart of Amish country. In the middle of the concourse were two rectangular auction pits, where wooden tables were filled with sleds, frying pans and other items. Auctioneers chanted into a microphone as ringmen scanned the crowd for bids, yelling “Yep!” when a hand shot up.
Earlier this week, thousands crowded into Dinky’s wooden bleachers for the annual fall auction, one of the largest consignment shows in the U.S., where items as diverse as wagons, quilts and Crock-Pots went up for bid. The three-day auction, which ended Thursday, has become more than just a place for vendors to peddle their wares.
Money from concessions supports the local schools, and for many, the auction house is a place to socialize with friends they might see only a few times a year. It is equal parts fundraiser, shopping mall and community-gathering place. Sotheby’s, eat your heart out.
In the age of eBay, Amazon and Craigslist, Dinky’s has flourished in large part because of its location. The 59,000-square-foot auction house is centered in a tiny agricultural community where the nearest Walmart is about 15 minutes away (even longer if traveling by horse and buggy).
Daviess County has more than 1,000 Mennonites and Amish, most of whom live in a world without computers, smartphones or television. If they need something, they go to an auction.
After years of toying with the idea, John Lengacher Jr. bought 40 acres of land near Montgomery and built an auction house in 1996.
“It was started more or less just to provide a place for the local people to go,” said Lengacher, a Mennonite with a neatly trimmed gray beard and piercing blue eyes.
“For the Amish, for recreation, what do you do on Friday night?” he said.
Nostalgia also factored into his decision. As a boy, he would tag along with his father to auctions in nearby Odon.
“I can still remember that auctioneer. He had a cigar in the corner of his mouth, and he’d auctioneer and chew on his cigar at the same time. ... I can still smell that cigar smoke,” said Lengacher, who also owns Daviess County Metal Sales.
The land where the auction house now stands used to belong to Jacob “Dinky” Stoll, a farmer who once lived near Dinkum Creek outside of Washington — hence the nickname. Lengacher thought it was catchy and so the name stuck.
“When you name a business, you want it to be short, simple and memorable,” he said. “If you hear ”˜Dinky’s’ once, you’ll never forget it.”
Every Friday night for the last 17 years, items have been put up for bid at the auction house. It isn’t uncommon for these weekly auctions to draw a thousand people.
The fall auction came a few years later. The Amish used to hold horse sales on farms, but eventually the events grew so big that “we just didn’t have enough room,” Lengacher said.
Another large-scale auction is held in the spring, which attracts about the same number of vendors and bidders. Over the years, the consignment sales have become woven into the fabric of the community. Little Amish boys who grew up going to Dinky’s are now auctioneers.
Levi Raber grew up on a farm about three miles from the auction house. He has been an auctioneer for 12 years, working every Friday night at Dinky’s.
Raber, who also runs a cabinet-making business, said the auctions are a place where the Amish and Mennonites can grab a bite to eat and catch up on the news. Some folks, he said, never place a bid. They come for the social environment.
Others, though, enjoy the thrill of a bidding war. On Tuesday, Mike Traub looked over farm machinery behind Dinky’s horse barn. He and his wife, Theresa, drive from Effingham, Ill., each fall and usually take home a few antiques or a piece of farm equipment.
“I’m pretty loaded up on stuff,” said Traub, a retired farmer. “Unless I find something I just can’t live without.”
But some were looking to sell. Jennifer Tanner and her husband, Lanier, hauled a pair of Belgian horses from their home in Mobile, Ala., hoping to fetch a few thousand dollars at auction.
They have been coming to Dinky’s for years. Over time, they have befriended the Amish.
“Their way of life is so wonderful,” Jennifer Tanner said. “They’re not in a big hurry. ... They just love life.”
She said the auction house, which is ringed by hitching posts for horses and carriages, offers a glimpse of a time gone by.
“I think we’re all looking for something,” she said. “We all live in too much of a hurry.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Eli Knepp, an Amish dairy farmer who lives about a mile from Dinky’s, stood in the shade near the entrance to the auction house. Each year, he meets someone new at the fall consignment show.
The Amish, he said, tend to keep to themselves but also enjoy interacting with “the English,” a term they use for those who live outside their enclave. Earlier that day, he talked to a gentleman who came to Dinky’s for the first time.
He had heard it was a big auction but didn’t realize how big. He told Knepp that next year, he would bring more money and a bigger truck.
A few feet away, the bidding continued. If anything, the crowd had grown since the auction began that morning.
As they moved from one lot to another, the bidders had a gleam in their eye.
The day was still young and full of possibility.
Contact Tony Raap at email@example.com.
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